I spent an excellent afternoon yesterday at the British Museum's exhibition "Hajj: Journey To The Heart of Islam".
Going at half-term was possibly a mistake - the event was clearly at maximum capacity, but I just about got to see everything. If you go, I would recommend getting the exhibition's book, edited by Venetia Porter. Coming in a at a whopping £25 in the museum bookshop, it is a more agreeable £16.32 on Amazon, and contains pretty much everything in terms of pictures, artwork and analysis that you see as you go round.
Amongst the chapters we have British Muslim intellectual Ziauddin Sardar weighting in with the "Hajj After 1950". This period sees the rapid expansion of pilgrimage, as factors such as the development of the jet engine and coach travel, the Islamic resurgence and Saudi oil money dramatically alter both supply and demand.
Anyone who has read Sardar's excellent "Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim" will be aware of his work at the Hajj Research Centre, carrying out analysis on the effects of millions of pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia. The work of these British exiles briefly brought them into conflict with construction company the Bin Laden Group “as zealous in its development work as it was in its religious outlook” (p.133) In time Sardar was to be repelled by the commercialisation and over-development at the country’s religious sites.
As might be expected from an exhibition sponsored by (amongst others) the King Abdulaziz Public library in Riyadh, there is no mention of the Bin Laden group's sterling work on re-developing Mecca. And whilst Sardar's chapter tells us much about concern for the environment, or new extensions and development work to the Kingdom's religious sites, and even the Saudi Princes overseeing such work, there is diplomatically no mention whatsoever of the company who actually did that work.
The Bin Laden group is placed, for western public consumption at least, firmly behind the scenes.