Mecca (; , Makkah), also transliterated as Makkah, is a city in the Hejaz and the capital of Makkah Province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level. Its resident population in 2012 was roughly 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during the hajj ("pilgrimage") period held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
As the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of Muhammad's first revelation of the Quran (specifically, a ), Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in the religion of Islam and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, by majority description Islam's holiest site, as well as being the direction of Muslim prayer. Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, the sharifs, acting either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger polities. It was conquered by Ibn Saud in 1925. In its modern period, Mecca has seen tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure, home to structures such as the Abraj Al Bait, also known as the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world's third tallest building and the building with the largest amount of floor area. During this expansion, Mecca has lost some historical structures and archaeological sites, such as the Ajyad Fortress. Today, more than 15 million Muslims visit Mecca annually, including several million during the few days of the Hajj. As a result, Mecca has become one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the Muslim world, despite the fact that non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city.
The beginnings of Mecca is attributed to Ishmael's descendants. The Old Testament chapter Psalm 84:3–6, and a mention of a pilgrimage at the Valley of Baca, that Muslims see as referring to the mentioning of Mecca as Bakkah in Qur'an Surah 3:96. Also the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus who lived between 60 BCE and 30 BCE writes about the isolated region of Arabia in his work Bibliotheca historica describing a holy shrine that Muslims see as referring to the Kaaba at Mecca "And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians". Ptolemy has sometimes been alleged to have called the Mecca "Macoraba", though this identification is controversial.
In the Sharḥ al- Asāṭīr, a commentary on the Samaritan midrashic chronology of the Patriarchs, of unknown date but probably composed in the tenth century C.E., it is claimed that Mecca was built by the sons of Nebaioth, the eldest son of Ishmael.
Some time in the 5th century, the Kaaba was a place of worship for the deities of Arabia's pagan tribes. Mecca's most important pagan deity was Hubal, which had been placed there by the ruling Quraysh tribe and remained until the 7th century.
In the 5th century, the Quraysh took control of Mecca, and became skilled merchants and traders. In the 6th century they joined the lucrative spice trade as well, since battles in other parts of the world were causing trade routes to divert from the dangerous sea routes to the more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been on the increase. Another previous route that ran through the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was also being threatened by exploitations from the Sassanid Empire, as well as being disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman–Persian Wars. Mecca's prominence as a trading center also surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra. The Sassanids however did not always pose a threat to Mecca as in 575 CE they actually protected the Arabian city from invasion of the Kingdom of Axum, led by its Christian leader Abraha. The tribes of the southern Arabia, asked the Persian king Khosrau I for aid, in response to which he came south to Arabia with both foot-soldiers and a fleet of ships into Mecca. The Persian intervention prevented Christianity from spreading eastward into Arabia, and Mecca and the Islamic prophet Muhammad who was at the time a six-year-old boy in the Quraysh tribe "would not grow up under the cross."
By the middle of the 6th century, there were three major settlements in northern Arabia, all along the south-western coast that borders the Red Sea, in a habitable region between the sea and the great mountains to the east. Although the area around Mecca was completely barren, it was the wealthiest of the three settlements with abundant water via the renowned Zamzam Well and a position at the crossroads of major caravan routes.
The harsh conditions and terrain of the Arabian peninsula meant a near-constant state of conflict between the local tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in an annual pilgrimage. Up to the 7th century, this journey was intended for religious reasons by the pagan Arabs to pay homage to their shrine, and to drink from the Zamzam Well. However, it was also the time each year that disputes would be arbitrated, debts would be resolved, and trading would occur at Meccan fairs. These annual events gave the tribes a sense of common identity and made Mecca an important focus for the peninsula.
