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MeccaBritannica Elementary Article

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The city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is the holiest city in the world for Muslims, and only Muslims are allowed to live there. Every Muslim hopes to make a hajj, or religious journey, to Mecca at least once in his or her life. The city lies in the Sirat Mountains about 45 miles (72 kilometers) inland from the Red Sea port of Jiddah.


Places of interest

Mecca centers on al-Haram, or the Great Mosque. The mosque is so big that it can hold 300,000 worshippers. Inside the mosque is the sacred well of Zamzam. The holiest shrine of Islam, the Kabah, is in the mosque's central courtyard. A small building made of gray stone and shaped like a cube, it houses the Black Stone of Mecca. Legend says that the Black Stone was given to Adam when he was forced to leave paradise. The stone is holy to Muslims, and pilgrims walk around it seven times, touching and kissing it.



Millions of Muslims from other parts of the country and from other Muslim nations visit Mecca each year. Income from the pilgrims is a major part of Mecca's economy. The making of goods such as textiles, furniture, rugs, perfumes, and pottery is also important. Because water and land that can be farmed are in short supply, most food is imported from other places in Saudi Arabia. Dates and rice are grown near Mecca, however.



The ancient geographer Ptolemy first mentioned Mecca in the 2nd century AD, calling it Macoraba. Its origins go back much further than that, however. The city was located on a trade route that linked the Mediterranean world with South Arabia, East Africa, and South Asia in ancient times. It was also a sacred place long before the birth of Muhammad in AD 570. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Kabah as the house of God. The prophet Muhammad was forced to flee from Mecca in AD 622, but he returned eight years later and took control of the city. He declared it a place of Muslim pilgrimage and dedicated it to Allah. Since then the city has been the major religious center of Islam.

In 1269 Mecca came under the control of Egypt. In 1517 the city became part of the Ottoman Empire. Mecca was ruled by the Ottoman Turks until World War I ended. Later it became a part of Saudi Arabia. In 1987 protestors from Iran and Saudi Arabian police clashed near the Great Mosque. More than 400 people were killed. Population (1993 estimate), 966,400.