1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mecca

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MECCA (Arab. Makkah),[1] the chief town of the Hejaz in Arabia, and the great holy city of Islām. It is situated two camel marches (the resting-place being Bahra or Hadda), or about 45 m. almost due E., from Jidda on the Red Sea. Thus on a rough estimate Mecca lies in 21° 25′ N., 39° 50′ E. It is said in the Koran (Sur. xiv. 40) that Mecca lies in a sterile valley, and the old geographers observe that the whole Haram or sacred territory round the city is almost without cultivation or date palms, while fruit trees, springs, wells, gardens and green valleys are found immediately beyond. Mecca in fact lies in the heart of a mass of rough hills, intersected by a labyrinth of narrow valleys and passes, and projecting into the Tehāma or low country on the Red Sea, in front of the great mountain wall that divides the coast-lands from the central plateau, though in turn they are themselves separated from the sea by a second curtain of hills forming the western wall of the great Wādi Marr. The inner mountain wall is pierced by only two great passes, and the valleys descending from these embrace on both sides the Mecca hills.

Holding this position commanding two great routes between the lowlands and inner Arabia, and situated in a narrow and barren valley incapable of supporting an urban population, Mecca must have been from the first a commercial centre.[2] In the palmy days of South Arabia it was probably a station on the great incense route, and thus Ptolemy may have learned the name, which he writes Makoraba. At all events, long before Mahomet we find Mecca established in the twofold quality of a commercial centre and a privileged holy place, surrounded by an inviolable territory (the Haram), which was not the sanctuary of a single tribe but a place of pilgrimage, where religious observances were associated with a series of annual fairs at different points in the vicinity. Indeed in the unsettled state of the country commerce was possible only under the sanctions of religion, and through the provisions of the sacred truce which prohibited war for four months of the year, three of these being the month of pilgrimage, with those immediately preceding and following. The first of the series of fairs in which the Meccans had an interest was at Okaz on the easier road between Mecca and Taif, where there was also a sanctuary, and from it the visitors moved on to points still nearer Mecca (Majanna, and finally Dhul-Majāz, on the flank of Jebel Kabkab behind Arafa) where further fairs were held,[3] culminating in the special religious ceremonies of the great feast at ‛Arafa, Quzaḥ (Mozdalifa), and Mecca itself. The system of intercalation in the lunar calendar of the heathen Arabs was designed to secure that the feast should always fall at the time when the hides, fruits and other merchandise were ready for market,[4] and the Meccans, who knew how to attract the Bedouins by hospitality, bought up these wares in exchange for imported goods, and so became the leaders of the international trade of Arabia. Their caravans traversed the length and breadth of the peninsula. Syria, and especially Gaza, was their chief goal. The Syrian caravan intercepted, on its return, at Badr (see Mahomet) represented capital to the value of £20,000, an enormous sum for those days.[5]

The victory of Mahommedanism made a vast change in the position of Mecca. The merchant aristocracy became satraps or pensioners of a great empire; but the seat of dominion was removed beyond the desert, and though Mecca and the Hejāz strove for a time to maintain political as well as religious predominance, the struggle was vain, and terminated on the death of Ibn Zubair, the Meccan pretendant to the caliphate, when the city was taken by Hajjāj (a.d. 692). The sanctuary and feast of Mecca received, however, a new prestige from the victory of Islām. Purged of elements obviously heathen, the Ka‛ba became the holiest site, and the pilgrimage the most sacred ritual observance of Mahommedanism, drawing worshippers from so wide a circle that the confluence of the petty traders of the desert was no longer the main feature of the holy season. The pilgrimage retained its importance for the commercial well-being of Mecca; to this day the Meccans live by the Hajj—letting rooms, acting as guides and directors in the sacred ceremonies, as contractors and touts for land and sea transport, as well as exploiting the many benefactions that flow to the holy city; while the surrounding Bedouins derive support from the camel-transport it demands and from the subsidies by which they are engaged to protect or abstain from molesting the pilgrim caravans. But the ancient “fairs of heathenism” were given up, and the traffic of the pilgrim season, sanctioned by the Prophet in Sur. ii. 194, was concentrated at Minā and Mecca, where most of the pilgrims still have something to buy or sell, so that Minā, after the sacrifice of the feast day, presents the aspect of a huge international fancy fair.[6] In the middle ages this trade was much more important than it is now. Ibn Jubair (ed. Wright, p. 118 seq.) in the 12th century describes the mart of Mecca in the eight days following the feast as full of gems, unguents, precious drugs, and all rare merchandise from India, Irāk, Khorāsān, and every part of the Moslem world.

