The ‘Idols’ Return to Makkah

By Ebrahim Moosa –

It was the 20th Ramadaan, 8 years after Hijrah. After years of persecution and intransigence from the Quraish, the Prophet Muhammad SAW returns to Makkah as a conqueror. Triumphant, yet full of humility. Mounted on his conveyance, he circumambulates the Ka’bah seven times and then embarks on the daunting assignment of clearing the Ka’bah of its age-old idols.

His demolition of hundreds of these pagan edifices in Makkah had struck Arab idolatry a mortal blow. Still, destruction of these idols installed in the Ka’bah warranted a much wider programme of destruction targeting the many other idols scattered all over Arabia.

In the period that followed, the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) forbade all Muslims from keeping idols within their homes. He also dispatched parties of Sahaba to destroy idols installed in all neighbourhoods surrounding Makkah. Renowned dieties like al Uzza were shattered and temples met their ultimate fate. After a break of many millenia, the light of Monotheism ignited by Ibrahim AS once again shone brightly throughout the entire Arabian peninsula.

14 centuries later, it is precisely this spirit of Tauheed that lives on in the spirited expressions of theTalbiyah and devotions chanted by millions annually during their spiritual journey’s to the Holy Land.

Unfortunately, this passage of time has also seen a steady erosion of this spirit of monotheism – the same spirit that the Prophet SAW’s demolition of idols sought to uphold. As Khalid Baig writes, the landscape of Makkah and Madinah today has been changed beyond recognition, through obscene attempts at emulating Europe, thereby producing a historic disconnect for the Holy Land. Western style malls abound in the Holy Cities and countless international brands – all emblematic of an alien culture – are afforded a privileged position.

The flashy commercial enterprises sprouting up in the vicinity of the Ka’bah may be a far cry from the blocks of wood and stone that the pre-Islamic Arabs called idols. But in their analysis, some social commentators today believe they do indeed have a term to describe the phenomenon: It’s modern-day idolatry, plain and simple, they say.

“An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life,” reasons one. “[It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security.”

In his analysis, “if you worship alcohol you become an alcoholic; if you worship food, you become a glutton; if you worship pleasure you become a sex addict.” According to this school of thought, this is the root issue of modern-day idolatry: Giving something or someone more pre-eminence than God.

Evidence for this trend is widespread in today’s global village. These days, idols(as they’re unashamedly called) are everywhere. In the music world, they may be Britney and Madonna. Fashion idols could be Gucci, Armani or Prada, and we’d even have television shows to shape our very own American, or South African Idols.

So-called celebrities, often endeared by the media, have similarly cultivated around themselves a cult following also akin to idolatry.

American socialite, businesswoman and fashion designer, Paris Hilton provides a good illustration of this mania. Critics suggest that Hilton epitomizes the title of ‘famous for being famous’. They cite her as an example of the modern phenomenon of the “celebutante”, the celebrity who rises to fame not because of their talent or work but because of their inherited wealth and controversial lifestyle.

In recent years, she has exploited her stardom to advance a fashion and perfume line that has reportedly earned her billions of dollars. Currently, there are 42 Paris Hilton Stores worldwide and her brand includes perfumes, handbags, watches, footwear, among other products.

Nowhere it seems, is safe from Paris, not even the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as the Daily Mail observed lately.

The fashion idol last week publicly announced the city at the heart of Islam as the latest location for one of her designer handbags and accessories stores.

And whilst perceived Bidah or innovations usually encounter a firm response from the Saudi authorities, it seems the intrusion of Hilton’s brand of modern day idolatry went largely undetected.

“Loving my beautiful new store that just opened at Mecca Mall in Saudi Arabia! This is the 5th store in Saudi Arabia, and store number 42 in total! So proud to keep growing my brand!,” the socialite posted on Twitter.

Her announcement quickly prompted many online rants with some even accusing her of ‘insulting Mecca’.

One Saudi blogger, however, appeared to best have his finger on the pulse. Ahmed Al Omran, who blogs at Saudi Jeans and Riyadh Bureau, observed that the store should not be seen in isolation from the bigger issue of the commercialization of Mecca “where historic sites have been demolished to make way for modern malls and international brands.”

There’s no particular reason to be outraged about Paris Hilton when we already have Gucci and Christian Dior,” he argued.

Omran makes a telling point. Hilton is not the first icon to exemplify such a morally depraved lifestyle, nor will she be the last. But it is our hearty embrace of this culture as the Muslim Ummah that would need to be addressed first, if we desire to prevent the accumulation of even more of these monuments of idolatory in our most sacred spaces.

We may currently be helpless to demolish the ‘false diety’ of Paris Hilton Stores in Mecca Mall, but true to the practical demonstration of Tauheed handed down to us by our Prophet PBUH, it is certainly within our capacities to shatter all other false idols we have allowed to intrude into our personal lives.

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