Fresh plans are being drawn up to erect a modern complex on the site of what scholars of Islam contend is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. It's part of a sweeping multibillion-dollar redevelopment of Mecca that has already ravaged many sacred sites and structures.
If approved, the project, details of which have been obtained by the Independent, would entail the demolition of a small library steps away from the Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque, which sits directly on top of what are believed to be the remains of the house of the Prophet's birth.
Hopes that the library, which stands on a raised plinth, and the site beneath it would be spared rose briefly last year when Saudi Arabia's royal family backed off earlier plans to replace it, either with a sprawling metro rail station to drop off pilgrims or an enormous new library dedicated to King Abdul Aziz, founder of the modern kingdom.
But the construction company in charge of redeveloping the area, the Saudi Binladin Group, proposes that it be razed to make way instead for the imam's residence and an adjacent presidential palace.
The Saudi royal family are adherents of the Wahabi faith, an austere interpretation of Islam that has been the kingdom's official religion since the al-Sauds rose to power in the 19th century.
The kingdom's rulers, who deny Muhammad was born in what is known as the House of Mawlid, are opposed to preserving relics of the Prophet because they say it encourages shirq, the sin of worshipping idols other than God.
The rush to transform Mecca at a cost of tens of billions of dollars into a metropolis of skyscrapers and hotels and the giant expansion of the mosque continues pell-mell with scant regard for any archaeological preservation.