The hills east and west of Mecca, which are partly built over and rise several hundred feet above the valley, so enclose the city that the ancient walls only barred the valley at three points, where three gates led into the town. In the time of Ibn Jubair the gates still stood though the walls were ruined, but now the gates have only left their names to quarters of the town. At the northern or upper end was the Bāb el Mā‛lā, or gate of the upper quarter, whence the road continues up the valley towards Minā and Arafa as well as towards Zeima and the Nejd. Beyond the gate, in a place called the Hajūn, is the chief cemetery, commonly called el Mā‛lā, and said to be the resting-place of many of the companions of Mahomet. Here a cross-road, running over the hill to join the main Medina road from the western gate, turns off to the west by the pass of Kadā, the point from which the troops of the Prophet stormed the city (a.h. 8).[7] Here too the body of Ibn Zubair was hung on a cross by Ḥajjāj. The lower or southern gate, at the Masfala quarter, opened on the Yemen road, where the rain-water from Mecca flows off into an open valley. Beyond, there are mountains on both sides; on that to the east, commanding the town, is the great castle, a fortress of considerable strength. The third or western gate, Bāb el-Omra (formerly also Bāb el-Zāhir, from a village of that name), lay almost opposite the great mosque, and opened on a road leading westwards round the southern spurs of the Red Mountain. This is the way to Wādi Fātima and Medīna, the Jidda road branching off from it to the left. Considerable suburbs now lie outside the quarter named after this gate; in the middle ages a pleasant country road led for some miles through partly cultivated land with good wells, as far as the boundary of the sacred territory and gathering place of the pilgrims at Tanīm, near the mosque of Ayesha. This is the spot on the Medīna road now called the Omra, from a ceremonial connected with it which will be mentioned below.

The length of the sinuous main axis of the city from the farthest suburbs on the Medina road to the suburbs in the extreme north, now frequented by Bedouins, is, according to Burckhardt, 3500 paces.[8] About the middle of this line the longitudinal thoroughfares are pushed aside by the vast courtyard and colonnades composing the great mosque, which, with its spacious arcades surrounding the Ka‛ba and other holy places, and its seven minarets, forms the only prominent architectural feature of the city. The mosque is enclosed by houses with windows opening on the arcades and commanding a view of the Ka‛ba. Immediately beyond these, on the side facing Jebel Abu Kobais, a broad street runs south-east and north-west across the valley. This is the Mas‛ā (sacred course) between the eminences of Safā and Merwa, and has been from very early times one of the most lively bazaars and the centre of Meccan life. The other chief bazaars are also near the mosque in smaller streets. The general aspect of the town is picturesque; the streets are fairly spacious, though ill-kept and filthy; the houses are all of stone, many of them well-built and four or five storeys high, with terraced roofs and large projecting windows as in Jidda—a style of building which has not varied materially since the 10th century (Mukaddasī, p. 71), and gains in effect from the way in which the dwellings run up the sides and spurs of the mountains. Of public institutions there are baths, ribāṭs, or hospices, for poor pilgrims from India, Java, &c., a hospital and a public kitchen for the poor.

The mosque is at the same time the university hall, where between two pilgrim seasons lectures are delivered on Mahommedan law, doctrine and connected branches of science. A poorly provided public library is open to the use of students. The madrassehs or buildings around the mosque, originally intended as lodgings for students and professors, have long been let out to rich pilgrims. The minor places of visitation for pilgrims, such as the birthplaces of the prophet and his chief followers, are not notable.[9] Both these and the court of the great mosque lie beneath the general level of the city, the site having been gradually raised by accumulated rubbish. The town in fact has little air of antiquity; genuine Arab buildings do not last long, especially in a valley periodically ravaged by tremendous floods when the tropical rains burst on the surrounding hills. The history of Mecca is full of the record of these inundations, unsuccessfully combated by the great dam drawn across the valley by the caliph Omar (Kutbeddin, p. 76), and later works of Mahdī.[10]

The fixed population of Mecca in 1878 was estimated by Assistant-Surgeon ‛Abd el-Razzāq at 50,000 to 60,000; there is a large floating population—and that not merely at the proper season of pilgrimage, the pilgrims of one season often beginning to arrive before those of the former season have all dispersed. At the height of the season the town is much overcrowded, and the entire want of a drainage system is severely felt. Fortunately good water is tolerably plentiful; for, though the wells are mostly undrinkable, and even the famous Zamzam water only available for medicinal or religious purposes, the underground conduit from beyond Arafa, completed by Sultan Selim II. in 1571, supplies to the public fountains a sweet and light water, containing, according to ‛Abd el-Razzāq, a large amount of chlorides. The water is said to be free to townsmen, but is sold to the pilgrims at a rather high rate.[11]

Medieval writers celebrate the copious supplies, especially of fine fruits, brought to the city from Tāif and other fertile parts of Arabia. These fruits are still famous; rice and other foreign products are brought by sea to Jidda; mutton, milk and butter are plentifully supplied from the desert.[12] The industries all centre in the pilgrimage; the chief object of every Meccan—from the notables and sheikhs, who use their influence to gain custom for the Jidda speculators in the pilgrim traffic, down to the cicerones, pilgrim brokers, lodging-house keepers, and mendicants at the holy places—being to pillage the visitor in every possible way. The fanaticism of the Meccan is an affair of the purse; the mongrel population (for the town is by no means purely Arab) has exchanged the virtues of the Bedouin for the worst corruptions of Eastern town life, without casting off the ferocity of the desert, and it is hardly possible to find a worse certificate of character than the three parallel gashes on each cheek, called Tashrīṭ, which are the customary mark of birth in the holy city. The unspeakable vices of Mecca are a scandal to all Islām, and a constant source of wonder to pious pilgrims.[13] The slave trade has connexions with the pilgrimage which are not thoroughly clear; but under cover of the pilgrimage a great deal of importation and exportation of slaves goes on.

