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In Islam’s Holy Lands
BIRTHPLACE OF ISLAM, MECCA AND MEDINA ARE TWO HOLY CITIES TO WHICH HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF BELIEVERS TURN EVERY DAY IN PRAYER, AND HOPE TO SEE BEFORE THEY DIE.
Located in the Hejaz on the northern Arabian Peninsula, Mecca and Medina are the cities where the heart of Islam beats. Cities where the most distinguished figures in Islamic history once lived and breathed. Every square inch of these holy lands, kept alive in the hearts of Muslims and visited on the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, is also filled with mementos and monuments from the earliest period of Islam.
MOTHER OF ALL CITIES, MECCA
Mecca, city of the Kaaba. Islam’s most important and holy city, described by Allah as the Mother of all Cities in the Holy Quran. The history of the Kaaba, the first structure erected on earth to glorify the name of the Creator, goes back to Adam, the first man, and to the Prophet Abraham after him, loved and highly revered by all the celestial religions. Abraham and his son Ishmael, also recognized as a prophet, raised and erected the Kaaba on its foundations. The belief in one god, Allah, introduced by Abraham and Ishmael, was followed in time by a period of polytheism. Known in Islamic history as the Jahiliyah (Time of Ignorance), this was reversed under Islam, introduced and spread by the Prophet Muhammad, in a return to the days when the one God’s name alone was remembered and exalted to the skies.
BIRTHPLACE OF ISLAM
Birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Mecca is at the same time the place where Islam was born and where Muhammad received his first revelation from Allah in the Cave of Hira on Mount Sawra five kilometers from the Kaaba to the east of Mecca. Accompanied by the command, ‘Recite!’, that first revelation marked the beginning of the Islamic religion. Mecca is a city designated by Allah as ‘harem’, in other words, a place where people’s lives and property are secure, a city where plants are safe from plucking and animals from being hurt, and where bad, negative thoughts of all kinds are shunned. Tucked away in the mountains, it is the city where man was brought from darkness into light, a city longed for and kept alive in the hearts of the faithful.
SAFA AND MARWAH
Those who come to Mecca on the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage, immediately after the tawaf (circumambulation of the Kaaba) are directed to Safa, a small mountain inside the Masjid al-Haram, to perform the Sa’i, commemorating Ishmael’s mother Hagar’s search for water. The water granted here to Hagar is the water of the famous Zamzam well, and the word ‘zam’ meaning Stop is an indication of the high value placed on it. So heartfelt was the desire for this water that the well has never run dry in thousands of years and continues to quench the thirst of pilgrims even today.
About 20 kilometers from Mecca, Arafat is one of the most important places on the Hajj pilgrimage. And the Plain of Arafat on Jabal ar-Rahmah (the Mount of Mercy), where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon in which he said that Arafat is the Hajj, welcomes millions of pilgrims every year. On the Day of Arafah (eve of the Feast of Sacrifice), pilgrims cover the mountain and pray for forgiveness of their sins until sundown.
MINA AND MUZDALIFAH
Following their supplications at Arafat, pilgrims collect stones and then gather at Muzdalifah to worship before going to Mina for the ritual stoning of the devil. After a night here it’s time to set out for Mina, where they stone the devil for three days.
MEDINA, CITY OF LIGHT
The difficulties he experienced at Mecca during his calling to Islam led the Prophet Muhammad to migrate to Medina 440 kilometers away. Known as the Hijra, this migration marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Only with the coming of the Prophet Muhammad was the city illuminated, becoming the City of Light, and its former name, Yathrib, abolished by the Prophet never to be used again. The Masjid al-Quba, the first mosque of Islam, where the first call to prayer was recited and during whose construction even the Prophet carried stones, is here in Medina. Gleaming radiantly in the heart of the city, Islam’s third most holy mosque after the Masjid al-Haram at Mecca and the Masjid al-Aqsa at Jerusalem, the Masjid-i Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophets) stands ready to welcome visitors.
THE MOSQUE OF THE TWO QIBLAHS
In early Islam, Muslims turned to the Masjid al-Aqsa at Jerusalem to pray. Then, in a revelation the Prophet received while he was leading a prayer he was leading in the 16th month of the Hijra, the direction of the Qiblah was changed to the Kaaba at Mecca, and half of the prayer was recited towards al-Aqsa and the other half towards al-Haram. The mosque built to commemorate the spot where the change was made is called the Masjid al Qiblatain or Mosque of the Two Qiblahs.
THE PLAIN OF UHUD
Fought between the Muslims and the people of Mecca, the Battle of Uhud is a conflict in which the Prophet Muhammad was wounded and seventy Muslims, among them his uncle Hamza, were martyrized. It takes its name from Mount Uhud. Uhud and the cemetery at the site are very near Medina. The Mosque of the Prophets is visible from a knoll known as Archers Hill.
HEJAZ RAILWAY STATION AT MEDINA
Built in a project undertaken on September 1, 1900 by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Hejaz Railway ran from Istanbul to Damascus and from Damascus to Medina. The railroad was completed and opened for service in 1908, greatly facilitating the travel of pilgrims to the region.
CIRCUMAMBULATION OF THE KAABA: Pilgrims walk seven times around the Kaaba.
THE BLACK STONE:During their circumambulation, pilgrims kiss the Black Stone of the Kaaba or, if they are unable to get close enough, gesture towards it with their right hand.
The Mosque of the Prophets, which houses the tombs of the Prophet and of the Caliphs Abubakr and Omar, is filled with worshipers every hour of the day.
1 Located very close to the Kaaba, the house where the Prophet Muhammad was born is used as a library today.
2 Mount Sawr.
3 The locomotive and coaches in the garden of the Medina railroad station once brought pilgrims to the city.