Makkah in the Off-season

Maureen Dowd is not known for tact (she allegedly once wrote that Al Gore was “so feminized…he’s practically lactating”). Which is why her latest column in the NYTimes is such an interesting read. Dowd writes about her disappointment at not being allowed to visit Mecca, to ‘experience the religion’ and ‘understand the complexities of Islam’.

At the same time she seems to come across , as a commentator on the web-page put it, like a fairly large ignoramus: she asks a Saudi minister to let non-Muslims visit Mecca during the ‘off season’ and expresses surprise when she finds out that Abraham built the Kaaba. Her assumption that she could learn more about a religion by being in its cradle seems odd, especially since one hardly goes to the Vatican to learn more about Christianity. She seems flippant about Islamic-Western relationship, and her attitude of entitlement would not do any favours for the reputation of Americans, or journalists, worldover.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and there is little reason why anyone should go there to ‘understand the complexities of Islam’. The country is ‘closed’, not only to non-Muslims, but to all non-Arabs. Thousands of expatriates and immigrant workers face all sorts of restrictions from travel to dressing. Picking up some readings, or traveling to any other place with a Muslim population would probably serve her better, perhaps even NYC.

  • clicking the Kaaba
  • clicking the Kaaba
  • However crassly, Dowd does manage to raise a point about opening places of worship to tourism. Many churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are open to the hordes worldwide. How does this affect people that are actually there to worship? Surely, large tourist groups are a nuisance anywhere the pious are praying. Many places politely ask the tourists to leave at designated prayer times. I confess that I have been a camera-toting nuisance myself, terrorizing priests in their confessional booths with my camera. (after the jump: pic of the priest i terrorised)