Since the fall of Ibn Zubair the political position of Mecca has always been dependent on the movements of the greater Mahommedan world. In the splendid times of the caliphs immense sums were lavished upon the pilgrimage and the holy city; and conversely the decay of the central authority of Islām brought with it a long period of faction, wars and misery, in which the most notable episode was the sack of Mecca by the Carmathians at the pilgrimage season of a.d. 930. The victors carried off the “black stone,” which was not restored for twenty-two years, and then only for a great ransom, when it was plain that even the loss of its palladium could not destroy the sacred character of the city. Under the Fatimites Egyptian influence began to be strong in Mecca; it was opposed by the sultans of Yemen, while native princes claiming descent from the Prophet—the Hāshimite amīrs of Mecca, and after them the amīrs of the house of Qatāda (since 1202)—attained to great authority and aimed at independence; but soon after the final fall of the Abbasids the Egyptian overlordship was definitely established by sultan Bībars (a.d. 1269). The Turkish conquest of Egypt transferred the supremacy to the Ottoman sultans (1517), who treated Mecca with much favour, and during the 16th century executed great works in the sanctuary and temple. The Ottoman power, however, became gradually almost nominal, and that of the amīrs or sherīfs increased in proportion, culminating under Ghālib, whose accession dates from 1786. Then followed the wars of the Wahhābīs (see Arabia and Wahhābīs) and the restoration of Turkish rule by the troops of Mehemet ‛Ali. By him the dignity of sherīf was deprived of much of its weight, and in 1827 a change of dynasty was effected by the appointment of Ibn ‛Aun. Afterwards Turkish authority again decayed. Mecca is, however, officially the capital of a Turkish province, and has a governor-general and a Turkish garrison, while Mahommedan law is administered by a judge sent from Constantinople. But the real sovereign of Mecca and the Hejāz is the sherīf, who, as head of a princely family claiming descent from the Prophet, holds a sort of feudal position. The dignity of sherīf (or grand sherīf, as Europeans usually say for the sake of distinction, since all the kin of the princely houses reckoning descent from the Prophet are also named sherīfs), although by no means a religious pontificate, is highly respected owing to its traditional descent in the line of Hasan, son of the fourth caliph ‛Ali. From a political point of view the sherīf is the modern counterpart of the ancient amīrs of Mecca, who were named in the public prayers immediately after the reigning caliph. When the great Mahommedan sultanates had become too much occupied in internecine wars to maintain order in the distant Hejāz, those branches of the Hassanids which from the beginning of Islam had retained rural property in Arabia usurped power in the holy cities and the adjacent Bedouin territories. About a.d. 960 they established a sort of kingdom with Mecca as capital. The influence of the princes of Mecca has varied from time to time, according to the strength of the foreign protectorate in the Hejāz or in consequence of feuds among the branches of the house; until about 1882 it was for most purposes much greater than that of the Turks. The latter were strong enough to hold the garrisoned towns, and thus the sultan was able within certain limits—playing off one against the other the two rival branches of the aristocracy, viz. the kin of Ghālib and the house of Ibn‛Aun—to assert the right of designating or removing the sherīf, to whom in turn he owed the possibility of maintaining, with the aid of considerable pensions, the semblance of his much-prized lordship over the holy cities. The grand sherīf can muster a considerable force of freedmen and clients, and his kin, holding wells and lands in various places through the Hejāz, act as his deputies and administer the old Arabic customary law to the Bedouin. To this influence the Hejāz owes what little of law and order it enjoys. During the last quarter of the 19th century Turkish influence became preponderant in western Arabia, and the railway from Syria to the Hejāz tended to consolidate the sultan’s supremacy. After the sherīfs, the principal family of Mecca is the house of Shaibah, which holds the hereditary custodianship of the Ka‛ba.

