Prepared by Dalia al-Hussaini with Majd Musa and Mohammad al-Asad, 2005
Transcription of Arabic lecture provided by Diala Anabtawi
One issue discussed following al-Hathloul's lecture was the modern application of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence. A questioner referred to the principle of constant revitalization of property, and inquired regarding its current effect on the development of Saudi cities such as Mecca and Medina over the last 40 or 50 years. The questioner pointed out that much destruction had taken place in the name of modern planning, stating as an example the demolition of the 18th-century Ottoman Ajyad fortress in Mecca, which was demolished to make way for an apartment and shopping complex on the periphery of the Great Mosque. Al-Hathloul replied that the concept of property revitalization is the subject of great discussion among judges and jurists. He explained that there are documented cases of judges compelling owners to rebuild derelict properties owned by them. Furthermore, al-Hathloul mentioned that if the owner were not financially capable of rebuilding his property, the judge would normally intervene, and bring in a third person, who would act in the capacity of a modern "developer." This "developer" would be granted the right to use this property for an agreed amount of time, after which the property would revert to its original owner. He further explained that this was largely the case in waqfs (pl. of waqf, a charitable endowment often intended for the upkeep of a religious building, educational institution, or other establishment that aimed at serving the public good). Al-Hathloul pointed out that it was the judge who had the responsibility of overseeing a waqf, even if an administrator for that waqf existed. So, in numerous cases - where the waqf had been allowed to run down - the judge would intervene and allow developers to rebuild the property and make use of its income for a certain period of time before it was returned to its original uses according to the waqf.
Regarding the question of architectural heritage and what remains of it in Saudi Arabia, al-Hathloul noted that the process of rapid development in Saudi Arabia undoubtedly has led to the loss of a large part of architectural heritage, especially in Medina, where the old city was demolished and now falls within the current extension of the Prophet's Mosque. However, he pointed out that this matter in particular is not an easy one to discuss, especially since there are two million pilgrims who come to pray in the mosque during the Hajj (pilgrimage) season. Under such circumstances, al-Hathloul added, it would be difficult to argue against the demolition of older structures in the area to make way for the mosque's expansion. However, he agreed that in the case of Ajyad fortress in Mecca, it could have been preserved, and the waqf of the Holy Mosque which is a commercial development project could have been constructed around it.
Al-Hathloul added that the issue of preservation remains an extremely difficult one to argue with people who place no value on architectural heritage. From the developers' point of view, the development mentioned above, as a waqf for the mosque, would provide the mosque (after the initial 15 years that the developer is entitled to its income) with an annual income in the neighborhood of 120 million US$. He explained that the value of land next to the Holy Mosque in Mecca could cost up to 45,000 - 50,000 US$ per square meter. Pilgrims would pay double for accommodation adjacent to the mosque in relation to what they would pay for accommodation 500m farther away from the mosque. All financial considerations withstanding, al-Hathloul expressed his opinion that this should not justify the destruction of the fortress.
An audience member asked al-Hathloul, as both an academic and a government official, whether he thinks it would be possible to grant as much freedom relating to zoning regulations and land use in the city today as was given in the pre-modern Islamic city. Al-Hathloul responded by explaining that Saudi Arabia can be viewed as a laboratory of city planning within the context of the modern Arab world. Its modern development has taken place over a relatively short period of time so that the complete process can be observed and documented relatively easily and clearly. He went on to explain that, from the mid-fifties until the end of the seventies, a number of new traditions relating to building regulations emerged and consequently were instituted as legislation. He added that it would be unrealistic today to attempt to totally overturn such developments in an attempt to return to legislation that governed the pre-modern Arab-Islamic city.