The birth place of Islam
Makkah Province is the most populous one of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is crossed by the Hejaz Mountains which are part of the wider range of Sarawat that runs from Yemen until Jordan.
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.
Natural features of Makkah Province
Makkah Province hosts ten peaks above 2500 meters above sea level. The highest one, the Jebel Al-Hadab, topping at 2647 meters. Some cities of Makkah Province lay above 1500 like Taif (1800 meters), Al-Hada (1900 meters), or Ash-Shafa (2200 meters).
On the east of the Hejaz is the central plateau of the Arabian Peninsula called the Nejd. It lays around 1000 meters of altitude and is where the vast extend of dunes are found such as the ‘Uruq As-Subay’.
Makkah Province is also an active volcanic area where ancient and recent eruptions have poured lavas over wide areas called harra. The magma rising towards the surface has created the most famous natural feature of Makkah Province: the nearly two kilometers diameter large Wa’abah crater.
On the western side is a very different landscape with the crystal-clear waters and the colorful coral reefs of the Red Sea that can be admired for example in Jeddah.
History of Makkah Province
Little is known about the prehistory of Makkah Province and even the times before the advent of Islam, but two things are known with certainty. First the fact this land was crossed by the main western frankincense route between ancient Yemen and the Levant, as attested in numerous historical sources and the remains of ancient roads on the Harrat Buqum located on the south of the province. Makkah and Taif were at that time prominent trade cities.
Then it is sure that the city of 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 ancient holiness of the city of Makkah placed it at the center of the History of the whole province.
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. The province thus 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.
Places to visit in Makkah Province
Makkah Province hosts several sites and events of very different purposes:
- Makkah Al-Mukarramah – The holiest place of Islam
- Hajj - the largest pilgrimage in the world
- Jeddah - the gateway to Makkah
- Taif - A coveted high land of religion and scent
- Taif Rose Festival - Celebrating the iconic jewel of the Garden of Hejaz
- Wa'abah Crater - A grandiose testimony of the volcanic activity of the Hejaz
The birth place of Islam (author: Florent Egal)