The Great Mosque and the Ka‛ba.—Long before Mahomet the chief sanctuary of Mecca was the Ka‛ba, a rude stone building without windows, and having a door 7 ft. from the ground; and so named from its resemblance to a monstrous astragalus (die) of about 40 ft. cube, though the shapeless structure is not really an exact cube nor even exactly rectangular.[14] The Ka‛ba has been rebuilt more than once since Mahomet purged it of idols and adopted it as the chief sanctuary of Islām, but the old form has been preserved, except in secondary details;[15] so that the “Ancient House,” as it is titled, is still essentially a heathen temple, adapted to the worship of Islām by the clumsy fiction that it was built by Abraham and Ishmael by divine revelation as a temple of pure monotheism, and that it was only temporarily perverted to idol worship from the time when ‛Amr ibn Lohai introduced the statue of Hobal from Syria[16] till the victory of Islam. This fiction has involved the superinduction of a new mythology over the old heathen ritual, which remains practically unchanged. Thus the chief object of veneration is the black stone, which is fixed in the external angle facing Safā. The building is not exactly oriented, but it may be called the south-east corner. Its technical name is the black corner, the others being named the Yemen (south-west), Syrian (north-west), and Irāk (north-east) corners, from the lands to which they approximately point. The black stone is a small dark mass a span long, with an aspect suggesting volcanic or meteoric origin, fixed at such a height that it can be conveniently kissed by a person of middle size. It was broken by fire in the siege of a.d. 683 (not, as many authors relate, by the Carmathians), and the pieces are kept together by a silver setting. The history of this heavenly stone, given by Gabriel to Abraham, does not conceal the fact that it was originally a fetish, the most venerated of a multitude of idols and sacred stones which stood all round the sanctuary in the time of Mahomet. The Prophet destroyed the idols, but he left the characteristic form of worship—the ṭawāf, or sevenfold circuit of the sanctuary, the worshipper kissing or touching the objects of his veneration—and besides the black stone he recognized the so-called “southern” stone, the same presumably as that which is still touched in the ṭawāf at the Yemen corner (Muh. in Med. pp. 336, 425). The ceremony of the ṭawāf and the worship of stone fetishes was common to Mecca with other ancient Arabian sanctuaries.[17] It was, as it still is, a frequent religious exercise of the Meccans, and the first duty of one who returned to the city or arrived there under a vow of pilgrimage; and thus the outside of the Ka‛ba was and is more important than the inside. Islām did away with the worship of idols; what was lost in interest by their suppression has been supplied by the invention of spots consecrated by recollections of Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar, or held to be acceptable places of prayer. Thus the space of ten spans between the black stone and the door, which is on the east side, between the black and Irāk corners, and a man’s height from the ground, is called the Multazam, and here prayer should be offered after the ṭawāf with outstretched arms and breast pressed against the house. On the other side of the door, against the same wall, is a shallow trough, which is said to mark the original site of the stone on which Abraham stood to build the Ka‘ba. Here the growth of the legend can be traced, for the place is now called the “kneading-place” (Ma‘jan), where the cement for the Ka‘ba was prepared. This name and story do not appear in the older accounts. Once more, on the north side of the Ka‛ba, there projects a low semicircular wall of marble, with an opening at each end between it and the walls of the house. The space within is paved with mosaic, and is called the Ḥijr. It is included in the ṭawāf, and two slabs of verde antico within it are called the graves of Ishmael and Hagar, and are places of acceptable prayer. Even the golden or gilded mīzāb (water-spout) that projects into the Ḥijr marks a place where prayer is heard, and another such place is the part of the west wall close to the Yemen corner.

The feeling of religious conservatism which has preserved the structural rudeness of the Ka‛ba did not prohibit costly surface decoration. In Mahomet’s time the outer walls were covered by a veil (or kiswa) of striped Yemen cloth. The caliphs substituted a covering of figured brocade, and the Egyptian government still sends with each pilgrim caravan from Cairo a new kiswa of black brocade, adorned with a broad band embroidered with golden inscriptions from the Korān, as well as a richer curtain for the door.[18] The door of two leaves, with its posts and lintel, is of silver gilt.

The interior of the Ka‛ba is now opened but a few times every year for the general public, which ascends by the portable staircase brought forward for the purpose. Foreigners can obtain admission at any time for a special fee. The modern descriptions, from observations made under difficulties, are not very complete. Little change, however, seems to have been made since the time of Ibn Jubair, who describes the floor and walls as overlaid with richly variegated marbles, and the upper half of the walls as plated with silver thickly gilt, while the roof was veiled with coloured silk. Modern writers describe the place as windowless, but Ibn Jubair mentions five windows of rich stained glass from Irāk. Between the three pillars of teak hung thirteen silver lamps. A chest in the corner to the left of one entering contained Korans, and at the Irāk corner a space was cut off enclosing the stair that leads to the roof. The door to this stair (called the door of mercy—Bāb el-Raḥma) was plated with silver by the caliph Motawakkil. Here, in the time of Ibn Jubair, the Maqām or standing stone of Abraham was usually placed for better security, but brought out on great occasions.[19]

The houses of ancient Mecca pressed close upon the Ka‘ba, the noblest families, who traced their descent from Ḳoṣai, the reputed founder of the city, having their dwellings immediately round the sanctuary. To the north of the Ka‘ba was the Dār el-Nadwa, or place of assembly of the Koreish. The multiplication of pilgrims after Islām soon made it necessary to clear away the nearest dwellings and enlarge the place of prayer around the Ancient House. Omar, Othmān and Ibn Jubair had all a share in this work, but the great founder of the mosque in its present form, with its spacious area and deep colonnades, was the caliph Mahdī, who spent enormous sums in bringing costly pillars from Egypt and Syria. The work was still incomplete at his death in a.d. 785, and was finished in less sumptuous style by his successor. Subsequent repairs and additions, extending down to Turkish times, have left little of Mahdī’s work untouched, though a few of the pillars probably date from his days. There are more than five hundred pillars in all, of very various style and workmanship, and the enclosure—250 paces in length and 200 in breadth, according to Burckhardt’s measurement—is entered by nineteen archways irregularly disposed.

