The Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, a US-based Gulf institute, has criticised the Saudi government's plan to build a retractable roof over Kaaba, claiming it will destroy the historic character of one of Islam’s most sacred sites.
The proposed “umbrella project” is designed to protect pilgrims from scorching desert sun when visiting the Kaaba, the structure at the centre of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, reports the Independent
Saudi authorities have yet to make an official announcement of the proposed measure.
However, the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation has sent a video to the Independent, showing a scale model of the project on display in Mecca.
Being critical of the government move, the foundation's Director Dr Irfan Al Alawi said Muslims had travelled to the site for Hajj and Umrah for centuries and had not complained about this issue.
He said he could not understand why the Saudi government "would destroy the cradle of Islam".
"Nothing should cover the Kaaba from above as Muslims believe the mercy of God descends from the highest heavens," he was quoted as saying by the Independent, dubbing the umbrella plan "a spaceship from a Hollywood movie.”
The construction of the enclosure project is due to be finished by 2019, according to a number of Saudi media, quoting a recent statement of Major General Muhammad Al-Ahmadi, commander of the Grand Mosque security forces.
Saudi Arabia also plans to add six new floors for praying, 21,000 toilets, 860 escalators and 24 lifts for disabled and less mobile worshippers in the mosque complex.
Critics note that Saudi government is free to carry out modernisation work in Mecca and Madina as they are not included in the Unesco World Heritage sites.
Over the years, both worshippers and historians have frequently expressed outrage at Saudi move to bulldoze historic neighbourhoods to build hotels and shopping malls.
According to a report published by the US-based Gulf Institute in 2012, around 95% of the 1,000-year-old buildings in Mecca and Medina have been destroyed in the last 20 years.
Alawi pointed out that the Saudi's record of looking after historic sites was very bad and said kingdom could do many other things, like building a major hospital near Mecca, instead of building the roof.
Saudi Arabia's Centre for International Communication is yet to release a statement addressing criticism over the project.
Around 2.34 million pilgrims performed Hajj last year.
The health and safety of the pilgrims have become a growing concern for the Saudi government, following a stampede in Mina that killed more than 2,000 people in 2015.