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Mecca

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

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The center of the Islamic world and the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, Mecca is located in the mountains of central Saudi Arabia. According to legend, when Adam and Eve fell to earth from Paradise, they wandered separately for two hundred years, until God united them on Mt. Arafat, near present day Mecca. Adam then built a shrine similar to the one he had used in Paradise. Many generations later Abraham and his son Ishmael were directed to rebuild this shrine. God gave Abraham instructions concerning the dimensions, the Archangel Gabriel revealed the perfect location, and the Ka’ba was built from stones of five sacred mountains. Upon completion of the shrine, Gabriel brought a magic stone for the sanctuary. With the passage of time however, various pagan rituals were added to those of Abraham. The pilgrims of pre-Islamic times visited the house of Abraham and the sacred stone of Gabriel, but also a collection of 360 stone idols, including statues of Jesus and Mary, housed around the Ka’ba. The most important of all these deities was Allah (meaning God in Arabic) who would later become the sole god of the Muslims.

The city of Mecca achieved its major religious significance during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632AD). In 630 Muhammad took control of Mecca and destroyed the pagan idols, with the notable exception of the statues of Jesus and Mary. He then joined different Mecca rituals with the Hajj pilgrimage to Mt. Arafat and declared the Ka’ba the centerpiece of the Muslim religion. The Ka’ba, along with the sacred Zamzam well and the hills of Safa and Marwa, are enclosed in a vast structure called the Haram al-Sharif, ‘The Noble Sanctuary’. Ringed by seven towering minarets and sixty-four gates, this monumental building is capable of holding more than 1.2 million pilgrims at the same time and is the largest mosque in the Islamic world. The cubical (the word Ka’ba means ‘cube’), flat-roofed building rises fifty feet and its corners are oriented toward the compass points. The east and west walls are aligned to the sunrise at the summer solstice and sunset at the winter solstice. From the 7th century to the present the structures surrounding the Ka’ba have undergone extensive rebuilding yet the Ka’ba remains as it was in the time of Muhammad.

The Hajj pilgrimage, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is required of all male and female Muslims. The pilgrimage takes place each year between the 8th and 13th days of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Nowadays about 2,000,000 persons perform the Hajj each year and the pilgrimage serves as a unifying force in Islam by bringing together followers from diverse countries. Entering the mosque, pilgrims walk seven times around the Ka’ba in a counterclockwise direction and then kiss the sacred stone, located in the southeast corner of the Ka’ba. During the next few days the pilgrims walk a ritualized route to other sacred places in the Mecca vicinity, including Mina, Muzdalifah and Mt. Arafat, and then return to the Ka’ba.

In a certain sense Mecca is said to be visited by all Muslims every day; this because five times each day (three times in the Shi’a sect) hundreds of millions of believers kneel to pray. Wherever the place of prayer, an established mosque, a remote place in the wilderness or the interior of a home, Muslims face towards Mecca and are connected to the Ka’ba by an invisible line of direction called the qibla. On the walls of houses in Egypt and other Islamic countries colorful paintings of the Ka’ba are often found. These paintings show the various modes of travel to the holy shrine, including planes, trains, ships and camels, and often depict the pilgrim on a prayer carpet. Forbidden to persons not of the Muslim faith, Mecca came to symbolize for Europeans the mysteries of the orient and became a magnet for explorers. A few daring travelers, such as Johann Burckhardt and Richard Burton, were able to impersonate Muslim pilgrims, gain entrance to Mecca, and write wonderfully of the holy city.

Photo: Painting of the Ka’ba, Islam's most sacred shrine, Mecca

Mecca Information on the Scared Sites Website.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

What Are the Seven Hills of Mecca?

Hi, I am working on my first travel web site-cities of the seven hills, Mecca being one of them. Can you email me their names? I've been trying to get this info with no success. Thank you for your tine,

Cornelia

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