Muslim Parliament logo
Muslim Parliament
The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain
Links Links go to homepage

In the media

Luxury timeshares on offer at Islam's holiest pilgrimage site

Opponents say ZamZam moneyspinner makes mockery of spirit of hajj

Riazat Butt
Tuesday November 14, 2006

It is the holiest site in Islam, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the place the world's Muslim population turns and prays to five times a day.

Millions of people make a pilgrimage to Mecca every year to wash away their sins, but muddying the waters of this spiritual experience is a $390m (£205m) luxury timeshare development looming over the House of Allah.

Timeshare, a concept more usually associated with Torremolinos and the Algarve, has spread to Mecca and divided opinion in the Muslim world. Built by the Binladin Group, the construction firm founded by Mohammed bin Laden, the father of Osama, the ZamZam tower offers five-star accommodation, a shopping centre, restaurants and a car park.

Opponents say the skyscraper and its money-spinning potential goes against the spirit of hajj, a pilgrimage founded on purity, equality and simplicity.

Saudi authorities will use the initial revenue to maintain the holy site, but there is nothing to stop homeowners from selling or subleasing their timeshare for inflated prices. Irfan Ahmed al-Alawi, a historian and co-chair of the Islamic Heritage Foundation, set up to protect sites of cultural and historical interest in Mecca, said: "This timeshare is the exploitation and commercialisation of a holy city.

"The excuse given by the Saudi government is that there's not enough accommodation, but do you really need to be so close to the Grand Mosque and the House of Allah? ZamZam has facilities that are irrelevant. You don't need a shopping centre and restaurants when you're doing hajj. Marble flooring and five-star accommodation will not enhance your pilgrimage or make you a better Muslim. The idea that you can make a profit is especially offensive. Such desecration and disrespect would have been unthinkable 30 years ago."

A week's lease on a 33 sq metre studio with city views costs £3,600 in low season. A studio with views of the House of Allah, the Ka'bah, costs £93,500 to lease during the month of hajj. The Saudi government allowed the towers' construction to cater for Mecca's growing popularity as a year-round destination. Around 4 million people visit during hajj and 3 million visitors during Ramadan, but many Muslims visit at other, quieter times of the year. The Saudi government does not object to expanding facilities in Mecca.

A diplomatic source said: "People want to shop, somewhere to eat, they have the right to do these things. It is not haraam [forbidden] and we cannot stop them from wanting to do these things. People don't just do hajj and leave any more. For many it may be their only chance to visit so they want to be here as long as they can. They are getting quality accommodation and amenities. We need somewhere to put pilgrims because there are so many coming here. Besides, there are already five-star hotels in Mecca."

ZamZam is part of the Abraj al-Bait complex, one of the largest construction projects in the world, measuring 1.4m square metres. The 480m-high complex will include six other towers besides the ZamZam, two helipads and a four-storey shopping mall. It will be the tallest building in Saudi Arabia and, once completed, one of the tallest in the world. According to the Riyadh chamber of commerce and industry, Mecca has become a property hotspot. Investment during the last three decades has totalled £57bn and land in Mecca can cost up to £50,000 a square metre - more expensive than Manhattan or Mayfair.

Talal Mahmood Malik is chief executive of Alpha1Estates, which is selling timeshares for the 1,240 suites to Muslims in the UK and Europe. In the company brochure, prospective buyers are told they can expect an average rental return of between 10% and 15% a year.

He says: "You could see it as a financial investment and there will be cowboys interested in making a quick buck. But most people see it as a spiritual investment. There is a massive modernisation and regeneration programme in Mecca but non-Muslims won't be interested in investing. There's nothing to do there except pray and if you're non-Muslim you can't get into Mecca anyway."

He said that business had been a bit slow at first because the timeshare concept was "alien" to Muslims, but trade had picked up during Ramadan. He added: "We've been surprised by the number of young people buying timeshares, but there have been more sales to older Muslims, who want to retire there."

