Holy Lands of the World - Mecca

About the Holy Land Mecca, sacred in the world to Muslims and followers of Islam, history of the religious city.


Any place people seek as a particular or unique goal is called a "mecca." The city that gave us this word is Mecca, the holiest city of Isalm, and the birthplace of Mohammed, founder and prophet of the Islam faith. Islam, sometimes called Mohammedanism, dates from 622 A.D., the year of Mohammed's hegira, or flight from Mecca, which he later returned to and conquered.

Now one of Saudi Arabia's 2 federal capitals, Mecca has long been an international marketplace where commerce and religion converge. Religious festivals in and around the city once attracted idol-worshiping pilgrims and traders in incense and other commodities. Today Mecca draws an immense number of Muslims--1,200,000 during the April, 1965, hajj (pilgrimage) and often more than 15 million annually. The faithful, both men and women, are required to make a pilgrimage or hajj at least once during their lifetime, and if they die on the way they are considered martyrs. It is not unusual for martyrdoms to occur; in 1974, 460 Indonesian pilgrims--more than 1% of the total--died en route to Mecca. Lacking warm clothing, many succumbed to the severe Saudi Arabian winter. Alarmed by the death toll, the pilgrimage affairs director appealed to relatives to accompany aged pilgrims. Some pilgrims have spent 3 years walking from Asia to the Holy City.

In the courtyard of the great mosque, El Haram, is the central shrine of Islam, a cube-shaped granite temple draped in black camel's-hair veiling, called the Kaaba. Formerly a repository for idols, the 50'-square Kaaba is now a place of prayer. In the southeast corner of the building is the Kaaba stone, or black stone of Abraham, presumably given him by the angel Gabriel. Pilgrims are required to kiss the stone, now worn hollow by centuries of this ritual and held together by a wide silver band. Outside is the Zamzam, a holy well supposedly used by Hagar, the mother of Abraham's son, Ishmael, founder of the Arab people. Pilgrims must walk around the Kaaba 7 times, an old pagan ritual. The sevenfold circuit is known as tawaf. Then they walk a sevenfold course between the sacred hills of Safa and Marwah, in memory of Hagar. Upon completion of all rituals, the honorary title hajj (pilgrim) is conferred upon a Muslim.

For about 530 million Muslims, Mecca is their spiritual home, the city they face when they pray, wherever they may be.

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