Full article here:Raffles, which gave thirsty wanderers the Singapore Sling, is opening a luxury hotel in Mecca offering pilgrims a coffee sommelier, a chocolate room where chefs will prepare bespoke pralines and truffles, and a 24-hour butler service.
Undeterred by restrictions on beautifying oneself during the Hajj, the hotel will also have segregated gyms, beauty parlours, grooming salons and a spa.There are strict rules regarding personal hygiene and behaviour during the hajj, and forbidden activities include sex, the cutting of hair and nails and the trimming of beards. These bars are lifted once certain rituals are complete, but Muslims are generally expected to forget worldly thoughts and activities and focus on the divine.
Mohammed Arkobi, the general manager of the new hotel, did not explain how a chocolate room and spa would help pilgrims achieve spiritual fulfilment. Nor was he able to comment on how the amenities complied with the ethos of the hajj, which is about simplicity and humility.…..
Mecca’s makeover is alarming international activists, such as Ali al-Ahmed, the director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, a thinktank analysing events and issues in the region. Ahmed, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime, said many factors were driving the changes.“The al-Sauds want to make Mecca like Dubai, it is a money-making operation. They destroy ancient buildings because they do not want any history other than their own, they see it as competition. They destroy and dispose of artefacts.”
He also expressed concern that the arrival of luxury brands would increase the price of a pilgrimage. A 2009 platinum Hajj package from a UK tour operator costs £6,400 for 16 nights full board, based on double occupancy.“By developing Mecca in this way they are making it inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of Muslims. It will only be for the elite,” Ahmed said.
The city’s increasing westernisation was a “perversion of the religion”, encouraging activities that were at odds with the spirit of the hajj, he said.“The Saudis may come across as austere but members of the ruling class have billions of dollars between them – even the muftis live in palaces with chandeliers.”
Development of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina should not come at the expense of religious practice, he said, before turning his attention to the lack of protest from Muslims around the world.“Let’s take Jerusalem as an example. Muslims are outraged when Israelis do something in the Old City, but in Mecca things are being systematically destroyed and nobody is raising an eyebrow. It is a catastrophe.”