After the Ka‘ba the principal points of interest in the mosque are the well Zamzam and the Maqām Ibrāhīm. The former is a deep shaft enclosed in a massive vaulted building paved with marble, and, according to Mahommedan tradition, is the source (corresponding to the Beer-lahai-roi of Gen. xvi. 14) from which Hagar drew water for her son Ishmael. The legend tells that the well was long covered up and rediscovered by ‘Abd al-Moṭṭalib, the grandfather of the Prophet. Sacred wells are familiar features of Semitic sanctuaries, and Islām, retaining the well, made a quasi-biblical story for it, and endowed its tepid waters with miraculous curative virtues. They are eagerly drunk by the pilgrims, or when poured over the body are held to give a miraculous refreshment after the fatigues of religious exercise; and the manufacture of bottles or jars for carrying the water to distant countries is quite a trade. Ibn Jubair mentions a curious superstition of the Meccans, who believed that the water rose in the shaft at the full moon of the month Shaban. On this occasion a great crowd, especially of young people, thronged round the well with shouts of religious enthusiasm, while the servants of the well dashed buckets of water over their heads. The Maqām of Abraham is also connected with a relic of heathenism, the ancient holy stone which once stood on the Ma‘jan, and is said to bear the prints of the patriarch’s feet. The whole legend of this stone, which is full of miraculous incidents, seems to have arisen from a misconception, the Maqām Ibrāhīm in the Korān meaning the sanctuary itself; but the stone, which is a block about 3 spans in height and 2 in breadth, and in shape “like a potter’s furnace” (Ibn Jubair), is certainly very ancient. No one is now allowed to see it, though the box in which it lies can be seen or touched through a grating in the little chapel that surrounds it. In the middle ages it was sometimes shown, and Ibn Jubair describes the pious enthusiasm with which he drank Zamzam water poured on the footprints. It was covered with inscriptions in an unknown character, one of which was copied by Fākihī in his history of Mecca. To judge by the facsimile in Dozy’s Israeliten te Mekka, the character is probably essentially one with that of the Syrian Safā inscriptions, which extended through the Nejd and into the Ḥejāz.[20]

Safā and Merwa.—In religious importance these two points or “hills,” connected by the Mas‘ā, stand second only to the Ka‘ba. Safā is an elevated platform surmounted by a triple arch, and approached by a flight of steps.[21] It lies south-east of the Ka‘ba, facing the black corner, and 76 paces from the “Gate of Safā,” which is architecturally the chief gate of the mosque. Merwa is a similar platform, formerly covered with a single arch, on the opposite side of the valley. It stands on a spur of the Red Mountain called Jebel Kuayḳian. The course between these two sacred points is 493 paces long, and the religious ceremony called the “sa‘y” consists in traversing it seven times, beginning and ending at Safā. The lowest part of the course, between the so-called green milestones, is done at a run. This ceremony, which, as we shall presently see, is part of the omra, is generally said to be performed in memory of Hagar, who ran to and fro between the two eminences vainly seeking water for her son. The observance, however, is certainly of pagan origin; and at one time there were idols on both the so-called hills (see especially Azraqī, pp. 74, 78).

The Ceremonies and the Pilgrimage.—Before Islām the Ka‘ba was the local sanctuary of the Meccans, where they prayed and did sacrifice, where oaths were administered and hard cases submitted to divine sentence according to the immemorial custom of Semitic shrines. But, besides this, Mecca was already a place of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage with the ancient Arabs was the fulfilment of a vow, which appears to have generally terminated—at least on the part of the well-to-do—in a sacrificial feast. A vow of pilgrimage might be directed to other sanctuaries than Mecca—the technical word for it (ihlāl) is applied, for example, to the pilgrimage to Manāt (Bakri, p. 519). He who was under such a vow was bound by ceremonial observances of abstinence from certain acts (e.g. hunting) and sensual pleasures, and in particular was forbidden to shear or comb his hair till the fulfilment of the vow. This old Semitic usage has its close parallel in the vow of the Nazarite. It was not peculiarly connected with Mecca; at Tāif, for example, it was customary on return to the city after an absence to present oneself at the sanctuary, and there shear the hair (Muh. in Med., p. 381). Pilgrimages to Mecca were not tied to a single time, but they were naturally associated with festive occasions, and especially with the great annual feast and market. The pilgrimage was so intimately connected with the well-being of Mecca, and had already such a hold on the Arabs round about, that Mahomet could not afford to sacrifice it to an abstract purity of religion, and thus the old usages were transplanted into Islām in the double form of the omra or vow of pilgrimage to Mecca, which can be discharged at any time, and the ḥajj or pilgrimage at the great annual feast. The latter closes with a visit to the Ka‛ba, but its essential ceremonies lie outside Mecca, at the neighbouring shrines where the old Arabs gathered before the Meccan fair.

The omra begins at some point outside the Ḥaram (or holy territory), generally at Tanim, both for convenience sake and because Ayesha began the omra there in the year 10 of the Hegira. The pilgrim enters the Ḥaram in the antique and scanty pilgrimage dress (iḥrām), consisting of two cloths wound round his person in a way prescribed by ritual. His devotion is expressed in shouts of “Labbeyka” (a word of obscure origin and meaning); he enters the great mosque, performs the ṭawāf and the sa‛y[22] and then has his head shaved and resumes his common dress. This ceremony is now generally combined with the ḥajj, or is performed by every stranger or traveller when he enters Mecca, and the iḥrām (which involves the acts of abstinence already referred to) is assumed at a considerable distance from the city. But it is also proper during one’s residence in the holy city to perform at least one omra from Tanim in connexion with a visit to the mosque of Ayesha there. The triviality of these rites is ill concealed by the legends of the sa‛y of Hagar and of the ṭawāf being first performed by Adam in imitation of the circuit of the angels about the throne of God; the meaning of their ceremonies seems to have been almost a blank to the Arabs before Islām, whose religion had become a mere formal tradition. We do not even know to what deity the worship expressed in the ṭawāf was properly addressed. There is a tradition that the Ka‛ba was a temple of Saturn (Shahrastānī, p. 431); perhaps the most distinctive feature of the shrine may be sought in the sacred doves which still enjoy the protection of the sanctuary. These recall the sacred doves of Ascalon (Philo vi. 200 of Richter’s ed.), and suggests Venus-worship as at least one element (cf. Herod i. 131, iii. 8; Ephr. Syr., Op. Syr. ii. 457).

