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News > World

Where Pilgrims Meet Paris Hilton: Mecca's ‘Las Vegasization’

  • The looming clock tower over the holy pilgrimage site.

    The looming clock tower over the holy pilgrimage site. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published 13 September 2016

The ancient holy site has been transformed into a garish metropolis, where a Paris Hilton handbag can be purchased for a princely sum. 

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Sandwiched between two desolate mountains, the city of Mecca sits in a cavity about 45 miles inland from the Red Sea port of Jeddah, the sun scorching the millions who flock to the city for the holy Islamic pilgrimage of hajj.

But if hajj-goers from even two decades ago were to return to what was a small, desert town today, they would scarcely recognize the towering skyscrapers that rise like hallucinations from the metropolis of garish shopping malls and opulent luxury hotels. Indeed, there is even a Paris Hilton handbag shop.

“What the Saudis have done to Mecca is completely ghastly,” a British Muslim said in The Spectator. “It’s a retail extravaganza right up to the Great Mosque. During my hajj, the last things I saw before turning towards the Kaaba were a Samsonite shop and Häagen-Dazs. They’ve turned Mecca into a shopping mall.”

The looming clock tower. | Photo: Flickr / Bander Almutlaq

Nearly 95 percent of the city’s ancient buildings have been demolished to make way for the glitzy and commercialized hajj experience that is the pride and joy of the pious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Once the amphitheater from which the Prophet Muhammad would preach about equality, the holy site is now a playground for the rich, enjoying the spoils of Western-style capitalism.

Millennia-old sites with great historical significance have been destroyed including the old Ottoman and Abbasi sections of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Muhammad was born. The Bilal mosque, which dates to nearly 1400 years ago, has also been bulldozed in recent decades. And the house that belonged to Muhammed’s most beloved wife, Khadijah, is now a public lavatory, which is perhaps an apt symbol of the Saudi regime.

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In the midst of this all, is the looming Makkah Royal Clock Tower, the 1,972 feet-high structure that was built atop nearly 400 sites of cultural and historical importance.

Perhaps most telling is the opening of U.S. socialite and heiress Paris Hilton’s handbag store in the city’s sprawling Mecca Mall. While non-Muslims are not allowed in the holy city, the Saudi regime emblematically made an exception for Hilton.

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