Camel caravans, said to have first been used by Muhammad's great-grandfather, were a major part of Mecca's bustling economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring goods – leather, livestock, and metals mined in the local mountains – to Mecca to be loaded on the caravans and carried to cities in Syria and Iraq. Historical accounts also provide some indication that goods from other continents may also have flowed through Mecca. Goods from Africa and the Far East passed through en route to Syria including spices, leather, medicine, cloth, and slaves; in return Mecca received money, weapons, cereals and wine, which in turn were distributed throughout Arabia. The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins, and negotiated safe passages for caravans, giving them water and pasture rights. Mecca became the center of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other regional powers such as the Abyssinian, Ghassan, and Lakhm were in decline leaving Meccan trade to be the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century.
There were also some other inscriptions which contained personal names such as "Makky" which means "The Meccan", but Professor "Jawwad Ali" from the University of Baghdad suggested that there's also a probability of a tribe named "Mecca".
According to Islamic tradition, the history of Mecca goes back to Abraham (Ibrahim) who built the Kaaba with the help of his elder son Ishmael in around 2000 BCE when the inhabitants of what was then known as Bakkah had fallen away from the original monotheism of Abraham through the influence of the Amalekites.
Muhammad and conquest of Mecca
Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, and thus Islam has been inextricably linked with it ever since. He was born in a minor faction, the Hashemites, of the ruling Quraysh tribe. It was in Mecca, in the nearby mountain cave of Hira on Jabal al-Nour, that, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad began receiving divine revelations from God through the Archangel Gabriel in 610 AD, and advocated his form of Abrahamic monotheism against Meccan paganism. After enduring persecution from the pagan tribes for 13 years, Muhammad emigrated (see Hijra) in 622 with his companions, the Muhajirun, to Yathrib (later called Medina). The conflict between the Quraysh and the Muslims, however, continued: The two fought in the Battle of Badr, where the Muslims defeated the Quraysh outside Medina; while the Battle of Uhud ended indecisively. Overall, Meccan efforts to annihilate Islam failed and proved to be costly and unsuccessful. During the Battle of the Trench in 627, the combined armies of Arabia were unable to defeat Muhammad's forces .
In 628, Muhammad and his followers wanted to enter Mecca for pilgrimage, but were blocked by the Quraysh. Subsequently, Muslims and Meccans entered into the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, whereby the Quraysh promised to cease fighting Muslims and promised that Muslims would be allowed into the city to perform the pilgrimage the following year. It was meant to be a ceasefire for 10 years. However, just two years later, the Quraysh violated the truce by slaughtering a group of Muslims and their allies. Muhammad and his companions, now 10,000 strong, marched into Mecca. However, instead of continuing their fight, the city of Mecca surrendered to Muhammad, who declared peace and amnesty for its inhabitants. The pagan imagery was destroyed by Muhammad's followers and the location Islamized and rededicated to the worship of God. Mecca was declared as the holiest site in Islam ordaining it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage, one of the faith's Five Pillars. Then, Muhammad returned to Medina, after assigning Akib ibn Usaid as governor of the city. His other activities in Arabia led to the unification of the peninsula.
Muhammad died in 632, but with the sense of unity that he had passed on to his Ummah (Islamic nation), Islam began a rapid expansion, and within the next few hundred years stretched from North Africa into Asia and parts of Europe. As the Islamic Empire grew, Mecca continued to attract pilgrims from all across the Muslim world and beyond, as Muslims came to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Mecca also attracted 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, pilgrims arrived by boat at Jeddah, and came overland, or joined the annual caravans from Syria or Iraq.
Medieval and pre-modern times
Mecca was never the capital of any of the Islamic states but Muslim rulers did contribute to its upkeep. During the reigns of Umar (634–44 CE) and Uthman ibn Affan (644–56) concerns of flooding caused the caliphs to bring in Christian engineers to build barrages in the low-lying quarters and construct dykes and embankments to protect the area round the Kaaba.