To the ordinary pilgrim the omra has become so much an episode of the ḥajj that it is described by some European pilgrims as a mere visit to the mosque of Ayesha; a better conception of its original significance is got from the Meccan feast of the seventh month (Rajab), graphically described by Ibn Jubair from his observations in a.d. 1184. Rajab was one of the ancient sacred months, and the feast, which extended through the whole month and was a joyful season of hospitality and thanksgiving, no doubt represents the ancient feasts of Mecca more exactly than the ceremonies of the ḥajj, in which old usage has been overlaid by traditions and glosses of Islām. The omra was performed by crowds from day to day, especially at new and full moon.[23] The new moon celebration was nocturnal; the road to Tanim, the Mas‛ā, and the mosque were brilliantly illuminated; and the appearing of the moon was greeted with noisy music. A genuine old Arab market was held, for the wild Bedouins of the Yemen mountains came in thousands to barter their cattle and fruits for clothing, and deemed that to absent themselves would bring drought and cattle plague in their homes. Though ignorant of the legal ritual and prayers, they performed the ṭawāf with enthusiasm, throwing themselves against the Ka‛ba and clinging to its curtains as a child clings to its mother. They also made a point of entering the Ka‛ba. The 29th of the month was the feast day of the Meccan women, when they and their little ones had the Ka‛ba to themselves without the presence even of the Sheybās.

The central and essential ceremonies of the ḥajj or greater pilgrimage are those of the day of Arafa, the 9th of the “pilgrimage month” (Dhu‛l Ḥijja), the last of the Arab year; and every Moslem who is his own master, and can command the necessary means, is bound to join in these once in his life, or to have them fulfilled by a substitute on his behalf and at his expense. By them the pilgrim becomes as pure from sin as when he was born, and gains for the rest of his life the honourable title of ḥajj. Neglect of many other parts of the pilgrim ceremonial may be compensated by offerings, but to miss the “stand” (woqūf) at Arafa is to miss the pilgrimage. Arafa or Arafat is a space, artificially limited, round a small isolated hill called the Hill of Mercy, a little way outside the holy territory, on the road from Mecca to Taif. One leaving Mecca after midday can easily reach the place on foot the same evening. The road is first northwards along the Mecca valley and then turns eastward. It leads through the straggling village of Mina, occupying a long narrow valley (Wādi Mina), two to three hours from Mecca, and thence by the mosque of Mozdalifa over a narrow pass opening out into the plain of Arafa, which is an expansion of the great Wādi Naman, through which the Taif road descends from Mount Kara. The lofty and rugged mountains of the Hodheyl tower over the plain on the north side and overshadow the little Hill of Mercy, which is one of those bosses of weathered granite so common in the Hejāz. Arafa lay quite near Dhul-Majaz, where, according to Arabian tradition, a great fair was held from the 1st to the 8th of the pilgrimage month; and the ceremonies from which the ḥajj was derived were originally an appendix to this fair. Now, on the contrary, the pilgrim is expected to follow as closely as may be the movements of the prophet at his “farewell pilgrimage” in the year 10 of the Hegira (a.d. 632). He therefore leaves Mecca in pilgrim garb on the 8th of Dhu‛l Ḥijja, called the day of tarwīya (an obscure and pre-Islamic name), and, strictly speaking, should spend the night at Mina. It is now, however, customary to go right on and encamp at once at Arafa. The night should be spent in devotion, but the coffee booths do a lively trade, and songs are as common as prayers. Next forenoon the pilgrim is free to move about, and towards midday he may if he please hear a sermon. In the afternoon the essential ceremony begins; it consists simply in “standing” on Arafa shouting “Labbeyka” and reciting prayers and texts till sunset. After the sun is down the vast assemblage breaks up, and a rush (technically ifāḍa, daf‛, nafr) is made in the utmost confusion to Mozdalifa, where the night prayer is said and the night spent. Before sunrise next morning (the 10th) a second “stand” like that on Arafa is made for a short time by torchlight round the mosque of Mozdalifa, but before the sun is fairly up all must be in motion in the second ifāḍa towards Mina. The day thus begun is the “day of sacrifice,” and has four ceremonies—(1) to pelt with seven stones a cairn (jamrat al ‛aqaba) at the eastern end of W. Mina, (2) to slay a victim at Mina and hold a sacrificial meal, part of the flesh being also dried and so preserved, or given to the poor,[24] (3) to be shaved and so terminate the iḥrām, (4) to make the third ifāḍa, i.e. go to Mecca and perform the ṭawāf and sa‛y (‛omrat al-ifāḍa), returning thereafter to Mina. The sacrifice and visit to Mecca may, however, be delayed till the 11th, 12th or 13th. These are the days of Mina, a fair and joyous feast, with no special ceremony except that each day the pilgrim is expected to throw seven stones at the jamrat al ‛aqaba, and also at each of two similar cairns in the valley. The stones are thrown in the name of Allah, and are generally thought to be directed at the devil. This is, however, a custom older than Islām, and a tradition in Azraqī, p. 412, represents it as an act of worship to idols at Mina. As the stones are thrown on the days of the fair, it is not unlikely that they have something to do with the old Arab mode of closing a sale by the purchaser throwing a stone (Bīrūnī, p. 328).[25] The pilgrims leave Mina on the 12th or 13th, and the ḥajj is then over. (See further Mahommedan Religion.)

