Behind closed doors – in places where the religious police cannot listen in – residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city as Las Vegas, and the moniker is not a compliment.
To the al-Saud monarchy, Mecca is their vision of the future – a steel and concrete metropolis built on the proceeds of enormous oil wealth that showcases their national pride.
Yet growing numbers of citizens, particularly those living in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have looked on aghast as the nation's archaeological heritage is trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who preach against the preservation of their own heritage. Mecca, once a place where the Prophet Mohamed insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a playground for the rich, critics say, where naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the city's raison d'être.
But a number of prominent Saudi archaeologists and historians are speaking up in the belief that the opportunity to save Saudi Arabia's remaining historical sites is closing fast.
"No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism," says Dr Irfan al-Alawi who, as executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, has fought in vain to protect his country's historical sites. "We have already lost 400-500 sites. I just hope it's not too late to turn things around."
Sami Angawi, a renowned Saudi expert on the region's Islamic architecture, is equally concerned. "This is an absolute contradiction to the nature of Mecca and the sacredness of the house of God," he told the Reuters news agency earlier this year. "Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished. You do not find anything except skyscrapers."
The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca's millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.
From The Independent: Mecca for the rich: Islam's holiest site 'turning into Vegas'
I remember when I first became Muslim I took a certain amount of comfort in the fact that Muslims seemed less susceptible to the Hal Lindsey / Millerite /Harold Camping / Jack Van Impe / David Koresh -type error of reading endtime prophecy in everyday events. Even now I would say I'm not so apocalyptically-minded but I still can't help but think about how according to the hadith of Gabriel, one of the signs of the end is "that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute herdsman competing in constructing lofty buildings."
For further evidence that Saudis are going to hell in a handbasket check out:
The Guardian: Saudi princes throw parties boasting drink, drugs and sex
the holiest parking lot in the world
the hajj and the apartheid train