The desolate graveyard in Medina

The destruction of sites associated with early Islam is a phenomenon which has occurred mainly in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and its prophet Muhammed. Destruction has taken place particularly in Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities. Other similar sites have been targeted for destruction across the region.


Destruction has taken place particularly in Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities. Some sites have been demolished to make way for redevelopment projects.

Sunni Opinion

Sunni Islam has always approved the holy sites built around the burial places of religious personalities. Specially, the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad has always been a highly venerated site during the history of Islam. The holy sites in Hejaz have remained places of visit by the pilgrims coming from around the world. Starting from the Saudi doctrine which has roots in Wahhabi Islam, ultimately in Khawarij, started destroying these sites. This practice of destruction was strongly criticized by Sunni Muslims around the world. Specially the Turkish government intervened with the Saudi authorities to protect the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered the holiest place on earth by the Sunni Muslims.[1]

Wahhabi Opinion

In theory, Wahhabi doctrine disapproves of the holiness of cultivation of sacred sites built around mortals. But in actual practice, some Sunni Muslims, like their Shiite counterparts, have developed a bond with hundreds of holy places throughout the Islamic world.[2]

Veneration of these religious and historic archeological sites are strongly condemned in Wahhabi doctrine. They consider veneration of and worship at gravesites tantamount to idolatry.[3] The motive behind the destruction is the Wahhabists' fanatical fear that places of historical and religious interest could give rise to idolatry or polytheism, the worship of multiple and potentially equal gods.[1] A 1994 fatwa proclaimed by Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz, then the kingdom’s highest religious authority stated that “It is not permitted to glorify buildings and historical sites...Such action would lead to polytheism.”[4] Between 500-600 mausoleums and other early Islamic revered structures have been destroyed to prevent them becoming objects of adoration for worshippers.[5] It is estimated that 95% of millennium-old buildings, historic mosques, mausoleums and other artifacts, have been demolished in the past two decades.[1]

Shia Opinion

Shia pilgrims make ziyarat to these locations to mark special events associated with the site or the person buried there. Some followers of Shia branch of Islam have protested, viewing the Saudi actions as a desecration of holy sites. Some Saudi voices too, especially from the Hejaz, have begun to question the wisdom of the eradication of the country’s historic heritage.[6] On 10 September 2004, after the demolition of the famous Seven Mosques of Salman al Farisi, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Fatimah, ‘Ali, al Qiblatayn and al Fath, Muhammad al Dubaisi writing in al Madinah highlighted that the "destruction of these mosques has deprived Medina of one pillar of its immortal history”. In response, Salafi writer Saleh al Fawzan justified the destruction of the historic mosques.[6]

In Saudi Arabia

The most serious destruction of the sites started in 1806 when the Wahhabi army occupied Medina. They systematically leveled the Baqi’, or graveyard, there which contained the remains of central figures in early Islam. Mosques across the city were also targeted and an attempt was made to demolish the Prophet's tomb.[7]

In 1818 Muhammad Ali Basha attacked Hijaz and the Ottomans captured the Medina. They subsequently carried out restoration of the sacred sites and the monuments were rebuilt between 1848 and 1860.[8] The project amounted to nearly £700,000.[7]

On April 21, 1925, aghast at tomb cults focused on saints and Imams, the monuments at the Medina Baqi’ were demolished once again by the Ikhwan, loyal to King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, along with the tombs of Muhammed's family members in Mecca.[9] As the some of the demolished mausoleums in Medina included those of early Shia leaders, Shia Muslims mourn this destruction annually on the Day of Sorrow. The Prophet's mosque in Medina was bombarded and assurances given by Ibn Saud that it would be restored were never fulfilled. Promises that Hijaz would be transferred to an Islamic multinational government were likewise unfulfilled.[7] 1926 saw Muslim protests across the world decrying the Saudi actions.[7]

Some of the destroyed sites include:

