That Greenwich Mean Time became universally accepted resulted from centuries of British cultivation of the maritime sciences. Although replaced by the technically more advanced Coordinated Universal Time, GMT remains in place; more importantly, perhaps, its exact opposite, running through the Pacific Ocean defines the International Date Line.
So much for science and history. According to the BBC, at a conference held in Qatar titled, "Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice," a group of Muslim scientists and religious leaders called for replacing GMT with Mecca time. Magdi Abdelhadi explains:
One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north. He said the English had imposed GMT on the rest of the world by force when Britain was a big colonial power, and it was about time that changed.
A prominent cleric, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy, said modern science had at last provided evidence that Mecca was the true centre of the Earth; proof, he said, of the greatness of the Muslim qibla - the Arabic word for the direction Muslims turn to when they pray.
The meeting also reviewed what has been described as a Mecca watch, the brainchild of a French Muslim. The watch is said to rotate anti-clockwise and is supposed to help Muslims determine the direction of Mecca from any point on Earth.
Comments: (1) That the longitude of Mecca is "in perfect alignment to magnetic north" makes no sense, as magnetic north wanders and is not a fixed place.
(2) The British did not impose GMT "on the rest of the world by force" but won international support for Greenwich because of its Royal Observatory had so leading a role in astronomical research and navigational science.
(3) Mecca is the true center of the Earth? Were the Earth a flat circle, it would have its center on the surface. But the Earth is a sphere, so its center lies not on the surface but some 4,000 miles into the interior.
(4) Greenwich's opposite time zone has the benefit of being virtually uninhabited whereas the opposite of Mecca's is Anchorage, Alaska, making the 24-hour transition a bit awkward.
(5) Plans to build the " world's tallest clock tower" in Mecca presumably have some bearing on the ambition to establish Mecca Mean Time. From a report of a just over a year ago in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat:
The holy city of Mecca is soon to become home to the world's tallest clock tower following the announcement of the decision made by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, to construct the Mecca clock tower.
An artist's rendition of the future Mecca clock tower complex.
The governor of Mecca, Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz, announced Tuesday that the clock would be placed on top of the fifth tower of the King Abdulaziz Endowment project opposite the Holy Mosque at 380 meters high, making it the world's highest clock. The four sides of the clock will be adorned by the name of God.
The project will use four clock faces for each side of the tower, including 2 main clocks that are 80 meters high and that will adorn the name of God, and that will be 65 meters wide with a 39-meter diameter. The other two clocks will be placed 65 meters high and will be approximately 34 meters wide with a 25-meter diameter.
(6) However silly the idea of Mecca Mean Time, it fits into a growing pattern that I have dubbed the "separation of civilizations," whereby Muslims and Westerners are by mutual consent going their different ways in a range of areas. (April 21, 2008)
Aug. 11, 2010 update: The Royal Mecca Clock Tower begins ticking tomorrow, just in time for Ramadan. London's Daily Telegraph provides some details:
It is at the heart of a vast complex funded by the Saudi government that will also house hotels, shopping malls and conference halls. Bearing a striking resemblance to both St Stephen's Tower, which houses the bell of Big Ben, and the Empire State Building, the Saudi upstart aims to outdo its revered British rival in every way.
Face piece of the Royal Mecca Clock Tower.
The clock's four faces are 151 ft. in diameter and will be illuminated by 2 million LED lights along with huge Arabic script reading: "In the name of Allah." The clock will run on Arabia Standard Time which is three hours ahead of GMT. When a glittering spire is added, topped with a crescent to symbolise Islam, the edifice will stand at nearly 2,000 ft, making it the world's second tallest building. The clock of Big Ben, by comparison, is just 23 ft. in diameter, while its tower stands at a mere 316 ft.
Residents of Mecca will also be reminded that it is time to pray when 21,000 green and white lights, visible at a distance of 18 miles, flash five times a day.
In all, this German and Swiss- designed project built by the Saudi Binladen Group costs about US$800 million,. The clock is, of course, part of a larger plan:
Islamic scholars hope the clock's influence will stretch far further than the sands of Saudi Arabia, as part of a plan for Mecca to eclipse the Greenwich Observatory as the "true centre of the earth." … As Mohammed al-Arkubi, manager of one of the hotels in the complex, put it: "Putting Mecca time in the face of Greenwich Mean Time. This is the goal."
