The holiest city of Islam
The city of Makkah lays at the bottom of the Hejaz Mountains on the Tihamah plain that runs on the western side of Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea.
After being a land very few was known about except the toughness of its climate, central Arabia became in the 7th century CE at the center of a major change that would impact the entire world till nowadays. Indeed in an oasis named Makkah, located on a secondary caravan trade, will witness the birth of a new religion that will count 1.5 billion people 1500 years later, Islam.
It's in the 7th century CE that Makkah will be at the center of a major change that would impact the entire world till nowadays. Indeed, in 610 CE a merchant named Muhammad began to receive divine revelations that will led to the redaction of the Quran and will give birth of Islam, a religion that will count 1.5 billion people 1500 years later.
Its unique role in Islam is reflected in his full name "Makkah Al-Mukarramah", which stands for "Makkah the Honored", also translated as the "Holy City of Makkah".
History of Makkah Al-Mukarramah
The ancient or early name for the site of Mecca is Bakkah, Muslim scholars generally use this term to refer to the sacred area of the city that immediately surrounds and includes the Ka'aba. The Holy Quran mentions both names Bakkah and Makkah.
Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Bakkah - blessed and a guidance for the worlds (Surat Ali 'Imran, 3:96)
And it is He who withheld their hands from you and your hands from them within [the area of] Makkah after He caused you to overcome them. And ever is Allah of what you do, Seeing (Surat Al-Fath, 48:24)
The most sacred place of Makkah is the Ka'aba whose name means the cube and stands at the center of the Islam's holiest mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram. According to Muslim faith the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmail built the Ka'aba with the divine mission of making of it a place of pilgrimage, as suggested in the Surat of the Quran that refers to the Hajj.
And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], "Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate / And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass
It is an historical fact that Makkah was already a place of worship and pilgrimage famous in the Arabian Peninsula for its Ka'aba that hosted idols and also a stone (possibly a meteorite) that is still today a cornerstone of the sanctuary.
The first major historical event is the military expedition the King of Himyar (today’s Yemen) named Abraha led in 570 CE to seize the city of Makkah that was a competitor to Sana’a as a worship place. This military campaign remained famous for the war elephants that were part of the Himyarite army and till today people remember the strong impression the pachyderms made on people along their way which became the “Darb Al-Fil”, the road of the elephant.
But the success of Makkan people to defend their city despite the superiority of the invaders had an even greater impact on people’s mind which reinforced the status of Makkah as a place protected by God. It is believed that the Prophet Muhammad was born the same year and that his grandfather took part in the battle to defend the city. The miraculous nature of the victory is event mentioned in the Quran in the surah “Al-Fil” (the elephant).
Have you not considered, [O Muhammad], how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? / Did He not make their plan into misguidance? / And He sent against them birds in flocks, / Striking them with stones of hard clay, / And He made them like eaten straw
In 610 a merchant of Makkah from the powerful Quraysh tribe named Muhammad began to receive divine revelations from Allah through the Archangel Gabriel. Twelve years later he was expelled from the city with his companions and found refuge in Madinah after a first attempt in Taif. In 630, Muhammad and his followers who had gained considerable power marched into Makkah that surrendered to the Muslim army. The city would become the center of the new religion that will spread all around the world.
After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 634 CE Makkah remained only for a couple of decades at the political center of Islam as Ali, the fourth Caliph, choose Kufa (in today’s Iraq) as his capital in 656 CE. Then the Umayyad moved the capital to Damascus in Syria and the Abbasid Caliphate to Baghdad in modern-day Iraq.
In 1517 when the Ottomans conquered the Hejaz, the Sharif of Makkah, Barakat bin Muhammad, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Caliph. In 1803 the city was integrated to the first Saudi state till 1813 when Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt successfully returned Makkah to Ottoman control.
In 1916, the Hashemites, a tribe who originates from the same family than the Prophet Muhammad launched a revolt against the Ottoman Empire in Makkah in June and took Ta’if in September. Thus Makkah Al-Mukarramah became a part of the self-proclaimed Hashemite Kingdom of Hejaz. But the city was retaken just 10 years later by the Ikhwans allied to the House of Saud and in 1926 Abdulaziz Al-Saud was officially recognized as the new king of Hejaz.
Nowadays the King of Saudi Arabia holds the title of "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques", referring to the ruler taking the responsibility of guarding and maintaining the two holiest mosques in Islam, Al-Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah and Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi (the Mosque of the Prophet) in Madinah.
The mosque that surrounds the Ka'aba, the Masjid Al-Haram, is the largest in the world and is every year the destination of millions of pilgrims from all around the world.
Special character of Makkah Al-Mukarramah
It is key to understand that the city of Makkah is considered by the Saudi authorities as a place where religion is all, which means there’s no room for history. Thus, 95% of historical sites of the city of Makkah have been destroyed in the past decades, including the house of the Prophet Muhammad, mosques dating back to the Prophet's time, and cemeteries where his relatives and companions were buried.
As an example, the historical Ajyad Fortress of the Ottoman Empire along with the hill were razed in 2002 in order build the Abraj Al-Bait hotel complex.
In addition, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter what has been defined as the holiest part of the city called the Haram. Panels at the entrance of the city will indicate to non-Muslim travels where to leave the highway to drive around the Haram.
The total dedication of Makkah to Islam is visible in all aspects of the city including its infrastructures such as the Quran gate.
Makkah is not a touristic destination as others around the world as the city is fully dedicated to Islamic faith and the Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj).
The holiest city of Islam (author: Florent Egal)