What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Written by: Glo Wood on 31/12/2011 14:15
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A series of Mecca Bingo halls offended the Sunni Mufti of Beiruit, who said the name was "blasphemous". These newly released files from 1981 reveal the details of the incident caused by the use of the Saudi Arabian holy city’s name.

The British ambassador to Lebanon didn’t take the complaint seriously as shown by a note on October 1 1981 to his opposite number, Jeremy Greenstock, in Saudi Arabia, saying “the silly season has definitely arrived”. The secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had told him "with a chuckle" about a letter given to the Prime Minister by the Sunni Mufti.

It appears that the issue began with a story printed in the Arab News newspaper on May 25, 1981 reported that the Muslim World League “has strongly condemned the scandalous act of naming an amusement and gambling centre in Glasgow after the holy city of Mecca.”

The complaints began coming in within weeks of the article and were also being reported to the Foreign Office from the US Council of Mosques and the Pakistan Embassy.

The complaints were somewhat resolved when the British embassy was notified by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs that a royal command was issued in response on July 23rd. It specified that the spelling Makkah and not Mecca would be used all English advertisements and printed marketing materials.

A handwritten note attached to the 1981 file to the Foreign Office read: “We have had complaints from time to tome over Mecca Ltd which is a subsidiary of Grand Metropolitan.

“I can think of no connection with the change in spelling. However – given the change in spelling, things called Mecca cannot be named after the holy city!”


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