The colourless character of these ceremonies is plainly due to the fact that they are nothing more than expurgated heathen rites. In Islām proper they have no raison d’être; the legends about Adam and Eve on Arafa, about Abraham’s sacrifice of the ram at Thabii by Mina, imitated in the sacrifices of the pilgrimage, are clumsy afterthoughts, as appears from their variations and only partial acceptance. It is not so easy to get at the nature of the original rites, which Islām was careful to suppress. But we find mention of practices condemned by the orthodox, or forming no part of the Moslem ritual, which may be regarded as traces of an older ceremonial. Such are nocturnal illuminations at Mina (Ibn Baṭūta i. 396), Arafa and Mozdalifa (Ibn Jubair, 179), and ṭawāfs performed by the ignorant at holy spots at Arafa not recognized by law (Snouck-Hurgronje p. 149 sqq.). We know that the rites at Mozdalifa were originally connected with a holy hill bearing the name of the god Quzah (the Edomite Kozē) whose bow is the rainbow, and there is reason to think that the ifāḍas from Arafa and Quzah, which were not made as now after sunset and before sunrise, but when the sun rested on the tops of the mountains, were ceremonies of farewell and salutation to the sun-god.

The statistics of the pilgrimage cannot be given with certainty and vary much from year to year. The quarantine office keeps a record of arrivals by sea at Jidda (66,000 for 1904); but to these must be added those travelling by land from Cairo, Damascus and Irāk, the pilgrims who reach Medina from Yanbu and go on to Mecca, and those from all parts of the peninsula. Burckhardt in 1814 estimated the crowd at Arafa at 70,000, Burton in 1853 at 50,000, ‛Abd el-Razzāk in 1858 at 60,000. This great assemblage is always a dangerous centre of infection, and the days of Mina especially, spent under circumstances originally adapted only for a Bedouin fair, with no provisions for proper cleanliness, and with the air full of the smell of putrefying offal and flesh drying in the sun, produce much sickness.

Literature.—Besides the Arabic geographers and cosmographers, we have Ibn ‛Abd Rabbih’s description of the mosque, early in the 10th century (‛Iḳd Farīd, Cairo ed., iii. 362 sqq.), but above all the admirable record of Ibn Jubair (a.d. 1184), by far the best account extant of Mecca and the pilgrimage. It has been much pillaged by Ibn Baṭūta. The Arabic historians are largely occupied with fabulous matter as to Mecca before Islām; for these legends the reader may refer to C. de Perceval’s Essai. How little confidence can be placed in the pre-Islamic history appears very clearly from the distorted accounts of Abraha’s excursion against the Hejāz, which fell but a few years before the birth of the Prophet, and is the first event in Meccan history which has confirmation from other sources. See Nöldeke’s version of Ţabarī, p. 204 sqq. For the period of the Prophet, Ibn Hishām and Wāḳidī are valuable sources in topography as well as history. Of the special histories and descriptions of Mecca published by Wüstenfeld (Chroniken der Stadt Mekka, 3 vols., 1857–1859, with an abstract in German, 1861), the most valuable is that of Azraqī. It has passed through the hands of several editors, but the oldest part goes back to the beginning of the 9th Christian century. Kutbeddin’s history (vol. iii. of the Chroniken) goes down with the additions of his nephew to a.d. 1592.

Of European descriptions of Mecca from personal observation the best is Burckhardt’s Travels in Arabia (cited above from the 8vo ed., 1829). The Travels of Aly Bey (Badia, London, 1816) describe a visit in 1807; Burton’s Pilgrimage (3rd ed., 1879) often supplements Burckhardt; Von Maltzan’s Wallfahrt nach Mekka (1865) is lively but very slight. ‛Abd el-Razzāq’s report to the government of India on the pilgrimage of 1858 is specially directed to sanitary questions; C. Snouck-Hurgronje, Mekka (2 vols., and a collection of photographs, The Hague, 1888–1889), gives a description of the Meccan sanctuary and of the public and private life of the Meccans as observed by the author during a sojourn in the holy city in 1884–1885 and a political history of Mecca from native sources from the Hegira till 1884. For the pilgrimage see particularly Snouck-Hurgronje, Het Mekkaansche Feest (Leiden, 1880). (W. R. S.) 



