A simple introduction to Islam reveals that it is a faith centered around a man by the name of Mohammed, God’s prophet and recipient of divine truth that is recorded in a book entitled the Quran. Mohammed lived in the early 600’s A.D. And Mecca, a city in present day Saudi Arabia, is Islam’s holy city. The Quran teaches that Mecca is the oldest and the greatest city that has have ever existed. Mecca is believed to be the location where Adam discovered a large black rock, a sacred object that currently resides within the temple in Mecca today. Abraham later found the rock and restored it after it had been lost. Mecca is thus a holy city, and became the object of Mohammed’s desire, a city that was to be the center for Islam. Or so it would seem.
Recent archaeological discoveries, however, have produced some fascinating evidence that would seem to indicate the story the Quran tells and the story history tells are two different stories regarding the importance of Mecca.
First, every good Muslim is familiar with what is called the Hijra (or Hegira). It is the pilgrimage to Mecca to worship at the temple there. It is a journey that also reflects the journey Mohammed took from Mecca to Medina. It has traditionally been believed that Mohammed made this journey with his followers from Mecca to Medina in 620 A.D. However, recent evidence appears to indicate that Mohammed was actually interested in a journey resembling that of Abraham from Ur to the land of Canaan, the “promised land.” This journey would have taken Mohammed the opposite direction and to a completely different region. This would have been a completely different journey than what Islam has traditionally affirmed to be the journey Mohammed originally took.
Second, Muslims are to practice Qibla, prayers offered five times a day to Allah (the Muslim name for God). Muslims will face East when they pray, intentionally directing their prayers to Islam’s holy city, Mecca. Each Muslim mosque will have a tower attached to it called a minaret as well. A minaret has a window near its top that is open toward Mecca. From here faithful Muslims are led in their prayers toward Mecca. Recent archaeological digs have unearthed very early mosques in the last decade, mosques dating to somewhere between 660 to 700 A.D. (Mohammed died in 632 A.D.). What has been discovered is that the minarets on these mosques do not point South toward Mecca as they should, but point rather to somewhere Northwest of their location. Some might argue that this is simply the result of a lack of technology and specificity in design. But such an argument holds little weight in light of the fact that the difference is nearly ninety degrees in most cases, and the inhabitants of that area were living in the desert. Their very survival depended on the ability to know where they were going or else they would die. These mosques appear to indicate that prayers may not have originally been offered to Mecca, but to a different location.
Third, Mecca is not given the place of prominence in historical archives that the Quran would seem to indicate. While the Quran explicitly states that Mecca is a city of great prominence through human history, the greatest of all cities, there is not one single historical document that even mentions the city of Mecca prior to one hundred years after the Quran was written (this would be somewhere in the early to mid 700’s A.D.). This document, of all things, was a Greek navigational chart. And this is the first mentioning of Mecca in any historical record. Additionally, Muslim tradition claims Mecca to be a city of prominence because of its placement on a critical trade route in that area of the world. However, Mecca is an isolated city that appears to have never been located on any early trade route. The primary routes were located significantly North and West of Mecca.
Fourth, the Quran states that Mohammed hated the Jews and that he severed his ties, once and for all, with the Jews in 622 A.D. Again, history appears to tell a different story. Historical documentation indicates that Mohammed, allied with and aided by the Jews, attempted to take the city of Jerusalem back from the Christians around 630 A.D. Thus Mohammed’s hatred for the Jews, if it existed at all, could not have provoked a rejection of them at the date the Quran and Muslim tradition affirms. Mohammed appears not to have hated the Jews or their sacred city.
Fifth, the Dome of the Rock mosque, located on the temple mount in Jerusalem, seems not to be the structure that it originally was. A thorough examination of the supposed mosque reveals that the minaret present was not part of the original structure. A number of renovations even occurred as late as the 1500’s A.D., hundreds of years after the Dome of the Rock’s original construction. Much was progressively added through the centuries.
What does all this say? It appears to indicate that Mohammed’s interest was not in Mecca, but in Jerusalem. Mohammed’s Hegira would have taken him to Jerusalem. The minarets pointed toward Jerusalem. Mecca shows no record of importance at all in history. Mohammed is confirmed historically to have been fighting for Jerusalem as late as somewhere around 630 A.D. And the Dome of the Rock appears to have originally not been a mosque, but a temple to receive prayers, not send them. Mohammed believed it was his destiny to fulfill his and the Hagarene’s birthrights (Hagarene’s were regarded as the descendants of Ishmael) to reclaim Jerusalem, not Mecca. The shift to Mecca would have been a later development within Islam that would not have been consistent with Mohammed’s intentions, or his original revelation in the Quran.
In this case, the Quran and the Hadiths (Muslim traditions) appear to be glaringly opposed to what history attests to. And if history’s account is true, much of Islam’s foundation becomes incredibly shaky.
Much of the information offered in this blog can be found at http://www.answering-islam.org. It is an excellent online resource for studying Islam. You can also find a link to some of this information at debate.org.uk/topics/history/bib-qur/qurarch.htm.