Medina, Saudi Arabia, Asharq Al-Awsat- “Peace by upon you companions of the Prophet”, is one of the greetings uttered by visitors to Mount Uhud, site of the famous battle where Hamza bin Abdul Mutalib, Prophet Mohammed’s uncle, died and is buried.
Green billboards with instructions in Arabic, English and Persian, by the Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice inform visitors to the tomb on the correct religious method of carrying out the visit. Starting off in the early morning, visitors retraced the footsteps of the Prophet and his companions. Many, like Samer Abdul Rahim, do not pay attention to the notices. He walked around and followed the instructions found in a book he brought with him from abroad.
Visitors expressed their joy when close to Hamza’s tomb. Many lingered around, eating ice cream and biscuits. Others drank soft drinks and ate popcorn, standing in awe of the tomb, behind an old fence, on which teenagers had graffiti on.
“This is my first visit. I was hoping to find the tomb surrounded by greenery and the fence in a better state,” said Maysoun. She was also annoyed by the large number of vendors around Hamza’s tomb. “A tomb must be respected regardless of who is buried there and more so because it is that of a companion of the Prophet.”
One vendor who sold soft drinks defended his presence. “We go to any location where there are people. This spot is blessed by God. Visitors flock here all year round.”
On its visit last week, Asharq al Awsat witnessed several vendors selling dates, mint tea, juices, ice cream, pop corn and hot drinks from carts adjacent to the perimeter fence. Young beggar children roamed the site and volunteered to guide visitors to the tomb.
A small number of religious scholars could also be seen around the tomb. Each sat in a spot to give a lecture, using loudspeakers. A group of Saudi visitors were seen gathering around one and listening attentively.
“The sanctity of the dead should be respected and Islam respects this. But the tomb at Uhud suffers from neglect and the fence around it hasn’t been rebuilt for some time. The presence of street vendors makes matters worse. I believe that the neglect is due to the fear in some quarters that visitors will seek blessing from the site. Some officials believe that if they attend to the tomb, visitors will flock to receive blessing and sanctify the tomb. This can’t happen in this day and age,” Dr. Assem Hamdan, a writer and historian who lives in Medina, told Asharq al Awsat.
For his part, Sheikh Aqeel al Aqeel, Professor in the department of Islamic Shariaa at the Imam Islamic University in Riyadh, said, “The dead deserve respect, just as the living do. Tombs are not entertainment parks.”
On the use of loudspeakers by religious scholars or members of the religious police, al Aqeel said, “Loudspeakers should not be used in the vicinity of tombs to give lectures or for any other purpose. This doesn’t respect the dead. We know that, unfortunately, some members of the Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice aren’t aware of all aspects of the Shariaa and aren’t qualified to undertake this task. However, loudspeakers can be used to control crowds and guide people.”
Asharq al Awsat repeatedly attempted to contact the religious police to obtain its view on the issue but calls went unanswered.
Meanwhile, Ali Alawi, an engineer at the secretariat of the city of Medina, told Asharq al Awsat, “The vendors are unlicensed and are violating the law.”
Alawi confirmed to Asharq al Awsat the site had been neglected for some time. “The secretariat is currently working on a project to develop and renew this region which will include the tomb. The walls will be rebuilt and the Uhud mosque refurbished in a way that preserves the historic landmarks.”