One timeshare owner, who did not wish to be named, said: "I have a large family and we go to Mecca every few years. It will provide an incentive for me to go there more often. I could make money from renting it out but, for me, it's not about that."

The Mecca goldrush has come at a price, says Dr Alawi, with many historic sites wiped off the map. He claims there are now fewer than 20 structures remaining in Mecca dating back to the time of Muhammad 1,400 years ago.

He adds: "The sad thing is that as Mecca becomes more commercialised its spiritual side will fade, but I don't hear Muslims complaining."

See also: The destruction of Mecca: Saudi hardliners are wiping out their own heritage




Media archive

Shariah Queries Pose Challenge

Gaza and the radicalisation of British Muslims

Law to protect the young must cover madrassas as well

This is no way to fight terror

A marriage of convenience will not do

Frustrated love and forced marriage

Changing the face of Muslim family life

New model Muslim marriage contract ‘revolutionary’ for UK women

British women who paid dearly for not registering their marriages

New Sharia law marriage contract gives Muslim women rights

Is this the beginning of a new European Islam?

Compulsory lessons urged on forced marriage and 'honour' violence

Law and principle are lost in the crazy politics of 42 days

A shaming victory - Brown 42 days

Islam's holiest city set for 130-skyscraper redevelopment

No more mosques, says senior Synod member

Muslim reformer's 'heresy': The Islamic state is a dead end

Intellectuals condemn fatwa against writers

Met 'let down' victim killed by her family

Divisions In Our World Are Not The Result Of Religion

Home secretary accused of putting off vote on terrorism bill

Muslim leader says families must help catch honour killers

Blasphemy caused by cuddly animals

Mistake to curb liberties in response to 7/7, says minister

Asim Siddiqui: Beyond Hizb ut-Tahrir

Naomi Klein: Why failure is the new face of success

Naomi Klein: The erasing of Iraq

Naomi Klein: The age of disaster capitalism

Special units to crack down on honour killing

Can Culture Be Bought In the Gulf?

Luxury timeshares on offer at Islam's holiest pilgrimage site

The shortest route to peace… is through Jerusalem

Pope and Islam - Muhammad's Sword

Pope and Islam -
Roots of rationality

Removal of men from holiday flight condemned

How Islam got political: Founding fathers

MPs fear police terror raid will hit community relations

Muslims question terror raid tactics

A pantomime in Forest Gate

Sudan’s Turabi - Muslim women can marry Christian or Jew

Faith leaders unite to champion supportive care for terminally ill

Warning on Muslim schools 'abuse'

Government urged to introduce registration scheme for religious Islamic schools

Call for national register of mosque schools

A call to protect Madrasa-goers from abuse

Abuse widespread in Islamic schools, says Muslim leader

Madrassa children ‘at risk of abuse’

Islamic schools in denial about child abuse

Muslim rally organisers tell extremists to stay away

Calls to scrap holocaust day slammed

The destruction of Mecca: Saudi hardliners are wiping out their own heritage

Britain to rebrand ethnic minorities

Live chat with the leader of the Muslim Parliament in Britain

Religious leaders braced for more faith-hate attacks

Police investigate 'backlash' attacks

Fanatics realise worst fears of Muslims

Muslims, do not be fooled by this law

Prisoners freed a year ago struggle to rebuild their lives

Muslim leaders consult other faiths for advice on stamping out abuse

Could the tsunami disaster be a turning point for the world?

Muslim men use law loophole to get a harem of ‘wives’

Novice imams must be vetted, Muslim leaders say

End these detentions

Muslim leaders blame Blair’s war on Iraq for growing alienation

End this internment now

Under siege on all sides, Muslims plead for peace

Islamic weddings leave women unprotected

Muslim leaders attack extremists' claims

Talking Point Forum interview with Dr Siddiqui

Focus on forced Asian marriages

British High Court judge condemns forced Asian marriages

Islam and the voice of reason

Passionate debate on a landmark in race relations

Leave us Muslims out of the anti-terror laws