Considered as perhaps one of the holiest cities in the whole world, Makkah or Mecca, is located in the historic Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia (Crone 231). With a population of nearly two million (1,700,000 to be exact), this region is deeply revered by Muslims because it contains the Grand Mosque of Mecca. From an etymological perspective, the word mecca means a location that is considered as the center of interest or a goal which religious adherents aspire for (Lapidus 43). This is synonymous with the religious devotion that is associated with the area.
One of the major events that occur in this area is the annual pilgrimage to Makkah which happens during the season of the Hajj. This is very important for every Muslim since it is covered under the Five Pillars of Islam (Lapidus 43). Given this relevance, every able bodied Muslim who has the means to must visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. This is a very strict rule (Lapidus 43). During this time, nobody else is allowed to enter the holy city especially people belonging to other faiths.
Historically, the Mecca has always been considered as one of the most important cities in the Arabian Peninsula (Crone 231). Since the 6th century, it has always been the wealthiest of all the settlements in the area (Crone 231). Due to the abundant water supply that it got from the Zamzam Well, Mecca soon grew in prosperity and became the site of the Kaaba, the holiest site in all of Islam (Crone 231). Given this ideal location, it comes as no surprise then that this soon became one of the holiest areas in the world.
The sacred mosque or the Al-Masjid al-Haram is the largest mosque in the entire world. Its location in the city of Mecca is only appropriate given the fact that it surrounds what is the holiest place in the entire Islam, the Kaaba (Lapidus 43). Also known as Haram or Haram Sharif, the mosque is capable of accommodating over four million (4,000,000) people during the great pilgrimage or the Hajj (Lapidus 43). It covers a floor area of approximately three hundred and fifty-six thousand eight hundred (356,800) square meters.
The Kaaba, is a large cubical shaped building that is currently surrounded by the Masjid al-Haram, which is the largest mosque in the world. According to Islamic lore, the Kaaba was formerly the site where Abraham (Ibrahim) erected the Bait-ul-Allah (House of Allah) at the site of the well (Lapidus 43). This was in turn supposedly created by Adam. Currently, the Kaaba is the site for most of the religious practices of the Muslims. During the Hajj, the Kaaba is the center of the ritual circumambulation that is practiced by Muslims. It is also used during the Umrah or the lesser pilgrimage (Lapidus 43). This is also the same direction that Muslims pray towards during prayer.
The Well of Zamzam is located about twenty (20) meters away from the Kaaba (Hawting 47). It was said that this was the site where the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim found water for her infant son (Hawting 44). According to legend, the well was dug up by angel Jibril (Gabriel) who caused the spring to appear. The name Zamzam comes from the phrase Zomë Zomë which literally means “stop flowing” in relation to the command that Hajar tried to issue to stop the spring water from flowing (Hawting 51). This was also the site where tribes would frequent during their pilgrimage in order to settle disputes and settle debts as well as for other religious reasons (Hawting 47).
Aside from the historical considerations, the religious ties that are connected to the holiest place in Islam, the Kaaba, make it the center of any Muslims faith. The fact that the five pillars also require Muslims to visit this place makes it equally important for every Muslim to endeavor to visit this place at least once in their entire lifetime. This is the reason why millions of Muslims make this pilgrimage every year.
Crone, Patricia (1987). Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Princeton University Press.
Hawting, G. R. (1980). “The Disappearance and Rediscovery of Zamzam and the ‘Well of the Ka’ba'”. ‘Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 43 (1): 44-54.
Lapidus, Ira M. (1988). A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 22552 5.
Mecca IPA: /ˈmɛkə/ or Makkah IPA: [ˈmækə] (in full: Makkah Al-Mukarramah IPA: [(Arabic) mækːæ(t) ælmʊkarˑamæ]; Arabic: مكّة المكرمة) is an Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia’s Makkah Province, in the historic Hejaz region. It has a population of 1,700,000 (2008 census). The city is located 73 kilometres (45 miles) inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley, 277 metres (910 ft) above sea level. It is located 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Red Sea. Historically, the city has also been called Becca.
The city is revered by Muslims for containing the holiest site of Islam, the Grand Mosque of Mecca. A pilgrimage to Mecca during the season of the Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, a sacred duty that is required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to go, at least once in their lifetime. People of other faiths are forbidden from entering the city.
The English word mecca (uncapitalized), meaning “A place that is regarded as the center of an activity or interest” or “A goal to which adherents of a religious faith or practice fervently aspire.”  is borrowed from Mecca