Several of us took the train to Casablanca today. We visited Hassan II Mosque, perhaps the most elaborate building I’ve been in aside from the Sistine Chapel. It’s minaret is 210 holycowareyouserious meters tall (That’s 689 ft for those of you who aren’t yet on the metric system. What are you doin’, America?). It was finished in 1993 after 6 years of almost around-the-clock labor in honor of Hassan II’s late father, Mohammed V. It can hold up to 25,000 inside, plus another 80-100,000 outside on the grounds. It was incredible to see (did I mention it has a RETRACTABLE ROOF?!), but I couldn’t really concentrate on appreciating the beauty of it. I just kept thinking, “Couldn’t the money used to construct this mosque have been put to a better use?” I mean, the thing cost 585 million euros, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.4 billion dirham, and I don’t need to tell you that Morocco is not rolling in dough. In fact, in order to pay for the project, the federal government had to levy a tax on all Moroccan citizens, which was enforced by the police, and even then, construction relied heavily on foreign funds, both from wealthy oil states and western states. I mean, I understand wanting to do something awesome for your father in his post-mortem honor, but I just feel like there are more practical, not to mention beneficial alternatives; I believe the typical protocol is to establish a waqf in the honoree’s name. You can feed/house/provide clothing for a lot of people with 585 million euros/6.4 dirham. The population of Morocco is about 33 million, so that would average 195 dirham per person. To give you an idea of how far that could go, you can eat a decent meal here for 6-12 dirham at the cheapest, or just bread and a mandarin for about 3.5. A bus ride costs 4 dirham, and a 1.5 liter bottle of water is 2 or 3.
Fine print: All the facts about the Mosque except the thing about the retractable roof came from wikipedia.