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Alarm over Saudi plan to remove tomb of Prophet Muhammad

The proposal, highlighted by the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, would demolish shrines sacred to many Muslims
Al-Masjid al-Nabawi often called the Prophet's Mosque, is the final resting place of Muhammad (Omar A./Flickr)

A proposal by a Saudi scholar to remove the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina and bury them in an unmarked grave have sparked controversy.

The plans, according to the Independent newspaper have been circulating the al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque in Medina which houses the Prophet’s remains under the Green Dome which is visited by millions of pilgrims each year and is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam after the Kabbah.

The document calls for the demolition of chambers around Muhammad’s grave and the removal of his remains to the nearby al-Baqi cemetery, where they would be anonymously interred without a headstone.

The article pointed out that no decision had been officially made to implement the plans.

The revelations have, unsurprisingly, provoked outrage on social media:

Others were more skeptical of the news:

Some suggested that the Independent's main source for the story, Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, was a frequent critic of the Saudi government and exaggerating the plausibility of the plans.

Another pointed out that the Saudi family had not destroyed the original shrine in their almost 100 years of controlling Mecca:

Saudi Arabia’s brand of Islam - pejoratively labelled ‘Wahhabism’ by its critics, after its 18th-century founder Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab - is highly critical of idolatry and the worship of shrines and holy relics.

The bodies of many of the Prophet’s family, including his father, are already interred in the al-Baqi cemetery.

In 1924, after the Saudis took power, all grave markers were removed, so pilgrims would be unable to worship them.

Around 95% of Mecca’s ancient buildings have already been destroyed in the construction of the Grand Mosque, according to the Gulf Institute, and the Saudi government has already come in for much criticism over what is seen as a disregard for historically and religiously important sites.

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has defended the developments saying “Of all the countries that have ruled Makkah, Saudi Arabia has undertaken the greatest reforms in the city. The expansion projects are conducted in a modern and sophisticated manner.”

Writing on the Islamic affairs website 5Pillarz, Dr Ilyas Mohammed criticised Muslim inaction over the destruction of Saudi Arabia’s historical buildings.

“During the controversy over The Satanic verses in 1988, Jyllands-Posten cartoons in 2006 and the movie Innocence of Muslims in 2012, Muslim leaders were falling over themselves to condemn what they regarded as degradation of their faith,” he wrote. “But over the destruction of Islamic heritage by other Muslims there seems to be silence.”

“If Muslims allow the destruction of their heritage sites to continue unchallenged, then are they in any position to condemn Islamophobes for attacking our Mosques in Britain?“