Mecca or Makkah (Arabic: مكة المكرمة Makkah al-Mukarramah), located in western Saudi Arabia, is the holiest city in Islam. It is strictly forbidden for Non-Muslims to enter the city and this is strongly enforced. Road signs to guide Muslims are provided. During prayer times, streets near the Mosque may get crowded with mosque goers due to most Muslims having a preference for praying at the Sacred Mosque.
A pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and it is obligatory for all Muslims with the physical and financial ability to make it. Over three million Muslims visit the city during the month of Dhu’l-Hijjah yearly. Visits outside this month are known as minor pilgrimages or Umrah, and while not compulsory, they are strongly encouraged. This is also the place where Prophet Muhammad was born. Mecca also has a very rich history as it is a very old city which has been considered sacred since the early middle ages. It is also the birthplace of Islam and is the most sacred place for Muslims.
Mecca, much like the rest of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast a desert climate with very high summer temperatures. Mecca has no winter and the “coldest” part of the year features temperatures from 18°C (64°F) to 30°C (86°F), while 35°C (95°F) hittings aren’t uncommon. The city has never recorded a temperature below 10°C (50°F). The very hot period lasts from April to October and peaks in July when the average high is 43.8°C (110.8°F). The city’s distance from the sea and low altitude are the two contributionary factor to the very hot weather compared to nearby cities (e.g. Jeddah is a seaside port, while Medina has a high altitude). The heat though doesn’t bother Saudi Arabians that much and neither does with most muslim tourists. The city receives low rainfall amounts measuring 111mm (4.4 inches).
The government of Saudi Arabia issues special visas for those making the pilgrimage. Most pilgrims opt to use a specialist travel agency, which will handle the considerable paperwork for them, but detailed information on the strict requirements is available at the Ministry of Hajj. As usual in Saudi Arabia, women must travel together with a male guardian (Mahram), unless they are over 45, travelling with a group and have their guardian’s signed consent.
Visas are assigned to countries on a quota basis according to the number of Muslims they have. Recently, those who have previously been to Mecca have had additional restrictions placed on their entry, in an effort to discourage overcrowding while still accommodating those who have not yet made the pilgrimage. If the applicant was not born a Muslim, they must present a certificate testifying so, which has been notarized by an Islamic center. Usually your mosque will be able to arrange this or at least point the way.
Jeddah is the gateway to Mecca. The Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport (IATA: JED), used only for the Hajj, is served mostly by charter flights, although there are some scheduled services. During Umrah, scheduled services use the airport’s other terminals.
There is an excellent modern multi-lane highway from Jeddah. During the Hajj pilgrimage season it is jammed with buses full of pilgrims. At any other time, traffic is extremely light for the size of the road.
A few miles outside Mecca, there is a cutoff referred to as the “Christian bypass”. Turn along this highway to drive another 50 miles out of the way to reach the lovely mountain town of Taif. Taif, at 5000 feet elevation, was the former summer palace of the Saudi Kings. If you remain on the main highway, there is a police checkpoint just after the exit, where non-Muslims are kept out of the holy city.
SAPTCO runs services to Mecca from throughout the country, although most pilgrims arrive on privately chartered buses from Jeddah. There are two terminals: the main terminal outside city limits is open to all, but the city center terminal at the Haram al Sharif, used mainly by buses to Jeddah, is restricted to Muslims only.
Local buses, taxis, and micro-buses are widely available in Mecca and are inexpensive. The 18 km (11 mi) Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro opened in November 2010. A total of 5 metro lines are planned to carry pilgrims to the religious sites.
The Kaaba (Arabic: أَلكَعْبَة al-kaʿbah IPA: (alˈkaʕba), “The Cube”), also referred as al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah (Arabic: أَلكَعْبَة أَلمُشَرَّفَة, the Holy Ka’bah), is a building at the center of Islam’s most important mosque, Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām (Arabic: أَلمَسْجِد أَلحَرَام, The Sacred Mosque), in the Hejazi city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam. It is considered by Muslims to be the Bayṫ Allāh (Arabic: بَيْت الله, “House of God”), and has a similar role to the Tabernacle and Holy of Holies in Judaism. Its location determines the qiblah (Arabic: قِبْلَة, direction of prayer). Wherever they are in the world, Muslims are expected to face the Kaaba when performing Salah (Arabic: صَلاة, Islamic prayer).
