Membership, Community, Diversity

Is Mecca the only Islamic holy city?

As the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of the Ka’ba, Mecca (and its immediate environs), is naturally the holiest place on Earth for Muslims. According to tradition, other prophets and important holy people passed through Mecca as well. Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Ishmael at Arafat (the valley just outside Mecca) and built the Ka’ba. God rescued Abraham’s consort, Hagar, and their son Ishmael from dying of thirst in the desert by causing the well of Zamzam to bubble forth. In 622 Muhammad traveled with his young community to Medina and there established Islam as an all-encompassing social entity. From Medina, the Prophet secured access to Mecca for Muslims and in Medina he died. Muhammad’s house and earliest mosque remain a regular stop for most pilgrims who make Hajj and Umra. For these reasons and more, Medina ranks as second-holiest city for Muslims.

But Muhammad and a number of the other prophets also have important connections to Jerusalem. Muslim tradition has it that God carried Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem, to the “farther mosque,” where he met and led the other major prophets in prayer. From a spot nearby Muhammad began his Ascension or Mi’raj (pronounced mi’RAAJ). For a time the young Muslim community in Medina faced Jerusalem when they prayed, but the orientation for prayer changed to Mecca in connection with a falling-out with the local Jewish tribes. Nevertheless, Jerusalem has retained a lofty place in Muslim piety and remains politically sensitive real estate.


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