Muhammad's migration to Medina shifted the focus away from Mecca. This focus moved still more when Ali, the fourth caliph, took power choosing Kufa as his capital. The Umayyad Caliphate moved the capital to Damascus in Syria and the Abbasid Caliphate to Baghdad, in modern-day Iraq, which remained the center of the Islamic Empire for nearly 500 years. Mecca re-entered Islamic political history during the Second Islamic Civil War, when it was held by Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who opposed the Umayyad caliphs. The city was twice besieged by the Umayyads, in 683 and 692. For some time thereafter the city figured little in politics, remaining a city of devotion and scholarship governed by the Hashemite Sharifs.
In 1517, the Sharif, Barakat bin Muhammed, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Caliph but retained a great degree of local autonomy.
In 1803 the city was captured by the First Saudi State, which held Mecca until 1813. This was a massive blow to the prestige of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire, which had exercised sovereignty over the holy city since 1517. The Ottomans assigned the task of bringing Mecca back under Ottoman control to their powerful Khedive (viceroy) of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha. Muhammad Ali Pasha successfully returned Mecca to Ottoman control in 1813.
In 1818, followers of the Salafi juristic school were again defeated, but some of the Al Saud clan survived and founded the Second Saudi State that lasted until 1891 and lead on to the present country of Saudi Arabia.
Revolt of Sharif of Mecca
In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was at war with Britain and its allies, having sided with Germany. It had successfully repulsed an attack on Istanbul in the Gallipoli Campaign and on Baghdad in the Siege of Kut. The British agent T. E. Lawrence conspired with the Ottoman governor Hussain bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca. Hussein bin Ali revolted against the Ottoman Empire from Mecca, and it was the first city captured by his forces in the Battle of Mecca (1916). Sharif's revolt proved a turning point of the war on the eastern front. Sharif Hussein declared a new state, the Kingdom of Hejaz, and declared Mecca as the capital of the new kingdom.
Following the Battle of Mecca (1924), the Sharif of Mecca was overthrown by the Saud family, and Mecca was incorporated into Saudi Arabia.
Under Saudi rule, much of the historic city has been demolished as a result of construction programs – see below.
On November 20, 1979 two hundred armed Islamist dissidents led by Saudi preacher Juhayman al-Otaibi seized the Grand Mosque. They claimed that the Saudi royal family no longer represented pure Islam and that the Masjid al-Haram (The Sacred Mosque) and the Kaaba, must be held by those of true faith. The rebels seized tens of thousands of pilgrims as hostages and barricaded themselves in the mosque. The siege lasted two weeks, and resulted in several hundred deaths and significant damage to the shrine, especially the Safa-Marwa gallery. Pakistani forces carried out the final assault; they were assisted with weapons, logistics and planning by an elite team of French commandos from The French GIGN commando unit.
Destruction of historic buildings
Under Saudi rule, it has been estimated that since 1985 about 95% of Mecca's historic buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished.
Historic sites of religious importance which have been destroyed by the Saudis include five of the renowned "Seven Mosques" initially built by Muhammad's daughter and four of his "greatest Companions": Masjid Abu Bakr, Masjid Salman al-Farsi, Masjid Umar ibn al-Khattab, Masjid Sayyida Fatima bint Rasulullah and Masjid Ali ibn Abu Talib.
It has been reported that there are now fewer than 20 structures remaining in Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad. Other buildings that have been destroyed include the house of Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad, demolished to make way for public lavatories; the house of Abu Bakr, Muhammad's companion, now the site of the local Hilton hotel; the house of Muhammad's grandson Ali-Oraid and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, now the location of the King's palace in Mecca; Muhammad's birthplace, demolished to make way for a library; and the Ottoman-era Ajyad Fortress, demolished for construction of the Abraj Al Bait Towers.
The reason for much of the destruction of historic buildings has been for the construction of hotels, apartments, parking lots, and other infrastructure facilities for Hajj pilgrims. However, many have been destroyed without any such reason. For example, when the house of Ali-Oraid was discovered, King Fahd himself ordered that it be bulldozed lest it should become a pilgrimage site.