One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim who is able to do so to perform the Hajj (Arabic: حَجّ, Greater Pilgrimage) at least once in their lifetime. Multiple parts of the hajj require pilgrims to make Tawaf (Arabic: طَوَاف, Circumambulation) seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. Tawaf is also performed by pilgrims during the ‘Umrah (Arabic: عُمْرة, Lesser Pilgrimage). However, the most significant time is during the hajj, when millions of pilgrims gather to circle the building within a 5-day period. In 2017, the number of pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform hajj was officially reported as 1,752,014 and 600,108 Saudi Arabian residents bringing the total number of pilgrims to 2,352,122.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Kaaba
Billions of Muslims face toward the Kaaba to pray five times each day and it is the most sacred and holy site in Islam.
But how much do you really know about the Kaaba, the mysterious cube-shaped building at the centre of Mecca’s Al-Masjid al-Haram mosque?
The inside of the Kaaba is the only place in the world where you can pray in any direction you want!
Think about it. Inside, you are always facing the Kaaba.
The Holy Kaaba is sometimes called “The House of Allah.”
The Quran states that the Kaaba was the first ever House of Worship for Muslims and was built on instructions directly from Allah by the Prophets Ibrahim (PBUH) and Ismail (PBUH).
The Kaaba has been rebuilt many times.
Due to natural and man-made disasters, renovations have been made. The most recent one was in 1996 and due to advances in techniques it’s hoped that no further work will be needed for many centuries! (Insha Allah)
It used to be multi-coloured.
It’s currently famous as a black and gold cube, but centuries ago it was covered in colours including green, red and even white.
The same family holds the key to the door as in Quranic times.
The Prophet (PBUH) gave the keys to the Osman ibn Talha (RA) of the Bani Shaiba family. They still have them and there’s even a passage in the Quran that rules that they always will: ‘Take it, O Bani Talha, eternally up to the Day of Resurrection, and it will not be taken from you unless by an unjust, oppressive tyrant.’
The doors are only opened twice a year.
The Kaaba used to be opened twice a day for everyone to enter and pray, but now that millions of Muslims visit the site, only VIPs and dignitaries go in on special occasions twice per calendar year.
It used to be in the centre of a lake.
OK, this isn’t strictly true, but due to a lack of flood defences and sewer systems (eww!) in the old days, the mosque used to flood regularly and people had to swim to get to the Kaaba.
There are two of them!
But the other one is directly above the one we can see, in heaven. According to the Quran, 70,000 angels pray at the heavenly Kaaba, which is an exact replica, everyday.
It’s not meant to be cube-shaped!
It was originally a rectangle, but when it needed rebuilding just a few years before the Prophet (PBUH) received his first revelation, not enough ‘pure’ money – ie money that hadn’t been made from gambling or prostitution – was available to pay for the bigger, rectangular version. So we now have a cube. But this is how the Prophet (PBUH) saw it.
It connects Muslims around the world.
The Kaaba plays an important role, not only as focal point for prayer and the original house of worship, but also as a symbol that unites all Muslims, wherever we live in the world.
Most visitors to Mecca follow the set itinerary of the Hajj. Major sites include:
Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Harami). The holiest site in Mecca and Islam. This mosque is built around the Kaaba.
Kaaba. At the center of the sacred mosque is this building, said to have been built by Prophet Abraham himself and his son, Prophet Ishmael. Covered in black cloth, it is circled seven times by Muslim pilgrims.
In addition to Makkah, sites involving Hajj include
Mina. The “tent city” surrounded by a desert where the pilgrims spend the night. It is also the site of the symbolic stoning of the Devil.
Muzdalifah Open plain where pilgrims pray. Most common place to gather stones for stoning the Devil.
Hill of Arafat and Jabal Rahma. The site of Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon.
Jabal Al Noor (lit. The Mountain of Light). While its not part of the Hajj ritual this is still an important site; since atop this mountain is the famous Her’aa grotto, where Muslims believe Muhammed first had the Quran revealed to him.
Jabal Al Thur. This is the cave in which Prophet Muhammed hid in as he made Hijra to Yathrib (Medina) while being pursued by Meccans who were going to kill him. According to legend, the cave entrance was blocked by a spider which had cast a web to cover it.
