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Mecca

Mecca

Mecca, known to the Muslim faithful as Umm al-Qura, the Mother of Cities, is the holiest place in the Islamic world. It was here that Muhammad the Prophet (c. 570632), the Messenger of God, the founder of the Muslim faith, was born in 570, and it is here within the Great Mosque that the Ka'aba, the most sacred shrine of Islam, awaits the Muslim pilgrim. Throughout the world, wherever they may be, all devout Muslims pray five times per day, each time bowing down to face Mecca. All able-bodied Muslims who have sufficient financial means and whose absence from their families would not create a hardship must undertake a pilgrimage, a hajj, to Mecca once in their lifetime during the Muslim month of Dhu-al-Hijah (the twelfth lunar month).

Physically, Mecca is located about 45 miles east of the Red Sea port of Jedda, a city surrounded by the Sirat Mountains. Born into a well-to-do family, Muhammad married Khadija, a woman of means, and became the manager of her caravans. It was when he was about 40 years old and was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira that he had the first of a series of visions of the angel Gabriel who instructed him concerning the oneness of God. Later, Muhammad's many revelations and visions would be collected into the sacred book of Muslims, the Qur'an (or Koran), but when he first began sharing the essence of his revelations with his fellow Meccans, they rejected the teachings and reacted with great hostility when he began to lecture them concerning their vices and pagan practices.

In 622, Muhammad left Mecca for Yathrib, which was later renamed Medina, City of the Prophet, where he began to amass many followers. After eight years of strife between the people of Mecca and Muhammad, he returned to the city of his birth with an army and met with little resistance when he proceeded to cleanse the Ka'aba of pagan idols and dedicate the shrine to Allah, the One God.

On the plains of Arafat in 632, Muhammad preached to an assembled crowd that tradition numbers as some 30,000 of his followers. After he had completed his message, he declared that he had now fulfilled his mission on Earth. Two months later, he died at Medina. Within 100 years, the Muslim faith had spread from Spain to India. In the twenty-first century, Islam is one of the world's largest religions with an estimated membership of 1.2 billion.


The pilgrimage (hajj) to the sacred city of Mecca and experience of worshipping at the mosque containing the Ka'aba is strictly limited to those who follow the Islamic faith. There is an area of several miles around Mecca that is considered to be haram (restricted), and non-Muslims are forbidden to enter this sacred zone. Those Muslims who travel into this area as they progress toward the Mother of Cities must profess their having undergone a state of ritual purity and consecration. It is at this point that they set aside the clothes in which they have traveled and don a special article of clothing consisting of two seamless white sheets.

The hajj begins with a procession called the tawaf, which takes the pilgrim around the Ka'aba seven times. The Ka'aba is a cube-shaped structure that stands about 43 feet high, with regular sides from 36 to 43 feet. The building is draped in a black cloth (kiswah ) that bears a band of sacred verses embroidered in gold and silver thread. In the southeastern corner of the Ka'aba is the sacred Black Stone, an ancient holy relic about 11 inches wide and 15 inches high that has been mounted in silver. Muslims believe that Allah sent the Black Stone from heaven. It is the fortunate pilgrim who manages to break free from the press of the crowd and kiss the Black Stone. Because of the great mass of humanity crowding into the Ka'aba at any given moment, it had been decreed centuries ago that the gesture of a kiss toward the stone will suffice and merit a great blessing.

The second element of the hajj is the run seven times between two small hills, al-Safwa and al-Marwa, which are enclosed and connected with a walkway immediately adjoining the mosque courtyard. The third aspect of the pilgrimage involves walking about five miles to the town of Mina, then onward to the plain of Arafat, 10 miles farther to the east. The time of the journey is spent in prayer and meditation. As the pilgrims walk back toward Mina, they stop to throw small stones at three pillars, an act which symbolically recalls the three occasions when Abraham threw stones at Satan, who was tempting him to disobey God's command to sacrifice his son. After they walk the five miles back to Mecca, the final stage of the hajj is achieved with a festival in which a sheep, goat, cow, or camel is sacrificed to commemorate the moment when God rescinded the command to Abraham to sacrifice his son and permitted him to slay a ram and offer its blood in Isaac's stead. The hajj concludes with a final procession around the Ka'aba. The hajj generally lasts about 13 days, but when as many as two million pilgrims crowd into Mecca to observe the annual event, it may last a day or two longer to accommodate the vast numbers of the faithful.


