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What is Mecca?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mecca is the Holy City of Islam, although the city had religious importance before the advent of the religion. It is located in the western region of Saudi Arabia, near the Red Sea. Technically, the city is formally known as Makkah al-Mukaaramah, translating into English as “Mecca the Blessed.” The Saudi Arabian government has pushed many English speaking nations to adopt Makkah as the proper transliteration from Arabic, rather than the more common name. The change is spelling has not, however, caught on in most of the English speaking world.

For Muslims, Mecca is a very important and sacred place. All able-bodied Muslims must travel there during their lifetimes to fulfill hajj, or pilgrimage, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The city is holy for a number of reasons. The primary reason for most Muslims is that Mecca is the birthplace of Muhummad, the prophet of Islam. Many of his revelations also occurred within the confines of the city.

In addition to being the birthplace of the Prophet, Mecca is also the location of the Kaa'ba, a structure allegedly built by Abraham. The Kaa'ba is housed inside the Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque, and is visited by millions of Muslims annually. The Zamzam Well, the holy well that supposedly sprung into existence to give water to Hagar, wife of Abraham, can also be found in Mecca.

Only Muslims are allowed to enter and live in Mecca. Non-Muslims must take bypasses around the city, and regular inspections of travelers and their documents are carried out to enforce this tradition. Non-Muslims caught in the city are subject to punishment, although a limited number of Westerners have braved its confines anyway, reporting back to the outside world. Muslims in Mecca must also follow strict rules about personal conduct, reflecting the devoutly religious atmosphere of the city.

During their time in Mecca, Muslims visit the Grand Mosque and the Kaa'ba to reflect and pray on the nature of faith. Many people arrange to take an extended visit, and the city houses a large number of Muslim scholars in addition to pilgrims and regular residents. Many Muslims take the trip multiple times over the course of their lives, hoping to enrich their personal spiritual practice. For those with less economic freedom, a trip to Mecca is a once in a lifetime event. For both groups, the trip is extremely important personally, and is taken very seriously.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon351381 — On Oct 13, 2013

I'm going to convert, go and then un-convert just to see the wonders of the city.

By anon326965 — On Mar 25, 2013

Why can't non-muslims go to Mecca? it's very simple!

When you arrive in Singapore, if you're caught with brown sugar or illegal drugs, you will be punished. So now can we ask why is this rule made? No, their country, their rule, obviously.

To visit Mecca, you just need to witness kalima: there is no God but Allah and prophet Muhammad is his last and final messenger. This is the visa to visit kaaba (Mecca). Hope it's clear to my dear brothers and sisters.

By anon325250 — On Mar 15, 2013

"No other religion has managed to hold on to an entire city and keep it purely for the holiness of it! We need to back down and give the Muslims some props."

It's called Vatican City.

They can keep their city if they want. It's been gutted and is just a shell now. The Saudi Government has destroyed 95 percent of the city and replaced it with hotels, malls and bathrooms. Devoutly religious? I don't think so. The Saudi family goes too far.

By anon301592 — On Nov 05, 2012

When I am not washing and shaving myself and my clothes are dirty, but when I pray to God in these conditions, won't God listen to my prayers?

When the nomads in Saudi Arabia were moving from one place to another place without taking a bath and without shaving for a months in the period that Mohamed lived, did they prayed also to God -- or not?

That's the reason Muslims circumcise themselves or not. --Arvesthan

By rasool23 — On Oct 05, 2012

Was kab'aa in Mecca a Hindu temple in ancient times? Please clarify this.

By anon291373 — On Sep 14, 2012

Finally. A post informing people about Muslims instead of demeaning us. I love whoever wrote this.

And huh, I never knew non-Muslims couldn't visit (even though I'm a Muslim), but oh well. Certain places have their own rules.

By anon273541 — On Jun 07, 2012

I will answer your question. Non Muslims aren't allowed inside mecca. You can find the answer from reading the holy Quran.

By anon270811 — On May 23, 2012

Why are non-muslims not allowed to enter Makkah?

We of course accept muslims around the world to live with/without a reason. But why are others not allowed to enter their so-called territory? It is just a common experience and for knowledge. I don't find it fair.

Even some muslims are not faithful to their religion.

All gods are the same; it's just that humans made everything in different ways.

By anon236016 — On Dec 21, 2011

Some people misspelled Makkah by writing Mecca or Meca and this is totally unfair.

By anon222745 — On Oct 16, 2011

There are some goods points in these comments but what I think everyone needs to understand is that Mecca is important to the Muslims and really only the Muslims. Let them have their city! There are millions of other ones all around the world for us to goggle at.

