Spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God. explorefaith.org


Explore God's Love Explore Your Faith Explore the Church Explore Who We Are  

> What Do Our Neighbors Believe? > Key Places: Islam


Join our mailing list
Join our mailing list
Send this page to a friend

Support explorefaith.org

Give us your feedback


Perspectives from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism

Understanding Islam
Documentarian Anisa Mehdi on Terrorism, Politics and the Chance for Peace

Meeting Islam: A Guide for Christians



  What Do Our Neighbors Believe?  

ISLAM Judaism | Christianity
What places are important for the religion?
by John Kaltner

The three most holy places in Islam are Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. As Muhammad’s hometown and the location where the Qur’an was first sent down to him, Mecca is the birthplace of the faith. Muslims are constantly made aware of its importance because they must turn toward Mecca during the five required prayer times each day.

The focal point of the city is the Sacred Mosque, which Muslims consider to be the holiest place on the face of the earth. In the center of the mosque is the Ka`ba, the shrine that existed during Muhammad’s lifetime and predates Islam by centuries. According to the Qur’an (2:122-133), the Ka`ba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael as a place of worship dedicated to the one true God. Over time it was converted into a place where polytheism was practiced, and it was restored to its original purpose only with the coming of Muhammad and the rise of Islam.

The Ka`ba was originally made of rough, uncut stones, but it has been rebuilt and renovated over the centuries. Today it is a cube-shaped structure about forty-five feet high made of dark-grey stones from the surrounding hills that are usually covered by an intricately decorated cloth covering. Despite its sacred nature, any Muslim is allowed to approach and touch the Ka`ba. The King of Saudi Arabia holds the title of custodian of the Ka`ba and other sacred places in his country.

Mecca is also important because every year millions of Muslims come to the city to participate in the pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam. Over an eleven-day period during the month of pilgrimage they engage in a series of prescribed rituals that take place in the Great Mosque and the area surrounding Mecca.

While in Mecca many pilgrims take the opportunity to make a journey to Medina to visit key sites in the second holiest city in Islam. Muhammad spent the last ten years of his life there, and Muslims can still see his house and the adjacent Mosque of the Prophet with its distinctive green dome. Other places of interest in Medina include the Shrine of the Prophet, containing his tomb, and Quba Mosque, Islam’s first mosque that was built soon after Muhammad’s arrival in the city.

Jerusalem’s sacred status can be seen in its Arabic name al-quds, which means “the holy.” It is the location of two of the most important Islamic buildings, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. These edifices are located in what is known as the “Noble Sanctuary” (al-haram al-sharif in Arabic), which is the area where the Israelite temple built by King Solomon once stood. The al-Aqsa mosque was built in 710 and is the third most holy place in Islam.

The Dome of the Rock, with its bright golden dome and octagonal shape, is one of the most distinctive buildings in the world. It is not a mosque but a shrine built in 690 to commemorate Muhammad’s ascent to heaven. The large rock in the center of the building is held by Muslims to be the place from which the Prophet left the earth to begin the heavenly journey during which he met other prophets from the past. Many non-Muslims visit these two buildings every year, but that is not the case with the sites in Mecca and Medina, cities that allow entry only to Muslims.

Most of the holy places in Shi`a Islam are found in modern-day Iraq, with two of the most important being Najaf and Karbala. Najaf is the location of the tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad and the first Shi`a leader. It receives thousands of visitors every year, and only Mecca and Medina are more popular pilgrimage destinations in the Islamic world. Najaf, along with Qom in Iran, is also an important center of learning that is the home to a prominent Shi`a theological school. Karbala’s importance for Shi`a Muslims has already been noted. As the place where Ali’s son Husayn was martyred by Sunni forces it, too, welcomes many pilgrims every year, particularly on the anniversary of that tragic event when thousands of believers come to the mosque that contains his tomb.

Copyright ©2006 John Kaltner

John Kaltner is a member of the Department of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee where he teaches courses in Bible, Islam, and Arabic. Among his books are Islam: What Non-Muslims Should Know (2003); Inquiring of Joseph: Getting to Know a Biblical Character through the Qu’ran (2003); Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers (Collegeville: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 1999).

Excerpts from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for purchase in December 2006.


(Return to Top)


Send this article to a friend.

Home | Explore God's Love | Explore Your Faith | Explore the Church | Who We Are
Reflections | Stepping Stones | Oasis | Lifelines | Bulletin Board | Search |Contact Us |
Copyright ©1999-2007 explorefaith.org