Sunday, 13 August 2017

Notes and Select Quotes from the Book Mecca the Sacred City

Mecca The Sacred City, Ziauddin Sardar, Bloomsbury

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Mecca has had many names. It was known as al-Balad (the main city) and al-Qaryah (place large numbers of people congregate like water flowing into a reservoir). Mecca was also known as Baca as mentioned in Psalm 84:5-6

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.[a]
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

The Arabic form of Baca, Bakkah, can be translated as ‘lack of stream’. The valley indeed was a dry place with no vegetation.

Archeology and Mecca

 p4 Today’s Mecca, in the modern Saudi Arabia, has for the past eighty years been ruled by a family with a horror of history, of historical evidence, that includes evidence from archaeology, as well as from manuscripts. The government ensured that Mecca was washed clean of its history in June 1973 when entire districts of the city were bulldozed and its cultural property and historic sites were erased from the landscape as easily as one rubs out pencil marks on paper. The little archaeology that has been undertaken in Saudi Arabia occurs far removed from the Holy Places. As far as the Saudis are concerned Mecca has no prehistory, no history before Muhammad, and no history after Muhammad. This denial of Meccan history is based on a single reason: the Saudis do not want anyone to venerate Muhammad. The fear is that historical sites, rather than God, will become objects of worship.

Archeological evidence, however, is not our only source of insights into history. Our window into the past includes words as well as memories, what today is known as oral history...p4

...Many of the Psalms are attributed to the Prophet King David, whose reign is tentatively dated 1040-970 BCE. Psalm 84, however, is attributed to ‘the sons of Korah’, believed to be either a family of religious singers or a guild of singers and musicians. Originally, the sons of Korah were appointed by the David to provide songs and music during the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. However they continued to function long after. Psam 84 might have come into existence at any time from the era of King David up to the time when the 150 Psalms found in the Old Testament are known to have existed in written form. This spans a period from somewhere after 1040 BCE up to around 165 BCE. p5

We can, however, agree with Edward Gibbon, the eighteenth century historian and author of the celebrated Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that the genuine antiquity of Caaba ascends beyond the Christian era’. Gibbon knew of claims that the existence of Mecca was known to the ancient Greeks. Diodorus Siculus, the Greek historian who lived during the first century BCE, mentions the Kaaba in his Bibliotheca Historica, a book describing various parts of the discovered world: ‘ a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians’. The city is also mentioned by Claudius Ptolemy, the Egyptian Roman citizen who wrote his classic text, Geography, in Greek, and lived around 90-168 CE...In his survey of the inhabitable world he provides a list of cities in Arabia Felix. Amongst them is ‘a place called Macroba’, which ‘allows us to identify it as a Southern Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary’. P5-6

A string of archeological sites from modern-day Iraq to Pakistan, home of the Indus Valley civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, provide evidence of a trade route dating back to around 3000 BCE. When the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II was buried in 1224 BCE several peppercorns that would have originated in India or even South East Asia were used along with other unguents as part of the embalming process. P6

In the stories and poems of Arabia before Islam, Mecca was the city of Abraham, biblical prophet, patriarch of Israelites and Ishmalites, and founder of the monotheistic faiths. P7

Location of Abraham and Hagar

According to the Bible, Hagar wandered in the city of Beersheba, located in the Negev desert, and eventually settled in the desert known as Paran. If that is the case, then it is highly unlikely that she would turn up several hundred miles away in Mecca; or that Abraham would visit her frequently. It is possible, as recent research suggests, that Abraham and his family were located not in Egypt and Palestine, but in the Asir province, which shares its western border with Yemen, in the southwest of Arabia [FN to Kamal Al Salibi, The Bible Came from Arabia (Jonathan Cape, London, 1984)] That, of course, would make the Muslim account more plausible. And Abraham would be able to visit Hagar and Ishmael relatively easily and more frequently. p11

 Early historians

P12-13 The first book to be written about Mecca was put together before 865 by a native of the city: Meccan Reports by al-Azraqi....But Meccan Reports is not history as we conventionally understand it. To begin with it concentrates on the city monuments, for example the Kaaba and Muqam Ibrahim, and the living quarters of the city. What it tells us about ancient Mecca is based on oral traditions and the stories familiar to the city’s inhabitants. Whereas al-Azraqi tells us little about the social and political makeup of Mecca, more general histories focus on the city’s notables, its politics and struggles. One of the most important of these is the monumental forty-volume History of al-Tabari, the ninth-century historian, theologian and commentator. Al Tabari (838-923), who was of Persian origins, was an avid collector of stories; and he includes them all, good and bad, true and false, without comment, in his work. The biographer ibn Saad (784-845), who was born in Basra, Iraq, and worked as a scribe before blooming into a writer, seemed just as open-minded...Other historians were more discerning. The biographer and historian ibn Ishaq (d. 767 or 761) was more discerning in what he included in The Life of Muhammad, the first part of which deals with the ancient history of Mecca.
Prophet Muhammad illiterate but not uneducated

p20 Muhammad was ‘unlettered’: he could not read or write. This does not necessarily mean that he was uneducated. He was the product of an oral culture, where history and tradition were passed from generation to generation through sagas, genealogical narratives, and most importantly poetry. He was probably well versed in the ancient history of his city: he would have heard the sagas repeatedly told , the epic poems, the odes, the satires, as well as the lament of Mudad, and the couplets of Amr of the Luhayy.

[couplet begins: We became the custodians of the Kaaba after Jurhum]

Oral history of Mecca

...The history of Mecca was constantly being recited in the streets and squares, alleys and assemblies, and within and around the Sanctuary. The Meccans lived and breathed their history. In this fiercely tribal society Muhammad would, of course, have been familiar with the history of his own tribe – the Quraysh.

