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Lesson: Learn about Mecca with Mohamed Salah

Journey to Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, to observe its mysterious ancient rituals and traditions.

Learn about Mecca with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah
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Revision Notes

Liverpool Football Club’s goal-scoring hero, Mohamed Salah, is a hugely popular figure among the Club’s fans, who call him, ‘Mo’. He is from Egypt and is a devout Muslim, the Arabic word for a follower of the religious faith called Islam.

In August 2019, Mo made a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest place in Islam. He performed the ‘Umrah’, an important ritual in his faith.

Mecca is a mysterious place, rich in ancient rites and traditions. Discover why it was so important for Mo to make his pilgrimage there.

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Mo Salah

Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly was born on June 15th, 1992. An Egyptian professional footballer, he plays on the right of a front three for Premier League club Liverpool and for the Egyptian national team. One of the world’s great players, he is known for his deadly finishing and scoring records.

Salah started his senior career with Egyptian club El Mokaawloon, before going to Swiss Club FC Basel. He then signed for Chelsea in 2014, where he went on loan to Italy and played for Fiorentina and Roma. He was successful at Roma and in 2017, he signed for Liverpool for a club-record fee of £36.9 million.

He has achieved many accolades since joining Liverpool, including winning the Premier League Golden Boot and the PFA Men’s Player of the Year. His greatest honour so far is in winning the 2019 UEFA Champions League.

At international level, Salah has represented Egypt at the 2012 Summer Olympics and helped them reach the final of the 2017 African Cup of Nations, at which he won several personal awards.

Salah is a devout Muslim and celebrates his goals by performing the sujud, the Muslim prayer to God, where their hands, toes and forehead touch the ground in humility. He is heavily involved in charity work, especially in Egypt.

Mohamed is hugely admired by his fans, who call him the ‘Egyptian King’. Liverpool supporters have composed several songs about him and often chant that if he continues to score goals, they will convert to Islam: “If he's good enough for you, he's good enough for me, if he scores another few, then I'll be Muslim too.”

In August 2019, Salah journeyed to Mecca to undertake the Umrah, a slightly shorter and less onerous  pilgrimage than the Hajj, an undertaking that all Muslims who are physically and financially able are expected to perform at least once in their lives.

Islam

Islam is one of the largest religions in the world, with over 1.8 billion followers. It is a monotheistic faith based on revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad in 7th-century Saudi Arabia. The Arabic word islam means ‘surrender’, or ‘submission,” reflecting the faith's central tenet of submitting to the will of God. Followers of Islam are called Muslims.

According to Islamic tradition, the angel Gabriel appeared to the Prophet Muhammad revealing to him many messages from God. Muslims recognise some earlier Judeo-Christian prophets—including Moses and Jesus—as messengers of the same true God (Allah). But in Islam, Mohammad is the last and greatest of the prophets, whose revelations alone are pure and uncorrupted.

The Prophet dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading a message. In 622, he fled to the city of Medina to escape growing persecution. This event marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Eight years later, Muhammad returned to Mecca with an army and conquered the city for Islam. By Muhammad's death, 50 years later, the entire Arabian Peninsula had come under Muslim control.

The sacred text of Islam, the Koran (Qur'an), was written in Arabic within 30 years of Muhammad's death. Muslims believe it contains the literal word of God.

Islamic practices are based on the Five Pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca, and charity.

Muslim

Muslims follow several sacred rituals. They are what defines a Muslim.

Some rituals are practised daily, like prayer; others are practiced annually, like those aligned with specific Islamic holidays. The Five Pillars of Islam are five practices regarded by all sects of the Islamic religion as essential to the Muslim faith.

Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam are the five religious duties expected of every Muslim. The five pillars are mentioned individually throughout the Koran.

  • Confession of Faith (shahada)

The first of the Five Pillars of Islam is Shahada. Shahada is the Muslim declaration of faith, expressing the two simple, fundamental beliefs that make one a Muslim: There is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is the prophet of God.

  • Ritual Prayer (salat)

Prayer is performed five times a day: at dawn (al-fajr), midday (al-zuhr), afternoon (al-'asr), sunset (al-maghrib) and evening (al-'isha).

  • Alms Tax (zakat)

Almsgiving (charity) is central to Islam. The Koran explicitly requires it, “Perform the prayer and give the alms.”

For those who use their money beyond the will of Allah, the Koran has harsh words, “the fires of hell will heat up the coins and the greedy will be branded with them.”

  • Fasting during the month of Ramadan (siyam)

Fasting, commemorates the revelation of the Allah’s gift to humanity during Ramadan, the nineth month of the Islamic year.

  • Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj)

If they are able and have the means to do so, at least once in his or her lifetime, each Muslim is expected to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, the sacred city of Islam. This holy journey is called the Hajj in Arabic.

Muhammad

Muhammad is the founder and chief prophet of Islam and the originator of the Koran. ‘Muhammad’, which means ‘highly praised’, was born in Mecca around 570 CE. His father died shortly before his birth, and he lost his mother at the age of six. Muhammad was then raised primarily by his uncle, for whom he worked as a shepherd.

At the age of nine, he joined his uncle on a caravan to Syria and then worked as a camel driver between Syria and Arabia. He soon set up a business managing caravans on behalf of merchants. Through his many journeys, he met people of many nationalities and faiths, including Jews and Christians.

At twenty-five, Muhammad was employed by Khadija, a wealthy Meccan widow fifteen years his senior. The two were married and had a happy marriage. Early accounts say that “[Allah] comforted him through her, for she made his burden light." Although polygamy was common practice at the time, Muhammad took no other wife until her death twenty-four years later. The Prophet and his wife had several children.

