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Makkah or Mecca (in full: Al Makkah Al Mukarramah)


Mecca or Makkah (in full: Makkah al-Mukarramah) is the capital city of Saudi Arabia's Makkah province, in the historic Hijaz region. It has a population of 1,294,168 (2004 census). The city is located at 21┬░25'N 39┬░49'E, 73 km (45 mi) inland from Jeddah, in the narrow sandy Valley of Abraham, 277 m (909 ft) above sea level. It is located 80 km (50 mi) from the Red Sea.


The city is revered as the holiest site of Islam, and a pilgrimage to it is required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to go, at least once in their lifetime. Muslims regard the al-Masjid al-Haram (The Sacred Mosque) as the holiest place on Earth.


The term 'Mecca' has come into common usage metaphorically to mean any all-important site for any particular group of people. In the 1980s the government of Saudi Arabia changed the official English transliteration of the city's name from 'Mecca', as it had been commonly spelled by westerners, to 'Makkah'. See below for the reasons.


History

    

The Kaaba in the Masjid al-Haram, Makkah


Muslims believe that the Kaaba, the small cubical building now surrounded by the Sacred Mosque, was built by Abraham and has been a religious center ever since. Non-Muslim historians do not accept these scriptural assertions, but do believe that Makkah was a shrine and trading center for a number of generations before the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Muhammad, once exiled from the city, returned to it in triumph in 630 CE and after removing the cult images from the Kaaba, dedicated it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage. (For further information, see the main article, Muhammad.)


After the rise of Islamic empire, Makkah attracted pilgrims from all over the far-flung empire, as well as a year-round population of scholars, pious Muslims who wished to live close to the Kaaba, and local inhabitants who served the pilgrims. Due to the difficulty and expense of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage was small compared to the millions that swell Makkah today. The city too was small. 18th and 19th century maps and pictures show a small walled city of mud-brick houses crowded around the mosque.


Makkah was never the capital of the Islamic empire; the first capital was Medina, some 250 miles distant. The capital of the caliphate soon moved to Damascus and then Baghdad. Makkah re-entered Islamic history briefly when it was held by Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who opposed the Umayyad caliphs. The caliph Yazid I beseiged Makkah in 683 CE. Thereafter the city figured little in politics; it was a city of devotion and scholarship. For centuries it was governed by the Hashemite Sharifs of Makkah, descendants of Muhammad by his grandson Hassan ibn Ali. The Sharifs ruled on behalf of whatever caliph or Muslim ruler had declared himself the Guardian of the Two Shrines. Makkah was attacked and sacked by Ismaili Muslims in 930 CE and by Wahhabi Muslims in 1803. In 1926, the Sharifs of Makkah were overthrown by the Saudis and Makkah was incorporated into Saudi Arabia.


The importance of Makkah

For Muslims, a pilgrimage to Makkah called the Hajj is required as one of the Five Pillars of the faith. In recent years, about two to three million have gathered for the major pilgrimage, during the Muslim month of Dhu al-Hijjah, and many more perform the minor pilgrimage or Umrah, which may be performed at any time of year.

The focal point of Makkah is the Ka'bah, the 'House of God' believed by Muslims to have been rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ishmael; it is covered in a gold-embroidered black fabric (kiswah).

More than 2 million pilgrims arrive at Mecca for the Hajj every year


The pilgrims circle the Ka'bah seven times and may also try to touch or kiss its cornerstone, the Black Stone. Pilgrims then drink from the well of Zamzam. The water of Zamzam is believed to have special properties and health benefits. Few pilgrims return from the Hajj without a large plastic bottle of the Zamzam water.


During the Hajj the pilgrims travel to Mina, a small village, where Iblis (the Devil), symbolised by stone columns, is ritually stoned. They then proceed to the Hill of Arafat, a site for prayers, where the prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered The Farewell Sermon.


The importance of Makkah for Muslims is inestimable. All Muslims, wherever they are on the earth, are required to pray five times a day in the direction of the Ka'bah in Makkah (located at 21┬░25'24?N, 39┬░49'24?E). This direction of prayer is known as the qiblah. Muslims regard al-Masjid al-Haram (or 'The Sacred Mosque') as the holiest place on Earth.

 
 
 
Gallery /   / Mosque Stamps / Al Makkah Al Mukarramah, Makkah, Saudi Arabia
 
 

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