Image 1 of 16: Mecca has grown this last century, and exponentially this decade, from a small, desert town to a sprawling glitzy metropolis. Teeming
with commerce & spirituality, capped with lofty sites as the 'House of God' (Ka'aba), elevated religiosity,
as well as skyscrapers, lining the skyscape, Mecca a throwback to the past, strides toward the future.
Image 1 of 16: From thirsty wasteland, into a buzzing pilgrim city, blessed with God's bounty, via the magnanimity of the Saudi King Custodian
of the 2 Holy Mosques (add to that, decadent malls). No longer solely about the old sites Bayt al-Mawlid
(House of the Prophet's birth) & (Mountain) al-Nour-- where the Prophet received his first revelations.
Image 1 of 16: There is an ancient tradition of railing against the conduct of the Hajj, that might be resurfacing, amid a disregard for Mecca's
cultural heritage: "Qarmatians" were a Shia Ismaili group in Arabia, who first disapproved the materialistic idolatrous nature of Hajj,
by their theft of the Black Stone & desecration of the Well of Zamzam, 930 CE.
Image 1 of 16: Sponsored by the Kingdom's oil riches, Mecca has become of symbol of both Islam & capitalism, as Hajj souvenirs, of jewelry are
being sold to pilgrims. Luxury hotels for the elite pilgrims who can afford to indulge, defy the spirit of equality at Mecca among world Muslims,
as prescribed by the Prophet Mohammed (Peace & Blessings Be Upon Him).
Image 1 of 16: Bayt al-Mawlid-- or the Prophet's Birthplace -- will be destroyed by the Grand Mosque expansion. The final structure, set to be the
largest, 'grandest' religious structure, is should accommodate an extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year. Still inside the Grand Mosque
complex, the house of the Prophet's first wife Khadijah is now a toilet block.
Image 1 of 16: While expansion plans promise not to compromise the holy sites, preserving the "the sacredness & glory of the location,
which calls for the highest care of the servants of Islam", Old Mecca looks to turn capitalist playground like Dubai. The new Hajj
sites of 2000s are not all modern mosques, but malls, helipads & luxury suite concrete palaces.
Image 1 of 16: To accommodate the proliferating pilgrims: The expansion of the Grand Mosque, which is expected to carry an extra1.2 million
pilgrims each year, will cost as many in billions of UK sterling pounds - - 1.4 bn. The most sacred site in Islam, home to the Ka'aba,
the Grand Mosque is set to become the largest religious structure in the world.
Image 1 of 16: Las Vegas is often called a 'Mecca' for money. Now Mecca is, in scorn, labelled, the
"Las Vegas" of the East. With 13 million 'pilgrims' a year (just a third of the numbers that flock to Vegas), the numbers are definitely
on the rise, expected to increase to 17 million by 2025, to match the increased world population and world Muslim masses.
Image 1 of 16: Bigger and better: Mecca already boasts its share in fancy international hotels. It could have 80,000 hotel rooms by
2015, at its building rate. "The Mecca Clock Royal Tower Hotel", with more than 800 rooms, lies in what will soon be the world’s
second-tallest building, housing the world’s biggest clock. Remind you of Dubai?
Image 1 of 16: "Abraj al-Bait" complex, is a hub of 7 newly risen huge towers, with shopping complex, conveniently by the Grand Mosque.
It includes two helipads, a giant shopping mall and a prayer area to boot, catering for 30,000 worshippers, measuring up larger than
America’s 2 biggest buildings put together -- the Pentagon and Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas.
Image 1 of 16: "Would you like a room view of Ka'aba, Sir?": With many rooms directly 'facing' the Ka'aba, the cubical building housing
the black stone towards which over a billion Muslims turn in prayer, the Abraj al-Bait village can charge extortionate prices that the
majority of pilgrims cannot dream of. A one-room studio apartment starts at $650,000.
Image 1 of 16: Local residents less than impressed: Many citizens, particularly those who hail from the two holy cities
of Mecca & Medina, have looked on unhappily to see their archaeological heritage forsaken under a construction craze backed
by clerics who preach support for the campaign. Mecca & Medina do need infrastructure development, however.
Image 1 of 16: The skyline of Mecca is fast obscuring the point of faithful focus for worshipers praying world-wide, the Ka'aba.
Malls, skyscrapers luxury hotels: This is an absolute contradiction to the nature of Mecca and the sacredness of the house
of God," says one observer "Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished."
Image 1 of 16: Big Ben of Mecca: The Mecca Clock Royal Tower Hotel poses a competition to London's famed iconic structure. Mecca's version incorporates
the world’s biggest clock, with faces at least six times the size of Big Ben’s, and capped by a spire topped with a golden crescent.
Image 1 of 16: Could your abiding image of Mecca be in the (less than Arabian) coffee bean? Starbucks: 'A "latte" for the weary pilgrim or 'hajji'?
Date syrup, and skinny or with extra cream?' A 'Zamzam' water to go with that?'
Image 1 of 16: Mecca Metro/Light Railway: The Holy Site's metro light rail in Mecca opened up 2010. The Chinese-built monorail project, will link Mecca with the holy sites of
Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah, and operated for the first time during the Hajj this month to shuttle pilgrims.
Why is the holiest site of Islam, Mecca, being compared, disparagingly to Las Vegas? Indeed, is Islam's holiest site fast becoming a spiritually fashioned Las Vegas, loosely speaking?
It could be because 95% of Mecca's millennium-old buildings have beendemolished in the past two decades to make way for a new glitzy and commercial modern-day pilgrimage experience that is the Saudi Arabian Kingdom's pride and joy. And rightly so, for a destination flocked to by millions each year, set to require the infrastructure to support many more Muslims in the years ahead, with numbers estimated to hit 17 million by 2025. However, there is a cautious whispering starting to voice its disapproval and fears that the Hajj experience in the 2010th decade is starting to resemble something a little different from the simpler Hajj experience of our forefathers.
Still, this criticism is offset by national pride in the Kingdom's rennovation and unashamed investment in Islam's holiest sites, the pride and joy of the King of Saudi Arabia, the Custodian of the Two Mosques.