Ali Eteraz has written an important and thought-provoking post, “The Problem Of Mecca”, in which he struggles with the issue of fractiousness and internecine violence in the Islamic world. The problem, as he sees it, is the status of the holy city of Mecca, and the fact that the House of Saud has control over it.
Perhaps we would have never had to battle one another over Mecca (or over “Mecca”) if the Prophet would have left a clergy in place. Or if he would have left a political structure in place. Or if he would have left angels to rule us in his stead. However, given that he did no such thing, given that he left us to our own individual devices, it meant that each and every one of us felt that we were the true guardians of Mecca, that each one of us in his own capacity, was the true guardian of God’s Arabian Abode. In each of our desires to assume this responsibility we turned against one another. We killed one another. We separated from one another.
…In other words, Muslims have believed that what unifies them is the specter of a political empire called the Caliph, when, quite obviously, what truly unifies them is a political actor who has dominion over Mecca. It is Mecca, as I stated, which is the locus.
In the context of the modern nation-state, the centrality of Mecca to all Muslims has been the cause of immense trouble. It has meant, that whether Muslims like it or not, the House of Saud is now the presumptive leader of Islam. Why? Because they have dominion over Mecca. Out of respect, the balance of Muslims in the world cannot decry the House of Saud, for they are the “Guardians of The Two Holy Mosques.” The majority of the Muslim nations simply consent to the notion that the House of Saud is our presumptive leader and neither break away from its propaganda and disinformation, nor prevent its scholars from trampling them under foot. The deep-seated respect for Mecca provides the House of Saud with religious legitimacy in the entire Muslim world, such that everything that comes from Saudi Arabia is considered to be the truest expression of Islam (even if it is clearly anti-Islamic). It is not Saudi oil which sells Wahhabi theology. It is the weight of Mecca which gives it gravity. Take away Mecca and the theology of regression follows suit.
Eteraz is, from the point of view of this blog, a rare bird: a truly moderate Muslim. He wants Islam to come to its senses and come to terms with modernity. He wants it to accept a place as one religion among other world religions, instead of the rightful ruler of the whole world.
To this end, he wants to remove power over Mecca from the Saudis, so as to de-legitimize the baneful Wahhabi theology. He acknowledges the difficulty of such a project; Mecca cannot be taken by violence, and wresting it from the House of Saud will not be easy.
The only possible solution is for a collection of Muslim nation-states to begin a movement using international legal remedies and diplomacy to make Mecca (and Medina) either independent nation-states unto themselves (as is the Vatican), or to have them rendered international protectorates, the task of their protection and maintenance falling upon the Muslim world jointly. …Muslims, by having a Mecca that is no longer identified by its ethnicity, but by its religion, can all compete to become better Muslims, as opposed to competing to become the pawns of Saud.
It’s an interesting idea, and I have no idea of its practicality. But an important difference between Islam and the Catholic Church is that there has never been the Islamic equivalent of the Pope, a religious leader with a plausible claim to universal legitimacy. If Mohammed had had the equivalent of St. Peter in his entourage, and handed over the keys of Mecca to him… But he didn’t, and nothing can change that fact.
In any case, I hope other Muslim intellectuals take up Eteraz’ cause, and start discussing it. We need a counter-meme to compete with the Great Jihad. For those of us who still hold out a shred of hope for “moderate Islam”, it’s an absolute necessity.
Some Gates of Vienna readers believe that the “moderate Muslim” is a myth, and that a twilight struggle against the entirety of Islam is our only option.
And Eteraz? Well, in their view he’s simply a sophisticated practitioner of taqqiya, of the stratagem of deliberate deception practiced by believers against the infidel.
They must think he’s really good at it.