Delving Deeper

Crim, Keith, general ed. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989.

Eerdmans' Handbook to the World's Religions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans' Publishing Company, 1994.

Harpur, James. The Atlas of Sacred Places. Old Say-brook, Conn.: Konecky & Konecky, 1994.

Hixon, Lex. Heart of the Koran. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing Co., 1988.

Westwood, Jennifer. Mysterious Places. New York: Galahad Books, 1996.

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"Mecca." Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Mecca." Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mecca

Mecca

Mecca

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Makkah al-Mukarramah, or Mecca the blessed, as it is called by the government of Saudi Arabia, is the holiest city in Islam. Its unique status derives from its links to the rise of monotheism and the triumph of Islam in Arabia, and its role as a pilgrimage destination for all Muslims.

The pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj )once in ones lifetimeis a religious duty for Muslims who can afford it. Pilgrimages to the vicinity predate the founding of Islam (there were evidently pre-Islamic pilgrimages to nearby Arafat and Mina, and the Kaaba was a religious site before it became a focus of worship for Muslims), but the Islamic Mecca hajj is more than 1,300 years old. Muhammad himself completed the pilgrimage in year 10 of the Muslim calendar (632 CE). In modern times, several million Muslims converge on Mecca each year during the last month of the Muslim calendar (Dhu al-Hijjah, literally Lord of the Pilgrimage) to perform the necessary rituals, demonstrate and renew their faith, and seek forgiveness for sins. This huge annual gathering of believers from every continent is unique among contemporary religions. Located about 80 kilometers inland from the Red Sea in a desert valley, Mecca could be reached by pilgrims only after extraordinary travels and hardships before the rise of modern transportation in the twentieth century, but now it is serviced by an international airport at nearby Jeddah.

The experience of the pilgrimage combines obedience to prescribed rites, some unavoidable discomfort or even suffering, and, frequently, the exhilaration of religious renewal. As with all major historical pilgrimages, commerce and services have always flourished within and around the hajj. In the contemporary world the hajj also strengthens the sense among Muslims of a worldwide community of believers. The hajj is a leveler: men and women wear the same simple forms of clothing for the rituals (for men, two white cloths wrapped around the body; for women, a simple dress with a head covering). Differences of wealth and status are temporarily put aside as the worshippers submerge themselves in a sea of believers who areas pilgrimsequal before God. In addition to wearing these simple white clothes, pilgrims must also refrain from anger, disputes, and sexual relations so that they may focus on obedience and devotion to God.

The specific rituals of the hajj cannot be understood without reference to ancient traditions about Ibrahim (Abraham), his wife Hagar, and his son Ismail (Ishmael), the supposed progenitors of the peoples of Arabia. Some of the rituals reenact the struggles of Hagar and Ismail to survive in the desert: for example, pilgrims walk and run seven times between the sites of two ancient hills near Mecca, as Hagar did to seek water for her son. The rituals also include stoning a pillar representing the devil, to commemorate Ibrahims attempts to fulfill what he believed to be his mission to sacrifice his son. This sacrifice proved to be unnecessary, and Ibrahim was allowed to substitute the sacrifice of an animal. Subsequently, Ibrahim and Ismail established a holy shrine in the desert that became the cubical structure known as the Kaaba, in Mecca. Although that shrine incorporated icons used for polytheistic worship in pre-Islamic times, these elements were removed after the conquest of Mecca by the Muslim army, led by Muhammad, in 630 CE.

