Mecca's Most Prestigious Retail Address


If the divine command for every Muslim to take a pilgrimage to Mecca isn't enough to get you moving, now there's another reason to go on the hajj: The shopping is fabulous!

Just "steps away from the holy mosque," says the promotional material for the Abraj Al Bait shopping center, "Makkah's most prestigious retail address" offers "Spectacular view of the Ka'abah" and "Innovative space for a new shopping experience." The seven-spired complex is not yet completed, but when it is it will tower over the Great Mosque (see photo).

From First Things, this look at why many (most?) Muslims are untroubled by this juxtaposition of holiness and commerce:

To a Christian, all that seems like putting a Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Bloomingdale's, and the Chocolate Factory next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with extended hours during Holy Week. It looks to us like a desecration….

The hotel and shopping center, however, are not desecrations of their faith. Before he was a prophet, Muhammad was a businessman. And it is perfectly in keeping with honoring him that a market is set up next to the Great Mosque. In fact, there's always been a market next to the mosque; this one is just going to be bigger, and air conditioned. And more than the Christian heaven (which is primarily characterized by the intimate and intelligible presence of God), the paradise of Islam is the perfection of sensual pleasures. And what better way to give a foretaste of these divine gifts than a mall and a first-rate hotel? And what better place for it than the center of the holy city?

But Islam is different. Commerce is celebrated. And there's no embarrassment whatsoever about hawking the financial benefits of businesses, like these towers, that only exist because of the hajj. It really is an innovative shopping experience. And for the individual Muslim? Of course, if at all possible, go on hajj, circle the Ka'aba, throw the seven pebbles, perform the required sacrifice, and do it all with the greatest conviction, humility, and devotion. Then shop 'til you drop. Peace be upon you.

For more on the intersection of Islam and the free market, go here.