Masjid e Taneem. This is a mosque which acts as a Miqat (boundary for Umrah) for people who have already just been in Makkah.
Hudaibiyah. It is situated on the old road connecting old Jeddah to Makkah. It’s currently known as al-Syumaisi. This is the place where the famous ‘Hudaibiyah Treaty’ took place between the Muslims from Madinah led by Prophet Muhammed and the Quraish from Makkah. There is new masjid built next to the ruins of the old masjid.
Jannat ul Mualla. This is the cemetary in which companions during the time of Prophet Muhammed are buried.
– Hike the Mountains of Mecca
– Visit Ghar Hira, where the first verse of the Quran was revealed to the last of the prophets, Prophet Mohammed.
– Pray and read the Quran at the Kaaba Masjid al Haram.
– Shopping in the city is widely available. Bargaining is always an option when shopping locally.
– Visit Mina and the site of Stoning the devil.
– Learn. Mecca has a variety of schools and universities.
– View the five pillars of Islam
While in Makkah many pilgrims purchase trinkets to remember their time, and souvenirs to bring back to family and friends. Zamzam water is available free which is consumed in Makkah and brought home as a souvenir.
There are many shopping malls with local and International brands in Makkah! You really want to purchase the perfume oils known as Attars from many well known Arabian perfume brands. Besides this you could find local shops almost everywhere in the city from which you can buy Prayer Mats, Islamic hats, Abaya, Thawbs and much more!
There are many types of food from all over the world available in Mecca, from the Indian, Middle Eastern to Southeast Asian food. There are also American fast food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dunkin Donuts. No type of pork, ham or any part of the pig is served in Saudi Arabia as forbidden by Islamic Law, since Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and Mecca is the holiest city in Islam.
There are numerous budget eating places from Pakistani, Bengali, and Middle Eastern. There are also many Hawker centres located really near to the Holy Mosque!
You can find many international food chains like KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardees etc. The food served there is Halal (permissible).
Alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia. All intoxicants are forbidden.
Zamzam Water – holy water from the Zamzam spring in Masjid al Haram believed to be divinely blessed is preferred among pilgrims to Mekkah.
There are many tea shops that serve tea and cookies. Also many juice vendors right outside the Mosque that sell Apple, Mango and Strawberry juice for 1 SAR.
Mecca is full of hotels, from the Hilton to unknown hotels with various facilities. The price varies according to the hotel’s distance from the Holy Mosque. Some of the world’s greatest hotels are situated in Mecca, and are full year-round. Make sure to book early, as soon as you know your dates of travel.
Dar Al Tawhid Makkah (The Inter-Continental), Ibrahim Al Khalis St (Just Outside of Mecca), ☎ +966-2-541-1111. Luxury right outside The Holy City. The hotel is beautiful with views of Mecca. Staff speaks Arabic, English, French,Urdu,Malay and Punjabi. edit
Inter-Continental Mekkah, Old Jebbah Rd, ☎ +966-2-560-1000. The height of luxury inside the city walls. edit
Hotel Elaf Al Huda, Al Din Makkah Al Mukaramah Saudi Arabia. Simple rooms with air-conditioning only 15 min walk from haran. They also provide a shuttle to haran. starting at $105. edit
Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Hajar Tower Makkah, Abraj Al-Bait | P.O.Box 17700. the hotel forms part of the prestigious Abraj Al Bait complex and is located directly on the Haram Court, facing the King Abdul Aziz Gate. edit
Hilton Suites Makkah, Ibrahim Al Khalil Street, Makkah Saudi Arabia, ☎ +966 12 534 2200. checkin: 4:00pm; checkout: 12:00pm. Modern rooms, some with marble bathrooms, in a luxe hotel. starting at $143. edit
Despite strict crowd control measures, overcrowding and stampedes are major hazards during the month of the Hajj, killing dozens of people. Mina, Jamrat and the bridges leading to them are known to be particularly dangerous, although steps have been taken to alleviate this: there are now four parallel bridges and the route is now unidirectional.
During the Hajj crowds pickpockets are not uncommon. Avoid having any valuables on your person when traversing through the crowds. In other words, be on the safe side and don’t take chances. Most pilgrims also visit Medina, Islam’s second holiest city.