Is Mecca really that important to anyone else in the world but Muslims? So let them have it! We need to back off. No one ever said that its wrong to have a city just for one religion. I'm not Muslim but I think it's cool how Muslims have managed to keep a whole city focused on the religion.

No other religion has managed to hold on to an entire city and keep it purely for the holiness of it! We need to back down and give the Muslims some props.

By anon211136 — On Sep 01, 2011

I think you would likely have to ask a muslim person why non muslims are not allowed inside mecca before you jump into conclusions and exhaust yourself with anger. its all about the matters people should follow in ancient sites, especially a religious one like mecca. So to solely ensure that non-muslim people who lack the knowledge of the manners, it has to be taken in an Islamic site (remember they're not muslims, so they won't know them) and to ensure that muslims will practice their hajj or pilgrimage in ease and smoothly.

They made that rule and I don't blame them. One time, some famous fashion magazine had a disrespectful photo shoot inside a mosque, and as it's been said, some people are able to pay a visit to Mecca once in a lifetime to fulfill their spiritual dream and they really don't want their money to go to waste. When someone comes and spoils their time there with something like what this magazine did, and I know if you were in their shoes you wouldn't either. Put yourself in their place and imagine you were going in a spiritual trip. Let's be honest – you don't want anything to spoil that, no matter what, so let's be true and fair here. If you went on a spiritual trip to cleanse yourself from, let's say drinking issues or something else (fill this blank with a big issue you have you want to get rid of). Let's say you paid $30,000 to go to a Hindu place where everything is pure and clean spiritually and you find a person in front of you drinking and smoking and doing the thing you're trying to cut from your life right there (You will be mad and disappointed).

I'm just giving unrelated examples as far as mecca goes, but it could be related to some of you just so you'll could understand this rule. Now I know you're related and you understand this rule. This rule is not a kind of discrimination, it's been made so fairness will be applied, for both muslims and non muslims. Muslims deserve to be able to practice their beliefs with ease, and to a non-muslim person it takes away any embarrassing moments that will occur from those who, no doubt want to avoid doing anything wrong, but still they would because they don't really know anything about the Islam religion and the post comments confirm this fact. If you're not related or understood this rule already, I hope one day you will.

By anon174705 — On May 11, 2011

I guess every christian should visit bethelehem.

By anon134599 — On Dec 15, 2010

Non Muslims aren't allowed inside mecca, but they expect to be allowed anywhere they want in the USA. discrimination big time there. But it's OK because they're Muslims and they can do whatever they want.

I find it amazing how people go to jail Christian, catholic or non religious but come out Muslims. If muslims are supposed to be a peaceful religion, then why are so many in jail?

By anon119405 — On Oct 18, 2010

Those who do not know should not comment. Historically, anyone was allowed to visit Mecca in the past, but then a plan to tunnel to the black obelisk was found and since then, non-muslims have not been allowed in the city.

By anon101574 — On Aug 04, 2010

makkah is not the pyramids, or victoria falls or any other tourist place. Visiting makkah is fulfilling one of Muslim's five pillars. are you?

the fact that non muslim are not permitted in makkah

is not discrimination.

the requirements to get to makkah are not materialistic or tangible. it is rather spiritual. you need to detach yourself from all lures pulling you towards your personal desires to go there. in other words, you must be a moomin not a believer.

moomin is when you know that god is there. believer means god might be there and then again he might not.

i hope i did not harm anyone's feelings by my statement.

By anon86652 — On May 26, 2010

To Madhushan and others:

Why non muslims cannot enter Makkah?

It's like this: to enter Makkah one must have a pure faith and that's Islam. It's like a visa to a country. If you don't have a valid visa can you enter it? Believe me, Islam is your visa to Makkah, to Eternal Bliss, to Heaven. So get lucky and choose the right way!

By anon39739 — On Aug 04, 2009

If you do not remove your foreskin, if you do not shave all your pubic hairs,if you do not wash your private areas each time you go to the toilet, then how can you be allowed to get into the holy city of Makkah?

And madhushan, i believe you do not like to use the word Allah, but can you use The Lord, instead of GOD, please?

By anon25321 — On Jan 27, 2009

God accepts those into heaven that accepts His son as the one true Messiah Jesus. Only Jesus was sinless.

By madhushan22 — On Dec 29, 2008

when Abraham is considered to be the father of Muslims, Christians and Jews, i don't see a reason restricting non-muslims to visit makkah and Kaa'ba. Whats wrong in that? GOD accepts everyone provided they are sinless...This kind of act can be compared to Jesus's parable 'Straining out gnats and swallowing camel' in the Book Written by Matthew...Salvation is the only thing that is much expected from GOD rather than these kind of discrimination

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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