Some elements of the hajj have been modernized. For example, the sacrifice of animals by small groups of worshippers in the traditional hajj (for piety and the sustenance of believers, as the Quran asserts, not as offerings sent to God) has been replaced by a sanitized industrial slaughter, after which the meat is packed and shipped to developing Muslim countries overseas. However, the hajj remains an extraordinary demonstration of adherence to ritual traditions as worshippers reenact and remember the struggles and piety of the founders of an ancient and still vibrant monotheism.

SEE ALSO Muhammad

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hassaballa, Hesham A., and Kabir Helminski. 2006. The Beliefnet Guide to Islam. New York: Three Leaves Press, Doubleday.

Peters, F. E. 1994. The Hajj. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Graeme Lang

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Mecca

MECCA

islam's holiest city and the third largest city in saudi arabia.

Situated about 45 miles east of the Red Sea port of Jeddah in the rocky foothills of the Hijaz Mountains, Mecca has a hot, arid climate, and lack of water and other resources have kept its population and economic fortunes heavily dependent on outside factors. The estimated two million pilgrims who visit the city each year during the hajj season have a vital impact on the local economy. Many of Mecca's inhabitants work in the large service industry that caters to the hajjis, providing transport, security, food, lodging, medical care, and other services. Because many pilgrims from around the world have settled in the city, its population is the most ethnically varied in Saudi Arabia. According to a 2000 estimate there were 1.3 million inhabitants. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the city and its environs.

In the sixth century c.e. Mecca became an important market town and stopping point along the caravan routes connecting Yemen with Syria. A square stone structure called the Kaʿba, believed to have been built by Ibrahim (Abraham), also gave the city religious importance. The city is paramount in the history of Islam because it was the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, the site of many of his revelations from God, the focal point of daily prayer and the main center of pilgrimage. The Kaʿba became the center of the Islamic pilgrimage ritual, and the Grand Mosque eventually was built up around it. The sacred precinct of Mecca extends as far as 14 miles outward from the Kaʿba in an irregular circle. Inside it, a number of prohibitions apply, including bans on fighting, cursing, hunting, and uprooting plants.


Despite its continuing religious significance, Mecca lost its political importance in the seventh century (the first century of Islam) when the capital of the caliphate moved first to Medina and later outside Arabia altogether. Thus Mecca became a provincial backwater ruled by governors appointed from afar. But as central authority weakened, local sharifs claiming descent from the prophet Muhammad were able to assert their control and remain substantially in power from about 965 to 1924, but never with full independence. From 1517, the sharifs fell under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire but remained effective local rulers, sharing power with the Turkish governors of Jidda. From 1916 to 1924, Mecca was part of the short-lived Kingdom of the Hijaz proclaimed by the last sharif, but then was conquered and incorporated into Saudi Arabia.

see also hijaz; islam; kaʿba; muhammad; qurʾan.


Bibliography


De Gaury, Gerald. Rulers of Mecca. London: Harrap, 1951.

Peters, F. E. The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Peters, F. E. Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy City. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Sabini, John. Armies in the Sand: The Struggle for Mecca and Medina. New York; London: Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Wolfe, Michael, ed. One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Travelers Writing about the Muslim Pilgrimage. New York: Grove Press, 1997.

