Will Islam's Holiest Site be Taken From Saudis?

Egyptian leaders say Saudis failing Hajj pilgrimage after crane fall, indicating possible division of authority among Muslim states.

Ari Yashar ,

Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque
Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque

The unusual crane collapse last Friday at the Grand Mosque in Mecca has apparently sparked a fallout in the Muslim world regarding its holiest site, as senior Egyptian religious figures called for Saudi authority over the site to be changed.

The collapse killed 107 people and wounded 238 at the holiest site in Islam which houses the Kaaba cube Muslims pray towards, and it ironically took place on September 11, caused by high winds and a sandstorm. It came just two weeks before the Hajj pilgrimage, and has led Saudi Arabia to bar the Saudi Binladin Group from new projects - the Group is owned by the family of Osama bin Laden.

Sheikh Salman Mohammed, an adviser of Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowments, told Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency that Saudi Arabia's sole authority over the Grand Mosque where the Kaaba is located needs to be changed.

"Many mistakes have been made during the Hajj ceremony in recent decades and the bloody Friday incident was not the first case and will not be the last either; therefore, unless a revolution doesn’t take place in the administration and management of the Hajj ceremony in Saudi Arabia, we will witness such incidents in future too," said Mohammed to the news site.

Fars, which has an anti-Saudi bent, wrote that Mohammed's criticism follows on the criticism of several other Muslim leaders and politicians "demanding the change of authority in charge of running Hajj rituals from Riyadh to a collection of Muslim states."

Also cited in the report was Professor Ashraf Fahmi of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, which is associated with the influential Al-Azhar Mosque.

Fahmi called on Saudi Arabia to "admit its mistakes" in managing the Hajj pilgrimage, and to change its administration of the event.

Virtually since the beginning of Islam there has been a sharp and bloody divide between Sunni and Shi'ite streams, with Iran currently being the most powerful Shi'ite state and a fierce rival of Saudi Arabia. The presence of the religious sites in Mecca has given Saudi Arabia a certain prestige in the Muslim world that apparently is being challenged in the criticism over the crane collapse.

New Mecca debacle

The crane accident came during Binladin Group's work on a massive construction project to expand the area of the Grand Mosque by 400,000 square meters (4.3 million square feet) to allow up to 2.2 million visitors at once, according to Gulf News.

However, falling cranes are not the only worries of the millions of Muslim pilgrims arriving in Mecca.

On Thursday morning a massive fire at a local hotel caused 1,028 Asian Muslim pilgrims to be evacuated.

According to an official statement by the Saudi government, the fire took place in an 11-story hotel in the Al-Azizyiah neighborhood of Mecca.

Two pilgrims were wounded in the fire, but civil defense teams managed to rescue them.

The statement pointed out that the hotel was licensed to accommodate Muslim pilgrims arriving as part of the Hajj, possibly further raising tensions regarding Saudi Arabia's authority over the Hajj pilgrimage.