- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In a severe case of clock envy, Saudi Arabia has erected a nearly 2,000-foot-high timepiece intended to stake a symbolic claim for Mecca as the world’s center. Islamic scholars have proposed that the Royal Mecca Clock Tower supplant the observatory in Greenwich, England, to set the new global standard time. It is the latest form of Muslim global outreach - taking control of time itself.

The Mecca clock is as much propaganda as it is a timepiece. Its purpose is to proselytize. “In the name of Allah” is written in Arabic on the clock face, and tens of thousands of green and white lights will flash five times a day to remind people when to pray.

The explicitly sectarian nature of the project does not contradict its scientific basis, according to Muslim scholars. The global switch to Mecca time was proposed in 2008 during an Islamic conference in Qatar. Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy hosted a panel called “Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice,” in which he claimed that Mecca’s perfect alignment with magnetic north made it the ideal scientific choice. This is not true, but in Islamic thought, all scientific inquiry is subordinate to the truth revealed in the Koran and the sayings and life of Muhammad. If Islam’s prophet said Mecca is the center of the universe, it must be so. If observable facts contradict this claim, they must be reconciled or ignored. Failing that, just build the largest clock in the world and let the nonbelievers deal with it.

Time zones are admittedly arbitrary, but they are required by modern travel and technology. 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.

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.

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.

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