What do you do when you have an ancient haunted ghost town gathering dust, billions to spend and the need to convert your economy from oil to tourism, repair your reputation and distract the world from your other problems? If you’re Saudi Arabia, you turn the haunted town into an amusement park for tourists looking for something other than deserts or religious sites. That’s the plan for Al’Ula – a town carved into stone 2,000 years ago that once hosted the Prophet Muhammad but is better known for its prominent place on the incense, spice and silk trade routes … and its many jinn – the demons of Arabian and Islamic mythology. Does this sound like a place you’d like to visit when your kids have outgrown Disney’s Genie?
“The decision to build in this place is brave and will allow Sharaan to be revealed on a world-wide scale.”
“Sharaan” is the Sharaan Resort, which will be built in the mountains of Al-Ula by Jean Nouvel, the noted French architect who designed the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Nouvel may think the idea is “brave” because it’s going to take a lot of money to build the residential estates, summit center, spa, restaurants and 925-square-kilometer nature reserve in this deserted remote place of solid rock … and jinn.
Madain Saleh was carved into the desert rocks 2,000 years ago by the pre-Islamic Arab culture known as the Nabateans. The city was a main stop on the trade routes through Egypt, India and Arabia and many elaborate carvings can still be seen on the stone walls which are still standing despite the town being completely deserted since the early 20th century. You can blame the economy, the climate or the Prophet Muhammad, who visited in 630 A.D. and left behind a warning about jinn infestation.
“(Do not enter) unless you are crying ... lest you suffer the affliction (of those who perished for their sins).”
That hadith attributed to the prophet Muhammad was interpreted for centuries as a warning that the city was inhabited by jinn – a self-fulfilling prophesy which resulted in many jinn sightings right up until the most recent one in 2012 when a nearby school was closed after students reported seeing a jinn (one of those notorious demons that shows up right before a math test?).
Needless to say, according to Arab News, the developers and promoters are downplaying the jinn, which seems kind of strange since not all tourists will be able to afford the resort and its amenities but might be interested in a reasonably-priced ghost town/haunted houses/spot the jinn tour. Not all jinn are evil and all of the major religions refer to them in some form, so no visitors need to fear being alone against one.
In fact, it might be said that the jinn aren’t as evil as some of the leaders supporting the billions being spent building of the luxury resort. Maybe it’s they who are the ones afraid of the haunted parts of Al’Ula.