Above: Mecca in 1951
While many of you will be preparing your tailored ihraams and confirming your travel visas to embark on one of the most important journeys of your life, the Mecca you will see is not the one your parents may have experienced 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
Do not be surprised if on your quest to the spiritual centre of Islam, you stumble across a Starbucks outside the holy mosque and a long queue of soon-to-be-caffeinated pilgrims.
Many people are now questioning the commercialisation that is taking place in Islam’s holiest cities – a process which involves an increase in trade, stylish reconstruction and misplaced luxury.
Whereas before you could see the mosque and the ka’bah at a distance from the low hills of the mountainous outskirts of Mecca, recent years have set the mosque against a backdrop of cranes, scaffolding and towering buildings. A tall clock tower outside of the mosque stands as the fourth tallest freestanding structure in the world and some have ironically labelled Mecca as “Mecca-hattan”.
What’s more, shopping has become an almost essential experience of the religious journey with malls plentiful and in walking distance of the holy sites. Celebrities have been accused of tainting the city with their global luxury brands and taking away the focus on the remembrance of God.
However, Saudi officials insist the urban renewal is necessary to accommodate for the increasing number of pilgrims, which is expected to swell from around three million last year to seven million by 2040.
Is Mecca turning into a sort of Disneyland void of the remembrance of God, and diminishing the sense of equality that hajj brings about? Or is Saudi Arabia responding to the demands of pilgrims? Could money be better spent elsewhere?
Below: Mecca in 2012