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Monday, January 14, 2008

How Mecca became a holy city

Some history that I was unaware of:
Mecca: 1st - 6th century AD

The town of Mecca, in a rocky valley with no agricultural resources, develops into a place of considerable prosperity. There are two good reasons. It is a trading post on the caravan route from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. And it is Arabia's most important place of pilgrimage.

During the centuries before Islam, large numbers of pilgrims arrive in Mecca to perform a ritual act of walking seven times round a small square building known as the Kaaba (Arabic for 'cube'). The building is full of idols, which are the objects of worship. It also includes a sacred black stone, possibly in origin a meteorite.

The Muslims and Mecca: AD 624-630

Relations with Mecca deteriorate to the point of pitched battles between the two sides, with Muhammad leading his troops in the field. But in the end it is his diplomacy which wins the day.

He persuades the Meccans to allow his followers back into the city, in 629, to make a pilgrimage to the Kaaba and the Black Stone.

On this first Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Muhammad's followers impress the local citizens both by their show of strength and by their self-control, departing peacefully after the agreed three days. But the following year the Meccans break a truce, provoking the Muslims to march on the city.

They take Mecca almost without resistance. The inhabitants accept Islam. And Muhammad sweeps the idols out of the Kaaba, leaving only the sacred Black Stone.

An important element in Mecca's peaceful acceptance of the change has been Muhammad's promise that pilgrimage to the Kaaba will remain a central feature of the new religion.

So Mecca becomes, as it has remained ever since, the holy city of Islam.
Mecca was a holy city for idolators, and Mohammed used its status - and its pre-existing customs - to help grow his new religion.