In the Middle East, there are a handful of important cities that hold a significant religious and cultural history. For example, Mecca and Medina possess ties with the Prophet Muhammad. Because of the meaning of the holy cities,millions of people make pilgrimages to the following sites mentioned in this article.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Also known as Makkah, millions of Muslims participate in a pilgrimage to Mecca every year. When praying, it is also tradition to turn to face the holy city of Mecca. The city is important to Muslims because it is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and is the place where the Quran was composed. Mecca is seen as the holiest city pertaining to the Islamic faith. Only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca.
Visits to Mecca greatly increase during “Dhu al-Hijjah” (which translates into “Possessor of the Pilgrimage”) , a highly sacred month in the Islamic calendar that marks the end of the year. Pilgrimages usually take place in this month, where people come from all over the world to visit the Kaaba. The trips are usually made on the 8th, 9th and 10th of this month. Other observances include Day of Arafa, where believers tend to fast to erase the damage of the past year’s sins. This practice takes place on the 9th of the month and is seen as a day centered on forgiveness. Starting on the tenth day and ending on the 13th, the “Festival of the Sacrifice” (known as Eid al-Adha) is recognized. One of the ways the day is commemorated is by giving to the poor.
Medina, Saudi Arabia
While Mecca is known as the birthplace of Muhammad, it is the holy city of Medina where the tomb of the prophet is found. After Mecca, this is the second holiest city for the Muslims, which was actually renamed by the prophet. The city is also home to the three oldest mosques related to Islam , Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (known at the Prophet’s Mosque), Quba Mosque (the first mosque in the history of the religion), and Masjid al-Qiblatain.
Medina is also important to the Islamic calendar because it is based on the emigration of the prophet and his followers to the city. This is when the start of the Hijri year was marked in 622 CE. This is called the Hijra. In similar fashion to the city of Mecca, only Muslims are allowed to enter Medina.
Karbala is a holy city that serves as the center of Shia Islam , known as one of the holiest of cities for Shiah Muslims. It is here that you will find the shrine of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson al-Husain. The Imam Husayn Shrine is one of the oldest mosques in the world. The city is also home to another shrine is dedicated to his half-brother. Because of the importance of this figure, pilgrimages are also made to this site. One of the most memorable events in the history of the city is traced back to 680, when the Battle of Karbala took place. Muslims commemorate this event within a ten-day period on an annual basis.