The city of Mecca, located in Saudi Arabia is about 50 miles away from the Red Sea Coast. It has a population of about 618,000, although at any given time the population may be much larger due to Muslims coming from all around the globe to visit this sacred city. This is the most sacred city for Muslims, and non-Muslims may not enter the city's boundaries. The most sacred masjid (mosque), Masjid Al-Haram, is located in this city. The city features mountains, many of which have some symbolic meaning, or a story behind them. The city also holds the holy well of Zamzam.
Why is this city so sacred to Muslims all over the world? The city is the site for the yearly pilgrimage, the Hajj, which all Muslims must complete at least once in their life. It is also the focal point for the prayers, or Salaat, of Muslims. Every Muslim must pray five times a day toward the direction of Mecca (more specifically towards the Holy Ka'aba). The city of Mecca is also the most beloved place for Allah (SWTA), and is the most virtuous city in the world. For example, the reward of a prayer done in this city is one hundred thousand times greater than a prayer done in any other city. This city was also the birthplace of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad (SAW). Even before the origins of Islam and the revelations by the Prophet, Mecca was considered a holy city, making it a central point in the caravan trading routes running over the Arabian peninsula.
In and around the city of Mecca, there are many masjids, most of which were the site for the prayers of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and his Companions.
- Masjid Al-Haram is the central masjid for not only Mecca, but for the entire world. It holds the Ka'aba, the Black Stone and the well of Zamzam.
- Masjid Rayah is the mosque where the Prophet (SAW) placed a flag on his way to Jannah at Ma'la.
- Masjid Jinn is the site where the jinn gathered to listen to the recitation of the Holy Qu'ran (Islamic culture believes in the existence of Jinns).
- Masjid Tan'im is where the Ihram (a white cloth which men must put on during the pilgrimage) for Umrah or Hajj is put on (it can be put on before, but not after). It is located three miles north of Mecca.
- Masjid Ghanam/Masjid al-Ijabah is in Muhallah Mu'abidah, near the valley of Muhassab.
- Masjid Zi Tuwa is on the way to Tan'im.
- Masjid Khayf is a big and important mosque in Mina. Mina is one of the places to go during the Hajj.
- Masjid Namrah is a mosque on the borders of Arafah. Arafah is the main valley where the annual Hajj takes place.
- Masjid Mash'arul Haram is located in Muzdalifah, which is the area during Hajj, where one collects stones.
- Masjid Jabal Abi Qubays is on the mountain of Abul Qubays.
- Masjid Uqbah is another mosque near Mina.
- Masjid Dan un Nah is between Jamrah Ula and Jamrah Wusta in Mina.
- Masjid al-Kabsh is where, according to Islamic traditions, Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) made Prophet Ismail (Ishmael) lie down so he can slaughter him as Allah (SWTA) had asked, but in the final seconds, he was replaced by some animal.
- Masjid Ja'rahah is a mosque on the road to Taif. Taif was a city which the Prophet (SAW) had visited during the days of his prophethood.
In and around the city of Mecca, there exist many famous mountains which Muslims usually go and visit during their pilgramage.
- Jabl Rahmat is a mountain in Arafat where the Prophet (SAW) had given his final sermon .
- Jabl Thaur is a mountain three miles from the city, and is the site where the Prophet (SAW) and one of his companions Abu Bakr (RA) stayed for three nights following their "hijra." The mountain is about a mile to a mile and a half high, with steps being carved out all the way to the top.
- The Cave of Hijra is by Mina, and is where the Prophet (SAW) used to go in complete solitude when the prophethood was being given to him. This is the site where the Prophet (SAW) received his first revelation.
During the annual Hajj, the carrying capacity of the city of Mecca is put to its limit. This past Hajj, over two million pilgrims made the trip to Mecca. This requires a great amount of planning by the Saudi government. Hotels, restaurants and other services are pushed to their limits, but make a great deal of profit during this pilgrimage.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is closed off to tourists, and the city itself is closed off to anyone who is not Muslim. There are road blocks placed across the roads leading to the city allowing only Muslims to pass. At least once, a non-Muslim actually did visit Mecca. In 1853, The British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton (he translated the 100 stories of the Arabian Knights and discovered the Kama Sutra), disguised as an Afghani Muslim visited the city and wrote his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Mecca.
Although Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the religious capital of not only Saudi Arabia, but also for Muslims all over the world.