Mecca: mother of cities
Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba. (Photos: Ali Ünal, Today's Zaman)
The city that is home to the Kaaba, the holy shrine of the Muslim world. This is the city where Prophet Muhammad was born and spent his childhood.
This is also the city where he spent 13 out of his 23 years of prophecy -- years full of hardship. We are watching the city of Mecca, between the mountains. Mecca has a strategic location. The terrain is mountainous; it's so mountainous that there are nearly 12,000 hills and mountains in the area. Due to its mountainous surroundings, there are many tunnels in the city.
Mecca is referred to in the Quran as the Mother of Cities (Umm al-Qura). The city is cited in a number of verses. This city of safety and serenity grows around the Kaaba. Mecca is a city where life is scheduled around prayer times. This is a city focused on prayer that also hosts the Kaaba and Masjid al-Haram at its center.
One of the titles of the king of Saudi Arabia is Khadimul Haramain Sharifain, which means “servant of the two prominent mosques of Islam” (Masjid al-Haram and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi). As you may recall, Ottoman Sultan Selim adopted this title.
Signs indicate the boundaries of the Harem area around Mecca. We head to one of these signs on the Hudaybiyyah side. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Harem area. Harem literally means preserved, banned or untouchable. Any killing or harming of plants, including uprooting and cutting down trees, is banned in this area. This place was declared by Allah as safe and untouchable.
The old signs marking off Harem, which still stand next to the new ones, were put up by Ottoman authorities. The locations of these signs were not arbitrarily determined; it is believed that Prophet Abraham set the boundaries as instructed by the angel Gabriel. But the boundaries were subsequently forgotten or erased. Prophet Muhammad, also believed to have been acting on the angel Gabriel orders, reestablished them.
When he conquered the city of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad said, “The day the world and the universe were created, this city was declared Harem by Allah and it will remain so forever.” Prophet Muhammad put up new Harem signs after the conquest of Mecca; periodically, the signs were replaced.
The Ottoman state assumed the role of protecting these lands; the area was well preserved during the Ottoman era. Ottoman authorities paid particular attention to the preservation of the shrine.
Kaaba. It is the qibla of all Muslims in the world. The mosque surrounding it is called the Masjid al-Haram. It is the most revered and valued mosque in the world. Prayers performed in this mosque are regarded as much more significant than those performed in any other mosque. Masjid al-Haram is that important.
People begin to flow from the streets of the city of Mecca toward the Masjid al-Haram at prayer times. Everybody wants to pray in this revered and holy place. Traffic on routes that lead to the Kaaba jams up shortly before prayer times. For this reason, experienced pilgrims arrive in the mosque well before the official time to pray. We are here to perform our isha prayer; the mosque is extremely crowded; there are people everywhere. It is really fantastic to be here and perform our prayers.
Circumambulation starts right after prayer. This is a constant movement of Muslims around the Kaaba, just planets revolve around the sun. This tradition has been preserved for centuries. We strive to be a part of this movement; in the end, we start our walk at al-Hajar al-Aswad, the Black Stone. It's a great feeling to be in the Kaaba and perform our prayers. Circumambulation is a prayer. As Prophet Muhammad said, circumambulation is a prayer performed by walking. It's a great feeling to participate with Muslims revolving around the Kaaba. It's a blessing from Allah to perform prayers in the Kaaba, recite the Koran and feel the spirituality here.
The works to expand the Masjid al-Haram area continue. Both the mosque's yard and closed-in area are being enlarged. Nearby hotels are being demolished. The number of minarets will increase from nine to 11. Thanks to these expansion projects, Muslims will have a larger area for praying.
There is a TV station that broadcasts live from the Masjid al-Haram called Al Quran Al Kareem TV. We pay a visit to the main station, where live broadcasts are performed. Images of the Masjid al-Haram are broadcast 24 hours a day. The world is watching these images via satellite. With the exception of the prayer times, recitations of the Koran are broadcast all the time. At prayer times, the prayers are also broadcast live.
When the time of prayer arrives, Koran recitation is interrupted and azan (call to prayer) recitation starts. The entire prayer is broadcast live to allow the world to see the images of the Masjid al-Haram. This is a very remarkable and commendable service.
We also pay a visit to an important place near the Masjid al-Haram. The building we saw in front of us was constructed on the site of the house where Prophet Muhammad was born. Wherever we look in Mecca, we are reminded of Prophet Muhammad. There is a trace of him in every stone and every corner of the city.
Prophet Muhammad loved Mecca greatly. He once said: “I swear to Allah, you are the best place that Allah has ever created; you are the most beloved by Allah. There is no other place in the world that pleases me like you do. If I had not been forced to leave, I never would have left you and I would not make another home.”
(Pilgrims visit the Cave of Hira)
(People pray on Mount Arafat)