  1. A variant of the name Makkah is Bakkah (Sur. iii. 90; Bakrī, 155 seq.). For other names and honorific epithets of the city see Bakrī, ut supra, Azraqī, p. 197, Yāqūt iv. 617 seq. The lists are in part corrupt, and some of the names (Kūthā and ‛Arsh or ‛Ursh, “the huts”) are not properly names of the town as a whole.
  2. Mecca, says one of its citizens, in Wāqidī (Kremer’s ed., p. 196, or Muh. in Med. p. 100), is a settlement formed for trade with Syria in summer and Abyssinia in winter, and cannot continue to exist if the trade is interrupted.
  3. The details are variously related. See Bīrūnī, p. 328 (E. T., p. 324); Asma‛i in Yāqūt, iii. 705, iv. 416, 421; Azraqī, p. 129 seq.; Bakrī, p. 661. Jebel Kabkab is a great mountain occupying the angle between W. Namān and the plain of Arafa. The peak is due north of Sheddād, the hamlet which Burckhardt (i. 115) calls Shedad. According to Azraqī, p. 80, the last shrine visited was that of the three trees of Uzzā in W. Nakhla.
  4. So we are told by Bīrūnī, p. 62 (E. T., 73).
  5. Wāqidī, ed. Kremer, pp. 20, 21; Muh. in Med. p. 39.
  6. The older fairs were not entirely deserted till the troubles of the last days of the Omayyads (Azraqī, p. 131).
  7. This is the cross-road traversed by Burckhardt (i. 109), and described by him as cut through the rocks with much labour.
  8. Iṣṭakhrī gives the length of the city proper from north to south as 2 m., and the greatest breadth from the Jiyād quarter east of the great mosque across the valley and up the western slopes as two-thirds of the length.
  9. For details as to the ancient quarters of Mecca, where the several families or septs lived apart, see Azraqī, 455 pp. seq., and compare Ya‛qūbī, ed. Juynboll, p. 100. The minor sacred places are described at length by Azraqī and Ibn Jubair. They are either connected with genuine memories of the Prophet and his times, or have spurious legends to conceal the fact that they were originally holy stones, wells, or the like, of heathen sanctity.
  10. Balādhurī, in his chapter on the floods of Mecca (pp. 53 seq.), says that ‛Omar built two dams.
  11. The aqueduct is the successor of an older one associated with the names of Zobaida, wife of Harūn al-Rashīd, and other benefactors. But the old aqueduct was frequently out of repair, and seems to have played but a secondary part in the medieval water supply. Even the new aqueduct gave no adequate supply in Burckhardt’s time.
  12. In Ibn Jubair’s time large supplies were brought from the Yemen mountains.
  13. The corruption of manners in Mecca is no new thing. See the letter of the caliph Mahdi on the subject; Wüstenfeld, Chron. Mek., iv. 168.
  14. The exact measurements (which, however, vary according to different authorities) are stated to be: sides 37 ft. 2 in. and 38 ft. 4 in.; ends 31 ft. 7 in. and 29 ft.; height 35 ft.
  15. The Ka‛ba of Mahomet’s time was the successor of an older building, said to have been destroyed by fire. It was constructed in the still usual rude style of Arabic masonry, with string courses of timber between the stones (like Solomon’s Temple). The roof rested on six pillars; the door was raised above the ground and approached by a stair (probably on account of the floods which often swept the valley); and worshippers left their shoes under the stair before entering. During the first siege of Mecca (a.d. 683), the building was burned down, the Ibn Zubair reconstructed it on an enlarged scale and in better style of solid ashlar-work. After his death his most glaring innovations (the introduction of two doors on a level with the ground, and the extension of the building lengthwise to include the Ḥijr) were corrected by Ḥajjāj, under orders from the caliph, but the building retained its more solid structure. The roof now rested on three pillars, and the height was raised one-half. The Ka‛ba was again entirely rebuilt after the flood of a.d. 1626, but since Ḥajjāj there seem to have been no structural changes.
  16. Hobal was set up within the Temple over the pit that contained the sacred treasures. His chief function was connected with the sacred lot to which the Meccans were accustomed to betake themselves in all matters of difficulty.
  17. See Ibn Hishām i. 54, Azraḳī p. 80 (‛Uzzā in Baṭn Marr); Yāḳūt iii. 705 (Otheydā); Bar Hebraeus on Psalm xii. 9. Stones worshipped by circling round them bore the name dawār or duwār (Krehl, Rel. d. Araber, p. 69). The later Arabs not unnaturally viewed such cultus as imitated from that of Mecca (Yāqūt iv. 622, cf. Dozy, Israeliten te Mekka, p. 125, who draws very perverse inferences).
  18. The old kiswa is removed on the 25th day of the month before the pilgrimage, and fragments of it are bought by the pilgrims as charms. Till the 10th day of the pilgrimage month the Ka‛ba is bare.
  19. Before Islām the Ka‛ba was opened every Monday and Thursday; in the time of Ibn Jubair it was opened with considerable ceremony every Monday and Friday, and daily in the month Rajab. But, though prayer within the building is favoured by the example of the Prophet, it is not compulsory on the Moslem, and even in the time of Ibn Baṭūṭa the opportunities of entrance were reduced to Friday and the birthday of the Prophet.
  20. See De Vogué, Syrie centrale: inscr. sem.; Lady Anne Blunt Pilgrimage of Nejd, ii., and W. R. Smith, in the Athenaeum, March 20, 1880.
  21. Ibn Jubair speaks of fourteen steps, Ali Bey of four, Burckhardt of three. The surrounding ground no doubt has risen so that the old name “hill of Safā” is now inapplicable.
  22. The latter perhaps was no part of the ancient omra; see Snouck-Hurgronje, Het Mekkaansche Feest (1880) p. 115 sqq.
  23. The 27th was also a great day, but this day was in commemoration of the rebuilding of the Ka‛ba by Ibn Jubair.
  24. The sacrifice is not indispensable except for those who can afford it and are combining the hajj with the omra.
  25. On the similar pelting of the supposed graves of Abū Lahab and his wife (Ibn Jubair, p. 110) and of Abū Righāl at Mughammas, see Nöldeke’s translation of Tabarī, 208.