Boycott/blockade on early Muslims

 Back in Mecca, the Quraysh leadership prepared its next move: this would be a boycott of all those who had any connection to Muhammad’s Banu Hashim clan. Today we would call this a blockade or extreme form of ‘sanctions’. Back then it included a ban on marrying into the Banu Hashim, as well as forbidding all trade and other forms of association. The pact was written down and hung on the door of the Kaaba. The boycott would continue till the Banu Hashim agreed to hand Muhammad over to the Quraysh.

Comprehensively shunned and excluded from society, members of the Banu Hashim, including Muhammad, had little choice but to leave the city. Under the leadership of Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib, who still insisted on protecting his nephew, clan members moved to a nearby mountain cave. But not everyone did. Some in the Banu Hashim, such as another of Muhammad’s uncles, Abu Lahab, chose to side with the Quraysh leadership and remained in the city.

Life outside the city, without food and provisions, was harsh. Reports from the time say that the new Muslims were reduced to eating leaves. Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan and other Meccan leaders watched like hawks to ensure that isolation was strictly enforced. The blockade continued for almost three years and became so intense that the screams of hungry children from behind the mountain pass could be heard in the streets and squares of the city. p44-45
Some Christians used to perform the pilgrimage before Islam

‘Even Christian Arabs made pilgrimage to Kaaba, honouring Allah there as God the Creator’ Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam (Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1974) vol. I p.10
Sourced from page 24 Mecca The Sacred City, Ziauddin Sardar

Early Caliphs and rulers:

Abu Bakr 2 years
Umar 10yrs
Uthman 12yrs
Ali becomes Caliph in 656. Battle of the Camel.

Muawiya takes control in 660. He’s the son of Abu Sufyan. First Ummayad ruler. He sets his base in Damascus. His son is Yazid. Yazid takes control in 680.

In 683, there’s a rebellion in Mecca after Hussain was killed. Blackstone broken by projectile from Yazid’s army.

684 Marwan

685 Abdal Malik Ibn Marwan (rules 685-705). His commander was Al Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf. There was another siege on Mecca in 692.

Ummayad: 13 Caliphs from 661-750. From the family lineage of Abbas Ibn Abdal Mutallib.


Persian Mansur al Hallaj was a mystic with heterodox views. He died in 922. He believed in union with God. “On the whole the Meccans paid very little attention to the mystics in their midst” 96

It is unlikely that the city’s inhabitants, locals or visitors, were impressed by the heterodox views of Mansur. He believed in union with God and was in the habit of losing himself in mystical introspection. While in this state, he would declare: ‘I am the Truth’. This declaration eventually led to his long trial and imprisonment in Baghdad, culminating in his execution by the order of the orthodox jurists in March 922. 96

The Mihna persecution

The Mihna was an attempt by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun to impose his own theological views on his subjects. This is what comes closest to the Spanish Inquisition in Islamic history. Mihna means ‘testing or ‘trial’. He wanted people to believe the Quran was created. The Mihna continued after al-Mamun’s death under his successors al Mustasim (r. 833-42) and al-Wathiq (r. 842-7), and was finally ended in 861 (ref pages 97-99)

Some notable dates and events

By the 9th century 4 schools had been established.
Qarmatians attacked Mecca in 930. Abu Tahir al-Qarmati. They took the black stone. Returned broken in 951.

1202 in Mecca: Ibn Arabi. Philospophy of Unity of Being (Wahdat al Wujud)

The demon of the West: Reynaud de Chatillon 1180

Abdal Wahhab 1703-92. His teachings were strongly opposed. His own father and brother rejected his call.

Muhammad bin Saud made a pact with in 1747. Ottomans compared Wahhabis to Qarmatians of the 9th century. Ottamans were unable to deal with Wahhabis due to European expansionism. 1803 Wahhabis entered Mecca. It was retaken by Sharif Ghalib.

The end of the First World War revealed the existence of the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 16 May 1916 by which the British and French had agreed on the distribution of territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire. Mandated territories were a polite fiction for colonial rule and the wholesale remaking of lands and their peoples towards the interest of the European powers. Arab independence had been gained from the Ottomans, only to become mortgaged to Britain and France. 295

Upon King Abdul Aziz’s rule, the 4 stations of different schools of thought were removed and prayers were now led by a single Wahhabi imam.


Rutter discovered many ageing slaves in the city, freed or abandoned by their owners because they were no longer fit to work. ‘Several of these poor creatures, some of them women were living in the Haram during my stay in Mecca’ surviving on begging. Rutter had studied the Quran and was an expert in Islamic Law. He could not reconcile the teachings of Islam with the prevalence of slavery in the Holy City. If the injunctions of Islam were ‘rightly practised’, he observed, it would lead to ‘the complete cessation of slavery in the Islamic state....again and again, the Koran reiterates the teaching that one of the most acceptable acts in the sight of God is the liberation of the slave. 310

What is the Kaba

The function of the Kaaba, a cuboid structure made of brick and mortar and draped in black cloth, is to provide Muslims with a sense of direction. Wherever they may be on God’s benevolent earth, Muslims turn towards the Kaaba during their five daily prayers. They walk around it seven times when they are performing the Hajj, or Umra, the lesser pilgrimage. It is a symbol, a sign of direction for Muslims to turn towards and inculcate a sense of unity amongst themselves 342

"It is a familiar category mistake, blaming revelation, the Divine, for the failings of the human beings who so imperfectly adhere to its word" 345


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