Short Answer: Makkah stands on its own as the most sacred place in Islam. It is the destination of all Muslims to fulfill Hajj, the fifth main Islamic pillar. Makkah and Madinah witnessed the very precious early moments of Islam: the birth of Prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Quran. Makkah is the center of the three Abrahamic faiths. It contains the Kaabah–the first House built for the worship of Allah. As for Madinah, it hosts the grave of Prophet Muhammad.
Salam Dear Nathan,
Thank you very much for your question, which is a reflection of your keenness to know about this subject.
All Religions Have Holy Places
First, let’s agree that every religion has its special place which it considers as “the cradle”. This is the launching point from which it spread in the world.
For instance, Bethlehem and Nazareth are considered to be very special places for Christians all over the world.
These two great cities have witnessed very special moments in the life of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), who is also regarded as a great prophet by Muslims.
The followers of the three Abrahamic faiths–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–all revere Jerusalem.
This city has witnessed very special moments in the lives of the three greatest prophets: Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
More specifically, The Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is considered the third most holy place for Muslims, after the mosques in Makkah and Madinah.
These cities, Makkah and Madinah, are holy places for all Muslims all over the world, and not only Arab Muslims.
Why Makkah and Madinah?
These two holy cities witnessed the very precious early moments of Islam: the birth of Prophet Muhammad, his early days of preaching the message of Islam, the emergence of the Muslim community, the emigration, and the development of the first Islamic state.
Furthermore, they have also witnessed the revelation of the Quran and thus the last connection between the heavens and earth. Because of this, they are very special.
On top of that, Makkah is the center of the three Abrahamic faiths. It contains the Kaabah–the first House built for the worship of Allah.
Prophet Abraham, who is considered to be the father of the three monotheistic religions, re-established it after many years of disrepair.
Makkah stands on its own as the most sacred place in Islam. It is the destination of all Muslims fulfilling the fifth main Islamic pillar: Hajj (pilgrimage).
Almighty Allah says what means:
The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings. In it are Signs Manifest; (for example), the Station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah,- those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures. (Quran 3:96-97)
Next to that is Madinah, which hosts the grave of Prophet Muhammad.
Special Rules in These Cities
In addition, these places are given special rulings in Islamic tradition and jurisprudence.
It is a well-established fact that only Muslims are allowed in these two Holy Sanctuaries.
In any other mosque, any non-Muslim is wholeheartedly welcome to visit.
Makkah and Madinah Are Safe-Havens
Moreover, because they are sacred places, all people—and indeed, all living things—should feel safe there.
It is completely prohibited to threaten anyone, including animals, or to cut down trees or plants in these holy places. One of the Prophet’s Companions, Abdullah ibn Zayd ibn Asim, narrated that the Prophet Muhammad said:
Abraham has made Makkah a sanctuary and prayed for its people and I declare Madinah to be a sanctuary in the same manner as Abraham declared Makkah a sanctuary. And I have prayed [to] Allah (i.e. for the people of Madinah) in the same manner as Abraham did for the people of Makkah. (Al-Bukhari)
Muslims believe that Prophet Abraham prayed for Makkah to be a safe place.
This is mentioned in the Quran, as Almighty Allah says what means:
And remember, Abraham said: “My Lord, make this a City of Peace, and feed its people with fruits,-such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” He said: “(Yea), and such as reject Faith–for a while will I grant them their pleasure, but will soon drive them to the torment of Fire, an evil destination (indeed)!” (Quran 2:126)
Almighty Allah also says in the Quran:
Remember Abraham said: “O my Lord! make this city one of peace and security, and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols.” (Quran 14:35)
Greeting and Sending Farewell to Makkah
From a jurisprudence perspective, a Muslim is recommended to pray two rakahs (Prayer units) known as “the greeting of the mosque”anytime he enters a normal mosque.
The greeting of the holy mosque in Makkah is quite different: one is required to circumambulate the Kaabah as a way of greeting it.
As well, a Muslim is supposed to bid farewell to the Holy Mosque in Makkah in the same manner whenever he or she is leaving the holy city.
In terms of reward, the prayers offered in these two holy mosques (Makkah and Madinah) are rewarded more than any prayer anywhere else in the world.
Millions of Muslims every year flock to Makkah and Madinah to perform the pilgrimage and visit the Prophet’s grave.
They are full of love, passion, and yearning to come again and again to these two pure spots.
I hope this answers your questions. Please stay in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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