  • The mosque at the grave of Sayyid al-Shuhada’ Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib.[8]
  • The Mosque of Fatima Zahra.[8]
  • The Mosque of al-Manaratain.[8]
  • Mosque and tomb of Sayyid Imam al-Uraidhi ibn Ja‘far al-Sadiq, destroyed by dynamite on August 13, 2002.[10]
  • Four mosques at the site of the Battle of the Trench in Medina.[11]
  • The Mosque of Abu Rasheed.[7]
  • Salman al-Farsi Mosque, in Medina.[7]
  • Raj'at ash-Shams Mosque, in Medina.[7]
Cemeteries and tombs
Historical religious sites
  • The house of Mawlid where Muhammad is believed to have been born in 570. Originally turned into a cattle market,[11] it now lies under a rundown building which was built 70 years ago as a compromise after Wahhabi clerics called for it to be torn down.[3]
  • The house of Khadija, Muhammad’s first wife. Muslims believe he received some of the first revelations there. It was also where his children Umm Kulthum, Ruqayyah, Zainab, Fatima and Qasim were born. After it was rediscovered during the Haram extensions in 1989, it was covered over and public toilets were built above the site.[13]
  • House of Muhammed in Medina, where he lived after the migration from Mecca.[7]
  • Dar al Arqam, the first Islamic school where Muhammad taught.[3] It now lies under the extension of the Haram.[12]
  • Qubbat’ al-Thanaya, the burial site of Muhammed's incisor that was broken in the Battle of Uhud.[8]
  • Mashrubat Umm Ibrahim, built to mark the location of the house where the Prophet’s son, Ibrahim, was born to Mariah.[10]
  • Dome which served as a canopy over the Well of Zamzam.[7]
  • Bayt al-Ahzan of Sayyida Fatima, in Medina.[7]
  • House of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, in Medina.[7]
  • Mahhalla complex of Banu Hashim, in Medina.[7]
  • House of Imam Ali where Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn were born.[7]

Tombs at the Prophet's Mosque under threat

The Prophet’s Mosque in Medina is where Mohammed, Abu Bakr and the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab are buried. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that “the green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Mosque.” This sentiment was echoed in a speech by the late Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent Wahhabi clerics: “We hope one day we’ll be able to destroy the green dome of the Prophet Mohammed”.[4]

In Iraq

Al-Askari Mosque 2006

Al-Askari Mosque 2006

With the rise of sectarian violence in Iraq resulting from the 2003 US invasion, major shrines and mosques associated with early figures in Islam have been targeted by bombings, some of which have resulted in devastating effects.

Destroyed sites include:

In Cyprus

  • Hala Sultan Tekke, tomb of Umm Haram, foster-mother of Mohammed, and one of the most sacred Islamic sites in the world, was set ablaze by Greek Cypriots on August 1999, causing damage mainly to the shrine's tapestry.[14][15]

In Jerusalem

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has been destroyed a number of times by earthquakes. The first recorded destruction took place in 713 AD when the eastern section of the mosque was ruined.[16] Other earthquakes followed in 713, 746 and 774. The last earthquake, which destroyed most of al-Aqsa, occurred in 1033. Two years later, the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir built another mosque on the site which has stood till the present-day.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Save The Hijaz". Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  2. Renard, John (1996). "Devotion". Seven Doors to Islam. University of California Press. p. 66. ISBN 0520204174. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Salah Nasrawi, Mecca’s ancient heritage is under attack - Developments for pilgrims and the strict beliefs of Saudi clerics are encroaching on or eliminating Islam’s holy sites in the kingdom, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2007. Accessed online 16 December 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Krieger, Zvika (March 26, 2008). "Wahabi/Saudi Government destroying Islamic heritage". The New Republic. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  5. Rabasa, Angel; Benard, Cheryl (2004). "The Middle East: Cradle of the Muslim World". The Muslim World After 9/11. Rand Corporation. p. 103, note 60.. ISBN 0833037129. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Shehabi, Saeed (June 19, 2006). "Destruction of Islamic Architectural Heritage in Saudi Arabia: A Wake-up Call". Muslim Institute. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 7.16 7.17 History of the Cemetery of Jannat al-Baqi, History of the Shrines, (Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project). Accessed online 16 December 2008.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Irfan Ahmed, The Destruction of Holy Sites in Mecca and Medina, page 1, Islamica Magazine (Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue Inc.), Issue 15. Accessed online 16 December 2008.
  9. Goss, Robert; Klass, Dennis (2005). "Chapter 5". Dead But Not Lost. Rowman Altamira. p. 204. ISBN 0759107890. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Irfan Ahmed, The Destruction of Holy Sites in Mecca and Medina, page 2, Islamica Magazine (Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue Inc.), Issue 15. Accessed online 16 December 2008.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Irfan Ahmed, The Destruction of Holy Sites in Mecca and Medina, page 4, Islamica Magazine (Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue Inc.), Issue 15. Accessed online 16 December 2008.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Irfan Ahmed, The Destruction of Holy Sites in Mecca and Medina, page 3, Islamica Magazine (Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue Inc.), Issue 15. Accessed online 16 December 2008.
  13. The House of Sayyida Khadija, Islamica Magazine. Accessed 16-12-08
  14. United Nations Economic and Social Council Letter dated 10 December 2001 from the permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations office at Geneva pg. 5
  15. Cyprus condemns arson attempt against the Hala Sultan Tekke
  16. Elad, Amikam. (1995). Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic Worship Holy Places, Ceremonies, Pilgrimage BRILL, pp.29-43. ISBN 9004100105.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.