In a word, Mecca is the holiest city of Islam by virtue of its double significance as the birthplace of Islam’s foremost prophet- Prophet Muhammad S.A.W (Peace Be upon Him) as well as the Islamic faith itself. Located in the desert valley in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mecca is a pilgrimage destination for the millions of Muslims across the world. The pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims is referred to as the Hajj, thus visit to Mecca by Muslims is referred to as performing the Hajj. According to Islamic scriptures, it is a requirement that every Muslim performs the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Although performing the Hajj is an obligation of every Muslim; this rule is lenient on Islamic adherents who don’t have the means or the capacity to finance their trip to Mecca.

The history of pre-Islamic Mecca is both unique and peculiar at the same time. Before the identity of Mecca as a holy sanctuary for Islam and its adherents, it was an important pilgrimage site for Arab tribes from the north and central Arabia, who typically were pagans and polytheists in their style of worship. Its significance at that time for Arabs, who mostly were traders, is that it served as a link between the spiritual realm and the physical world; thus they travelled from all corners of the Arabian Peninsula to commune with the spiritual realm. This led to the construction of the Ka’ba or ‘cube’ which housed pre-Islamic deities and idols whom pilgrims paid obeisance to. Also worth mentioning at this point is the fact that Mecca during this period was under the rule of the Quraysh tribe which interestingly, is Prophet Muhammad’s tribal origin. At the time of Prophet Muhammad’s birth, Mecca and its sanctuary had evolved to become a centre of political, economic, and religious pre-Islamic life. The Ka’ba is surrounded by the Masjid-al-Haram mosque erected back in the 7th century A.D. The Ka’ba is the square structure covered in a black cloth prominent in common pictures all over the internet and other places as well that depict the Holy City of Mecca.

With the birth of Islam and the ultimate conquest by Prophet Muhammad; Mecca’s status transformed from a sanctuary of polytheism and pagan practices to a holy sanctuary of divine presence. The Prophet kept the sanctuary but emptied it of its idols and statues of various deities. But as some sources point out, most Muslim rituals associated with the annual Hajj and the Kaaba- including the circumambulations around the sanctuary and the running to and from the twin hills of Marwah and Safah have their origins in the Pre-Islamic era practices; a reminder that the mystical element of Mecca pre-dates any particular religious faith or rite. Entry to Mecca is only allowed on the basis that one is a Muslim. This is another way to say that entry is restricted to non-muslims.

Due to its economic, political, and religious value, Mecca has seen Muslim rulers from around the region over the centuries, try to seize it and have it under their control; it has undergone many regime changes but was finally seized and conquered in the Saudi invasion by Ibn Saud in 1925.

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