To seek solitude, in his late thirties, Muhammad began to visit a cave in Mount Hira, on the outskirts of Mecca. In 610, at the age of forty, Muhammad returned from one such visit and told his wife he had either gone mad or become a prophet, because he had been visited by an angel. Khadija became his first convert.

Muhammad reported that while in a trance-like state, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said “Proclaim!” But Muhammad replied, “I am not a proclaimer.” The angel insisted until Muhammad relented, and the angel commanded him, “Proclaim in the name of your Lord who created! Created man from a clot of blood. Proclaim: Your Lord is the Most Generous, who teaches by the pen; Teaches man what he knew not.”

Muhammad's message to his countrymen was: convert from pagan polytheism (the worship of several gods), reject immorality and materialism, repent from evil and worship Allah, the only true God. He was always careful to clarify his role in God's work - he was only a prophet. He was not an angel, he did not know the mind of God, he did not work miracles. He simply preached what he had received.

In the first three years of his ministry, Muhammad gained only forty followers. And as his teachings threatened the Meccan way of life, both moral and economic, he and his followers experienced serious persecution. It first took the form of mockery, but soon turned into violence. Members of his movement were stoned, beaten, thrown into prison, and refused service by merchants.

Persecution continued to increase until Muhammad heard that he had gained followers in the city of Yathrib, many miles north of Mecca. A delegation from Yathrib arrived and proposed that Muhammad become their leader. In return, they pledged to worship only Allah, obey Muhammad, and defend him and his followers to the death.

Muhammad and his close friend Abu Bakr managed to escape Mecca, evading a Meccan search party, and arrived safely in Yathrib. This event is celebrated by Muslims as the Hijira. The year in which it occurred, 622, is the date at which the Muslim calendar begins. Yathrib was renamed Medinat al-Nabi, ‘the City of the Prophet’, and is now known simply as Medina.

In Medina, Muhammad proved to be a very able leader as well as a prophet. He organised the five tribes of the city, three of which were Jewish, into an orderly union. His reputation spread and people began to flock from every part of Arabia to see him.

After establishing himself in Medina, conflict with Mecca began. In 624, the Muslims of Medina won their first battle against the Meccans. As the Mecca had a much larger army, the Muslims took the victory as a sign that God had willed it. However, a subsequent battle was not a success, and Muhammad himself was wounded. But in 627, the Meccans attacked Medina, and Medina triumphed.

In 630, Muhammad and his forces marched to Mecca and took the city and almost its entire population converted to Islam. Muhammad died in 632, by which time he had conquered nearly all of Arabia for Islam.

Within 100 years of Muhammad's death, Islam had reached the Atlantic in one direction and the borders of China in the other.

Mecca

Mecca, also spelled Makkah, is a city in the Hejazi region of Saudi Arabia. The city is located 43 miles inland from the coast at Jeddah. Its population is around two million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during the Hajj.

It is the birthplace of Muhammad and a cave two miles from Mecca was the site of the Prophet’s revelations.

Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, acting either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger states until it was conquered by Ibn Saud in 1925, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Since then, Mecca has changed dramatically. Many of its ancient buildings have been destroyed and replaced by modern structures like the Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world's fourth tallest building.

The Haram Mosque

The Great Mosque of Mecca, known as al-Masjid al-Haram is a mosque that surrounds the Kaʿbah in Mecca.

The Great Mosque is the largest mosque in the world, and the second largest building in the world behind the Boeing Everett Building. The Great Mosque has undergone major renovations and expansions through the years and has passed through the control of various caliphs, sultans, and kings. It is now under the control of the King of Saudi Arabia.

The Kaʿbah

The Kaʿbah is small shrine located at the centre of the Great Mosque in Mecca and considered by Muslims to be the most sacred place on Earth. In accordance with the command set out in the Koran, Muslims orient themselves toward this shrine during their five daily prayers, bury their dead facing its meridian, and cherish the ambition of visiting it on pilgrimage, the Hajj.

The cube-shaped structure is 15 metres high, and 10 by 14 metres at its base. Constructed of grey stone and marble, it is oriented so that its corners roughly correspond to the points of the compass. The interior contains nothing but the three pillars supporting the roof and several suspended silver and gold lanterns. The Kaʿbah is covered with an enormous cloth of black brocade, the Kiswah.

The early history of the Kaʿbah is subject to speculation, but it is certain that before Islam, it was a polytheist sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage for people throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Koran says that Abraham and Ishmael, “raised the foundations” of the Kaʿbah. It has been destroyed, damaged, and subsequently rebuilt several times since.

The Black Stone

The Black Stone is a rock set into the eastern corner of the Kaʿbah. It is revered by Muslims as an Islamic relic which, according to Muslim tradition, dates back to the time of Adam and Eve. Since then it has been broken into fragments and is now cemented into a silver frame in the side of the Kaaba. Its physical appearance is that of a fragmented dark rock, polished smooth by the hands of pilgrims. Islamic tradition holds that it fell from heaven as a guide for Adam and Eve to build an altar.

Hajj

Hajj refers to a Muslim's pilgrimage to Mecca and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. At least once in his or her lifetime, each Muslim is expected to undertake this pilgrimage the sacred city of Islam. This holy journey is called the Hajj in Arabic. While a visit to Mecca is beneficial at any time of the year, it must take place during the last month of the Islamic year to fulfil the requirements of the Hajj.

Exceptions are made for those who are physically or financially unable to fulfil this obligation. Indeed, Muslims are commanded not to make the Hajj if to do so would cause hardship for his or her family.

The Hajj is commanded in the Koran, “And pilgrimage to the House is a duty unto God for mankind, for him who can find the way thither.”

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