As administrative authority of the Hejaz passed into the hands of Najdi sunni Muslims from the interior, the sunni ‘ulema (body of religious scholars) viewed local religious practices as unfounded superstition superseding codified religious sanction that was considered a total corruption of religion and the spreading of heresy.
What followed was a cleansing of the physical infrastructure, the tombs, mausoleums, mosques and sites connected with the rites of innovated grave and saint-worship and deemed questionable by state-dogma and the introduction of a reformed theology that espoused a uniform, ultra-orthodox Islam.
The initial dismantling of the sites began in 1806 when the Wahhabi army of the First Saudi State occupied Medina and systematically leveled many of the structures at the Jannat al-Baqi' Cemetery. This is the vast burial site adjacent the Prophet's Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi) housing the remains of many of the members of Muhammad’s family, close companions and central figures of early Islam. The Ottoman Turks, practitioners themselves of more tolerant and at times mystical strains of Islam, had erected elaborate mausoleums over the graves of Al-Baqi’. These were leveled in their entirety. Mosques across the city were also targeted and an attempt was made to tear down Muhammad's tomb.
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