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Mecca, Saudi Arabia

10 Mar, 2009

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Mecca is an important city for Islam. It is considered a Holy City, the center of the Islamic religion and the burial place of Muhammed, the Islamic prophet. This city in Saudi Arabia plays host to an annual pilgrimage of Muslims from all over the world. However, it is not open for non-Muslims, who are forbidden to enter the sacred place. Mecca is that important that every single day, about a billion Muslims everywhere in the world, from United Arab Emirates to New York City, devote several minutes of their lives to get to their knees and pray while facing the direction of the city.

It is a common knowledge that Muslims are required to get to a holy pilgrimage to the city at least once in a lifetime. The holy trip to Mecca is called Hajj, which becomes the biggest annual pilgrimage globally. Every year, there are about two million Muslim devotees who come for a pilgrimage to Mecca specifically during a designated Islamic month called the Dhu al-Hijjah. During this particular time of the year, the city instantly transforms into a busy and bustling tourism center.

Though the Hajj happens in a specific time of the year, non-Muslim tourists are still not permitted to get into Mecca any time. Tourists are advised not to pursue goals to enter the city as penalties and punishments for doing so could be quite harsh and unlikely, including prison term and deportation. However, some people in the past had succeeded in going to Mecca. Previous regulations about non-Muslims’ entry into the city were not as strict as they are today.

Geography

Mecca is a city located between mountains, which limit the contemporary expansion. It is about 277 meters or 910 feet above sea level. Mecca centers on the Masjid al-Haram, which has an altitude lower than the rest of the city. The old city is comprised of the area surrounding the mosque. The Grand Mosque is at the heart of Mecca. Overall land area is at 1,200 square kilometers.

The central area of Mecca is in a corridor lying between mountains, often called ‘hollow of Mecca.’ Its location is particularly important for trade as it serves as a stop shop for significant trade routes. The potential of the city as a trading center prompted the local government to replace hundreds of houses around Grand Mosque with city squares and wide avenues.

When to go

Mecca is different from other cities in the country in that warm temperature is usually retained during winter. Summer temperatures are extremely hot, often breaching the 40°C, or 104°F mark. November, December and January are months when rain could be expected to fall. Pilgrimages swoon during Dhu al-Hijjah, the designated Islamic month for annual journeys to Mecca.

History

Mecca’s history goes way back to about 2000 BC, when Ibrahim and son Ismail established Kaaba. It was believed that the place eventually turned to be a repository of tribal gods and some 360 idols of the Arabian nomadic tribes.

During mid 6th century, Mecca emerged as one of the three important settlements in north Arabia. The city was then the wealthiest and most significant of the three settlements. Pilgrimages to Mecca began about the same time. There were constant conflicts between Arabian tribes because of struggles. However, all conflicting parties agree to a truce every once in a year. They would converge to Mecca in a designated time. The annual pilgrimage to the city began. The journey has always been intended to pay homage to the sacred shrine, to drink water from Zamzam well and to satisfy other religious reasons.

Mecca tourism

Mecca accounts for most tourism in Saudi Arabia. Most tourists are Muslims who come in pilgrimage at designated time of the year. However, Mecca tourism is requiring advanced planning. Even Muslims could not easily enter the city as well. Visa is required unless you are a Saudi Arabia citizen. To attain access to Mecca, you should secure a letter or certification from your local mosque as a proof that indeed you are a Muslim. As mentioned, Mecca is strictly for Muslims as it is the holiest land in the faith.

Women aged 45 years old and below are mandated to travel with their ‘mahram’ or male head of the family. They should also secure a written or documented proof of their relationship with a male Muslim, like a marriage certificate. Women above 45 years should be a part of a formally organized Mecca tourism body and should secure a letter of permission from her father or husband before given access to the city. Additionally, all tourists coming to Mecca for a pilgrimage should have received meningitis vaccine. If you come to Mecca and you aim to hop to other Saudi Arabian cities after, there is a need to secure a separate visa, as that used to get to Mecca is only effective and honored in the city.

The journey to Mecca often begins at Jeddah, the huge and major city also in Saudi Arabia. There are special terminals that are specifically functioning to bring about two million tourists to Mecca. To some tourists, it could be more convenient to take buses that are directly traveling to Mecca from Jeddah airport.

Upon entry to the city, there are special and traditional rituals that are required, also called Umrah. Such rituals re-enact specific incidents described in the Koran, Islam’s holy book. Umrah is usually complex and is lasting about a week. The procedures basically include changing into conventional or traditional pilgrimage clothing and walking around the Kabaa (an important religious building). After Umrah, Sa’ey is conducted. This ritual involves walking through the hills of Safa and Marwah. The activity symbolizes the frantic search of water by prophet Abraham’s wife for her son.

Other rituals must also be conducted. They include getting to Arafat (believed to be the place where the last sermon of Muhammed was conducted) and drinking water taken from the Zamzam well within the Great Mosque. It is believed that the well was where God once gave drinking water to Ismail and Hajar, two prominent characters in Koran.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

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2 Responses to “Mecca, Saudi Arabia”

  1. damned good blog.

    good luck

  2. I like the way you put it. tks for the info…

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