Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Clock and the Crescent

As Muslims gather to undertake the hajj pilgrimage, the city of Mecca itself is experiencing a major transformation which seems to mirror larger upheavals in the Islamic world. A massive hotel complex featuring the world’s second tallest building has opened literally across the street from the mosque which forms the heart of the holy city. But more interesting than the intrusion of this gigantic tower is what caps off the building: the world’s largest clock face. Such a contrast of sacred and secular imagery is striking, for the clock actually represents an intrusion of modernity into a timeless place. It has also become the focal point of a movement which seeks to replace Greenwich Mean Time with “Mecca Time,” a movement partially explained by a rejection of colonialism, but one which also relies, as Salman Hameed at Religion Dispatches points out, on a growing consciousness of the need for Islam to establish its own place in the contemporary world rather than shun it.

Right now, the “Mecca Time” movement relies heavily on easily-disprovable scientific claims, which purport to demonstrate that the city of Mecca is world’s magnetic pole, among other things. But there is also a deeper change occurring here:

The urge on the part of some to show Mecca’s specialness in a scientific idiom has nothing to do with actual science. There is a whole genre in the Muslim world of claims that modern science is already in the Qur’an (such as modern embryology, the expanding universe, etc.), thus “verifying” the holy text’s truth. The claim that Mecca is the center of the world falls in this same unfortunate category. What is interesting here is the desire to use science (indeed, really bad science) as an instrument to verify religion...
Matthew Cantirino

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