According to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric known around the Muslim world for his popular television show Sharia and Life, Mecca has a greater claim to being the prime meridian because it is "in perfect alignment with the magnetic north." This claim that the holy city is a "zero magnetism zone" has won support from some Arab scientists like Abdel-Baset al-Sayyed of the Egyptian National Research Centre who says that there is no magnetic force in Mecca. "That's why if someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth's gravity," he said. "You get charged with energy."
Western scientists have challenged such assertions, noting that the Magnetic North Pole is in actual fact on a line of longitude that passes through Canada, the United States, Mexico and Antarctica.
The clock seen in situ, atop the Abraj al-Bait complex and overlooking Masjid al-Haram.
In an erudite editorial, the Washington Times notes that this is not the first challenge to Greenwich. Indeed, the city of Washington was to be the alternative:
The Greenwich convention is a leftover from the British Empire, which had a vital interest in time zones because it spanned the globe. The United States at first resisted the notion that Greenwich should be the prime meridian, and Pierre L'Enfant envisioned it set at the U.S. Capitol. In 1793, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson established a meridian running through the White House and up 16th Street (hence Meridian Hill Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood). In 1850, Congress declared "the meridian of the [Naval] observatory at Washington shall be adopted and used as the American meridian for all astronomical purposes and ... the meridian of Greenwich shall be adopted for all nautical purposes." By the early 20th century, the United States gave up on the quixotic notion that the world revolved around Washington and adopted Greenwich time.
The editorial goes on to blast the concept of Mecca Mean Time:
It is easy to dismiss Mecca Mean Time as a stunt, especially in the days when official time is set by atomic clocks and reminders to pray can be sent by text message, but it is another example of the ways in which the Muslim world seeks to impose a new global orthodoxy. In the clash of civilizations, nothing is off-limits. Another, more serious example is the proposal from the Organization of the Islamic Conference that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the fundamental agreements in international law, be supplanted in Muslim-majority countries by Shariah law. In other words, the organization rejects the notion that universal human rights exist - at least, not as the rest of the world has defined them.
It concludes with a side-swipe of the Obama administration:
As the world grows more open, as humanity becomes more interconnected, the orthodox defenders of the Muslim religion are finding more ways to separate themselves and divide the world into competing camps. Those in the Obama administration infected with the mania for "outreach" to Islam have to come to grips with the fact that Muslim leaders do not want what the West has to offer and are doing everything in their power to segregate themselves and the people they rule. For them it will always be Mecca time.
London;s Big Ben at left, Mecca's Clock Tower at right; anyone notice a similarity?
Nov. 27, 2010 update: The "Makkah Clock Royal Tower," a Fairmont Hotel, opens today. From the website:
Located adjacent to the Masjid al Haram, Makkah Clock Royal Tower, A Fairmont Hotel offers the finest hospitality in the holy city of Makkah. One of the world's tallest, this 76-story hotel is the focal point of the Abraj Al Bait Complex, part of the King Abdul Aziz Endowment Project. Among its outstanding features is a 40-meter (130-foot) Royal Clock, visible from 17 kilometers (10 miles) away, which will announce daily prayers to the Muslim world; meanwhile, the Lunar Observation Center and an Islamic Museum aim to preserve Muslim heritage for future generations.
In addition to the opulent and elegant comfort of the rooms and suites offered at this five-star hotel, 76 state-of-the-art elevators allow easy access to the holy Masjid al Haram for prayers. And, at any time, nine exceptional dining venues will be available to accommodate intimate or expansive gatherings.
Makkah Clock Fairmont Hotel Tower authentic hospitality is seen throughout 858 rooms distributed in 29 floors. Guests would have the privilege of choosing their rooms either overlooking the Kaaba - House of God – said to be built by Abraham and Ismail (Peace Be Upon Them), the Haram or the Holy City.
May 17, 2012 update: The Saudi Ministry of the Interior has, in the spirit of Mecca Mean Time, sent out a directive that bans Gregorian dates (i.e., January, February …) from governmental and private offices. For good measure, it also prohibited the use of English language to answer calls or communicate. Rather, they must use Hijri dates (Muharram, Safar …) and the Arabic language. The ministry explained these bans to a need to preserve Islamic and Arabic culture.
Oct. 29, 2012 update: The Republic of Turkey might move from GMT +2 to GMT +3, which means saying goodbye to Athens and Jerusalem – and hello Mecca, with its renamed Islamic Mean Time.