Mecca & Islam
It’s virtually impossible to separate Mecca from its religious roots. The city first emerged as an important trading stop that many Arabian tribes also visited for the temple at the centre of the town, but when Muhammad began preaching the messages he believed to be receiving from God, it became the birthplace of Islam and the holiest city on earth for Muslims.
Inside Al Masjid Al Haram (the Grand Mosque) at Mecca is the Kaaba, Islam’s most revered structure. No matter where they are in the world, Muslims face the Kaaba (the direction is called the qibla) to pray five times a day. The Quran describes the Kaaba as the world’s first place of worship.
Islamic teachings say that in the 3rd century BC, God commanded Ibrahim to leave his wife, Hajar, and his infant son, Ishmael, in the desert as a test of his faith. Hajar, desperate to save her son, ran between the hills known as Safa and Marwah frantically searching for water. She found none and when she was about to give up hope, noticed Ishmael digging into the sandy soil with his foot, from where water sprang forth from an underground source known as zamzam. God later commanded Ibrahim to rebuild the Kaaba and invite the region’s people to perform a pilgrimage. The Kaaba has since served as the focal point of hajj. It’s draped in a gold-embroidered black fabric, called the kiswah, and pilgrims circle it seven times, often touching or kissing the black stone on the eastern corner.