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Mecca (full name: Makkah al-Mukarramah (Arabic: مكة المكرمة) is the holiest city in Islam. It is located in Saudi Arabia's Makkah province, in the Hejaz region. It has a population of about 1.3 million. The city is located 73 kilometers (45 miles) inland from Jeddah, in the narrow sandy Valley of Abraham, 277 meters (909 ft) above sea level. It is located 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Red Sea.

The city is revered by Muslims for containing the holiest site of Islam, the Masjid al-Haram, which contains the Kaaba. The Hajj  pilgrimage that involves an extended visit to the city is required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to go, at least once in their lifetime. People of other faiths are forbidden from entering the holy city, under penalty of death. The pilgrimage and worship of the Kaaba predates Islam, and made Mecca a central city in Arabia long before the rise of Islam.

The English word "mecca" (uncapitalized), meaning "a central place to which many people are attracted" is derived from Mecca.

Mecca is situated between mountains, which limit its expansion. The city centers around the Masjid al-Haram. The area around the mosque comprises the old city. The main avenues are Al-Mudda'ah and Sūq al-Layl to the north of the mosque, and As-Sūg as Saghīr to the south. Houses near the mosque have been razed and replaced with open spaces and wide streets to accommodate the Hajj. As is usual, residential complexes are denser in the old city than in residential areas. Traditional homes are built of local rock and are two to three stories. The city has a few slums, where poor pilgrims who were unable to finance a trip home after the hajj have settled.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: See History of Islam and the Arabs

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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