As of today, Greenwich Mean Time may no longer be the sole standard universal time around the globe - after over a century, Big Ben and GMT are being challenged by a new superclock in Saudi Arabia.
The Royal Mecca Clock sits atop an enormous skyscraper complex called the Abraj Al-Bait Towers. The complex is so huge that it will contain many hotels within it, as well as residential condos, offices, and a four-story shopping mall.
The four faces of the Mecca Clock are illuminated by 2 million LED lights. "In the name of Allah". The Mecca Clock will display, of course, Arabia Standard Time (three hours ahead of GMT). The clock faces are 151 feet in diameter, which dwarfs the face of Big Ben (23 feet in diameter) considerably. The Big Ben clock was installed in 1859 to replace the Palace of Westminster's which had been destroyed by fire in 1834.
According to an article in the Telegraph:
Islamic scholars hope the clock’s influence will stretch far further than the sands of Saudi Arabia, as part of a plan for Mecca to eclipse the Greenwich Observatory as the “true centre of the earth”.
For the past 125 years, the international community has accepted that the start of each day should be measured from the prime meridian, representing 0 degrees longitude, which passes through the Greenwich Observatory. A standard time by which other clocks were set was needed to organise global travel and communications, but in the Islamic world the idea that it should be centred on a part of London is seen as a colonial anachronism.
As Mohammed al-Arkubi, manager of one of the hotels in the complex, put it: "Putting Mecca time in the face of Greenwich Mean Time. This is the goal."
Further underscoring that sentiment is this promotional video for the Mecca Tower, which belabors the point about the contrasts in size and grandeur between the two buildings.
Interestingly, the Islamic move towards their own global time standard is based not just in cultural upmanship or provincial pride, but has a scientific origin - or so they say. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is as well-known and well-respected in the Muslim world as, say, Stephen Hawking is to us, has stated that Mecca has a superior claim to being the Earth's prime meridian. He, and many other leading Arab scientists, claim that Mecca is a "zero magnetism zone" that is in "perfect alignment with the magnetic north." This electromagnetic void at Mecca actually enhances health and well-being for those in its presence, according to the Egyptian National Research Center.
Upon its completion, the Abraj Al Bait's main tower will be the tallest building in Saudi Arabia, the tallest and largest hotel building on Earth, and the structure with the largest floor area on Earth (16,150,000 square feet). The tallest building on Earth - the Burj Khalifa building - is also in the Middle East; Dubai to be precise.
The clock itself now holds the distinction of being the largest on Earth.