khalid y. blankinship
updated by anthony b. toth

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Mecca

Mecca (mĕk´ə) or Makkah (măk´ə), city (1993 pop. 966,381), capital of the Hejaz, W Saudi Arabia. The birthplace c.AD 570 of Muhammad the Prophet, it is the holiest city of Islam, and the goal of the annual Muslim hajj. It is c.45 mi (70 km) from its port, Jidda, and is in a narrow valley overlooked by hills crowned with castles. Unlike those of most Middle Eastern cities, many of the buildings, constructed of stone, are more than three stories high. The city was an ancient center of commerce and a place of great sanctity for idolatrous Arab sects before the rise of Muhammad. Muhammad's flight (the Hegira) from Mecca in 622 is the beginning of the rise of Islam. He captured the city shortly after. Although Mecca never lost its sanctity, it declined rapidly in commercial importance after its capture by the Umayyads in 692. It was sacked in 930 by the Karmathians and taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. The Wahhabis held it from 1803 to 1813. In Mecca, in 1916, Husayn ibn Ali proclaimed his independence from Turkey and maintained himself as king of the Hejaz until Mecca fell to Ibn Saud in 1924. At the center of Mecca is the Great Mosque, the Haram, which encloses the Kaaba, the focus of Muslim worship. Next to the Kaaba is Zamzam, a holy well used solely for religious and medicinal purposes. The bazaar outside the mosque is noted for its silks, beadwork, and perfumes. The commerce of the city depends heavily on the millions of pilgrims who visit Mecca during the annual hajj. Muslims are the only people allowed to reside in Mecca. Roads link Mecca with many other cities in Saudi Arabia, such as Medina and Jidda. Mecca has little arable land and must import most of its food. The oil boom in Saudi Arabia has significantly improved services in Mecca, resulting in greater numbers of pilgrims each year. In Nov., 1979, Muslim fundamentalists occupied the Great Mosque in Mecca; after a 2-week siege, more than 100 rebels were killed. Iranian pilgrims later rioted in July, 1987, during the hajj, clashing with Saudi troops and ending with the death of more than 400 people. The hajj continues to be well-monitored by Saudi Arabia, yet remains a turbulent religious and increasingly political event. Mecca is home to two colleges and the Umm al-Qura Univ. (1979).

See G. De Gaury, Rulers of Mecca (1954, repr. 1982); E. Guelloz, Pilgrimage to Mecca (1982).

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Mecca

Mecca (Makkah) City in w Saudi Arabia and the holiest city of Islam. The birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, only Muslims are allowed in the city. Mecca was originally home to an Arab population of merchants. When Muhammad began his ministry here, the Meccans rejected him. The flight or Hejira of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 marked the beginning of the Muslim era. In 630, Muhammad's followers captured Mecca, and made it the centre of the first Islamic empire. Egypt controlled the city in the 13th century. The Ottoman Turks held it from 1517 to 1916, when Hussein Ibn Ali secured Arabian independence. In 1924, Mecca fell to the forces of Ibn Saud, who later founded the Saudi Arabian kingdom. Much of Mecca's commerce depends on Muslim pilgrims undertaking the Hajj. After World War II, the city's wealth increased through oil revenues. Pop. (2002) 1,541,800.

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Mecca

Mecca (Makka). The birthplace of the Prophet Muḥammad. Muḥammad's initial preaching made little impression, and indeed evoked increasing opposition, esp. from the ruling clan, the Quraish. He therefore made the hijra to Madīna, only recapturing Mecca near the end of his life. He immediately established the ḥajj practices, thus ensuring the centrality of Mecca to Muslim life, even when the centres of political power under different dynasties of caliphs (khalīfa) moved far away. The mosque at Mecca is al-Masjid al-Ḥarām; and the two towns, Mecca and Madīna, are known as al-Haramain (Arab. dual, ‘the two holy places’). Muslims turn toward Mecca in prayer (ṣalāt, qibla), and make the obligatory pilgrimage (ḥajj) to it.

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Mecca

Mecca a city in western Saudi Arabia, an oasis town in the Red Sea region of Hejaz, east of Jiddah, considered by Muslims to be the holiest city of Islam. It was the birthplace in ad 570 of the prophet Muhammad, and was the scene of his early teachings before his emigration to Medina in 622 (the Hegira). On Muhammad's return to Mecca in 630 it became the centre of the new Muslim faith. It is the site of the Great Mosque and the Kaaba, and is a centre of Islamic ritual, including the hajj pilgrimage which leads thousands of visitors to the city each year.

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Mecca

Mecca name of Muhammad's birthplace, a place of Muslim pilgrimage; (hence) sacred spot of resort. XIX. — Arab. Makka.

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mecca

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