THE pilgrimage to Mecca has always involved hardship and sacrifice, whether months spent travelling on foot through barren valleys and sleeping in the open with no shelter from the elements or stripping oneself of earthly trappings. But help is at hand for the pilgrim who cannot bear to be without comfort while executing the fifth pillar of Islam.Raffles, which gave thirsty wanderers the Singapore Sling, is opening a luxury hotel in Mecca offering pilgrims a coffee sommelier, a chocolate room where chefs will prepare bespoke pralines and truffles, and a 24-hour butler service.Undeterred by restrictions on beautifying oneself during the hajj, the hotel will also have segregated gyms, beauty parlours, grooming salons and a spa.Mohammed Arkobi, the general manager of the new hotel, did not explain how a chocolate room and spa would help pilgrims achieve spiritual fulfilment. Nor was he able to comment on how the amenities complied with the ethos of the hajj, which is about simplicity and humility.But he did say that the “comprehensive range of services” were designed to meet the needs of the “discerning” travellers they were targeting.It is being developed by the Saudi Binladin Company, one of the largest construction firms in the Arab world. The company was set up by Mohammed bin Laden, father of Osama.Around 4 million people visit Mecca for the hajj, with millions more passing through the rest of the year to perform the lesser pilgrimage. Mecca has undergone a dramatic transformation over the decades to cope with demand. Homes have been bulldozed, mountains flattened and historic sites razed to provide more hotel rooms and amenities.Ali al-Ahmed, the director of Washington’s Institute for Gulf Affairs, is an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime: “The al-Sauds want to make Mecca like Dubai, it is a money-making operation. By developing Mecca in this way they are making it inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of Muslims. It will only be for the elite,” he said.The city’s increasing Westernisation was a “perversion of the religion”, and that he was aghast at the silence of Muslims on the subject. “Let’s take Jerusalem as an example. Muslims are outraged when Israelis do something in the Old City, but in Mecca things are being systematically destroyed and nobody is raising an eyebrow. It is a catastrophe.”Raffles Mecca is due to open in April.Guardian News & Media
Nanjing Night Net

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