Ziauddin Sardar writes in the New York Times on The Destruction of Mecca:

The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.

The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount.

Mecca’s transformation seems unworthy of a place this holy. This is not the image many have in mind of what should be one of the world’s great spiritual centers. Given the disappointment over these developments we have to ask ourselves how we continue to allow this to happen. How have we allowed ownership of things we care about to be taken so far out of our hands that we are left feeling disconnected and dejected?

This is not a problem unique to Mecca or to Muslims. The feeling that we have no ability to control or affect things that matter to us seems a common sentiment. The transformation of Lahore in recent years is a very obvious illustration of this for me. I feel like I was never a part of a conversation about what I liked about Lahore and how I wanted it to change. I heard complaints about the new rapid transit bus system but I have a hard time remembering discussing whether we wanted it at all. If there was any conversation at all I don’t know who was part of it. Now it all seems too late.

Feeling unable to contribute is depressing because it makes you question your worth to the world. It forces you to ask yourself how you matter. It often leads to the conclusion that your beliefs are not relevant to the decision makers in the structures that run our world, which encourages the belief that you don’t matter. And hereon it’s easy to find meaninglessness and malice in the structures we have created to run our societies: governments, corporations, stock exchanges, financial institutions, all seemingly having no interest in what you think.

It is easy to equate this feeling of disappointment with a moral disapproval of these entities and their structures, and in the strength of our emotion it seems we casually establish opinions on many big ideas: capitalism, democracy, humanity. These opinions are often not thought through, and dangerously so. Just as the dangerous thirst for change and progress dwarves the desire to think through action taken by social structures. Mecca’s consumerist transformation, the agenda for Imran Khan’s latest protests, both beg the question: why are we doing this? It is outrageous how often this is a question we need to ask and how often we forget to. Our greed to go somewhere routinely outstrips our ability to figure out where to go.

As individuals it is often clear what we want, as groups it’s all much more muddled. Part of the challenge of operating in large structures of people is identifying what is meaningful to us as a collective. The belief of the whole is often not reflective of the belief of the individuals that make it up. This is perhaps the great challenge of living together, in both senses of the word challenge: an exasperation and an opportunity.