- For other places with the same name, see Mecca (disambiguation).
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.
A pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, is one of the Five Pillars of Sunni Islam and one of the ten Branches of Religion in Shi'a Islam, and thus 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 are strongly encouraged. This is also the place where the Prophet Muhammad was born.
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.
Most visitors to Mecca follow the set itinerary of the Hajj. Major sites include:
- Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram). 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 site of the symbolic stoning of the Devil.
- Muzdalifah The desert where the pilgrims spend the night.
- Hill of Arafat and Jabal Rahma. The site of Prophet Muhammad's last sermon.
- Jabal Al Noor (lit. The Mountain of Light). While 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 cemetery 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 Muslim prophet Muhammad.
- 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.
While in Mecca, many pilgrims purchase trinkets to remember their time and souvenirs to bring back to family and friends. Zamzam water is available free. It is consumed in Mecca and brought home as a souvenir.
Other items to buy in and around Mecca are: Prayer mats and hats, prayer beads and perfume.
There are many types of food from all over the world available in Mecca, from the Middle Eastern Arab food 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.
There is an Al-Baik Restaurant adjacent to the Sacred Mosque.
Zamzam Water- holy water from the Zamzam spring in Masjid al Haram believed to be divinely blessed is preferred among pilgrims to Mecca.
There are many tea shops that serve tea and cookies. There are also many juice vendors right outside the Mosque, who sell apple, mango and strawberry juices 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), ☎ . Luxury right outside The Holy City. The hotel is beautiful with views of Mecca. Staff speaks Arabic, English, French, Hindi, Indonesian and Punjabi.
- Hotel Elaf Al Huda, Al Din Makkah Al Mukaramah Saudi Araiba. Simple rooms with air-conditioning only 15 min walk from the Haram. They also provide a shuttle to the Haram. starting at $105.
- Inter-Continental Mekkah, Old Jebbah Rd, ☎ . The height of luxury inside the city walls.
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, 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.