Saturday, September 4, 2010
As Time Goes By
This year the world's largest clock began ticking in Mecca just in time for Ramadan. It towers prominently over the holy city and is visible for a distance of 18 miles! Two million green and white LED lights illuminate the clock's four faces, which make the time visible from every direction - a glitzy display rivaling the glow of Vegas, Baby - and in the process, losing the spirituality and reverence of the place. A portion of these lights will flash at five different times during each day to signal prayer times for Muslims.
The giant ticker is part of an enormous government-funded complex which includes hotels, conference centers, and shopping malls. In comparison to London's Big Ben, the new Mecca clock, soaring almost 2000 feet into the sky, resembles the pitting of David against Goliath. At that height, it is believed that the Royal Mecca Clock Tower becomes the world's second tallest building. Big Ben only reaches the paltry height of 316 feet, and while its faces measure 23 feet across, each face of the colossal Mecca timepiece flaunts a diameter of 151 feet.
Knowing the exact time is a key element of Islam, since the five daily prayers are called at precise pre-set times which vary by a few minutes every day. The dates of Ramadan are also very precise and are calculated by the sighting of the sliver of the new crescent moon (called "hilal") to mark the beginning and the end of the month of fasting.
Of course the construction of this gargantuan timepiece is not without controversy. It is no secret that the intention behind building a clock of this magnitude is to try to convince the rest of the world that Mecca is "the true center of the earth," and as such should replace Greenwich Mean Time as the world's standard time. GMT (now called UTC/Coordinated Universal Time) has been around since before 1850 and was arbitrarily accepted by the rest of the world well over 100 years ago, mainly because a standard time was needed and Britain's standing as the world's leading maritime power at the time won out.
Islamic scholars and scientists are basing their reasoning on the claim that Mecca apparently has no magnetic force, deducing that Mecca must be the center of the world. Some of their assertions seem somewhat far-fetched and even arrogant: that Neil Armstrong actually proved that Mecca is the center of the world (and that there was a conspiracy to mysteriously remove this information from the internet); and that because there is no magnetic pull in Mecca, "people live longer" (really, how can this be proved?), "are healthier," and "get charged with energy," according to Abdel-Baset al-Sayyed, an Arab scientist at the Egyptian National Research Center.
Since non-Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, will never get to see this big clock in person, and therefore will not be able to substantiate any of these claims, it is highly doubtful that the rest of the world will have any interest at all in wanting to adopt Mecca Time to replace GMT.