PetraWalls.jpgCity Walls

Ancient writers describe the Holy City of Islam as being in a valley, having temples, and walls. Ibn Isḥāq records (Isḥāq, 823,Pg 554) “…they surrounded him as he was at the side of one of the walls of Mecca…” There is no archeological evidence that the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia ever had city walls, yet in this passage the Holy City is specifically described as having walls. On the other hand the city of Petra had walls which crossed the valley protecting the city from the north and the south.

Clay and Loam Soil

Mecca in Saudi Arabia is filled with sand. However, Al Ṭabarī relates the story (The History of Al-Ṭabarī, Volume VI, 1079, pg 6) of how ’Abdallāh, the father of Muḥammad visited a wife whom he had in addition to Aminah. He had been working in the field and traces of soil were still on him. When he invited her to lie with him she made him wait because of this, so he went out, performed his ablutions, washed off the clay and went to Aminah’s quarters instead. In this way the prophet Muḥammad was conceived. R.B. Serjeant, in his comments on Alfred Guillaume’s translation of this story in the Sirah (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, xxi,1958, pages 1-14) explains that the Arabic word used here for soil means a cultivated plot or field, and notes that there is no cultivatable land near Mecca. (See Isḥāq, pg 69 for the parallel account) While there is only sand and rock at the current Mecca site with no evidence of ancient cultivation, the city of Petra had fields and soil in the various places. There were private and public gardens, as well as running water brought to the city through aqueducts and clay pipes. Archeologists have described fruit trees, and gardens existing in ancient Petra.

Al Bayḍā , the lost town near Mecca.

Ancient manuscripts speak of a town, names Bayḍā near Mecca. None of the early geographers could identify the location of this town. However, Al Bayḍā only five kilometers from Petra.

In 7 AH the Muslim armies from Medina marched north. Their first target was Khaybar, a city 150 kilometers north of Medina that had often opposed the Muslims. After the Muslim army defeated Khaybar, Ḥajjāj decided to go on to the Holy City because he had a wife, son and property there. Al Ṭabarī describes his arrival in the Holy City.

I departed and arrived in the Holy City (Mecca). On the mountain trail at al- Bayḍā I met some men from Quraysh who were eager to hear news and were asking about what happened to the Messenger of God. They had heard that he had gone to Khaybar and knew that it was the leading town in the Ḥijaz in fertility, defenses and men, so they were seeking news. (Ṭabarī Vol. VIII pg 126)

Notice that Ḥajjāj arrived on the mountain trail by al-Bayḍā. Ḥajjāj would have circled around so that it wouldn’t appear he was coming directly from Khaybar, for the Quraysh were at war with the prophet. There is no al-Bayḍā near Mecca, so Yāqūt, writing 600 years AH (Mu’jam al-Buldan, II, 335) tells us that Al-Bayḍā must be another name for Tan’im which would have been outside the sacred territory encircling Mecca. He gives no sources for his conclusion.

Second, notice that the Quraysh are concerned about the approaching Islamic armies. If the Holy City was indeed south of Medina, they should not have been too concerned. After all, they were the leading city, the mother-of- all-cities in the south. Khaybar lay far to the north of Medina. However, if the Holy City was Petra, then the fall of Khaybar would have been of great concern to them, as it was the only major center between Medina and Petra.

The men insist on hearing news, so Ḥajjāj then tells them lies. He says that Khaybar defeated the Muslim army and that Muḥammad was made a prisoner and was being sent to Mecca. The people are happy, so Ḥajjāj goes about his business collecting his property. If the people of Khaybar had captured Muḥammad, the last place they would have taken him was Mecca, for it would mean a journey back through Muslim territory and through the city of Medina! They might have tried to slip around the coast, or cross the vast deserts to the east, but however they might have wanted to try it, a trip from Khaybar to Mecca without passing Medina would have been difficult, especially with such a prisoner as Muḥammad! However, if the Holy City was Petra which is north of Khaybar, then the people of Khaybar could easily have taken Muḥammad north to the Holy City (Petra) so he could stand trial there.

Cave of Hira?Cave of Ḥira

Muḥammad received his revelation in the cave of Ḥira. (Ṣaḥīḥ al Bukhārī ḥadīth 1.3) In his book Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, Ibn Isḥāq tells us exactly where the mountain of Ḥira is located: Now al-Khaṭṭāb had so harassed Zayd that he forced him to withdraw to the upper part of Mecca, and he stopped in the mountain of Ḥira, facing the town. (Isḥāq 148, page 102) In Mecca today, the cave Ḥira is located on Jebal Nour and does not face the city. Also, Mecca in Saudi Arabia does not have a upper and lower region. The cave on Mount Nour is not even a cave, it is simply a slab of rock that has fallen over, creating a hollow space underneath it about 4 meters in length and 1.7 meters wide. After receiving the revelation, Muḥammad decided to climb the mountain above the cave to throw himself off. (Ibn Isḥāq 1150 page 106) Midway up Jebal Ḥira the angel confronted him again. Even though the messengers of Khadīja were searching for him below (on the high ground of Mecca) they did not see him. Just north of the location indicated on this map is a cavern which received considerable veneration and worship in ancient times. It is filled with godblocks and carvings, even a crescent. (See photo above). This cave faces the town and it has high cliffs above it. Is this the cave of Ḥira?

Grapes and Fruit

Mecca averages 4.3 inches of rain per year (11 cm). With its high desert temperatures and barren conditions, this is scarcely enough to grow any vegetation at all, let alone grow enough food to support a large population. Fruits cannot be grown in this area without special irrigation. What do the ancient manuscripts say? By Allāh, I never saw a prisoner better than Khubaib. By Allāh, one day I saw him eating of a bunch of grapes in his hand while he was chained in irons, and this was not the time of fruit in Mecca.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:281) Here we have reference to the ancient Holy City having grapes and fruit growing in and around it. Once again, it is hard to imagine this happening where Mecca is located today. Petra however, has enough rainfall, to sustain grapes which are grown in abundance in Jordan.

Upper City

The ancient Holy City is described as having a higher and lower section. When the Prophet came to Mecca he entered from its higher side and left from its lower side. (Ṣaḥīh Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:647) There are many mentions of this between 2:645 and 2:657.

(’Ā’isha speaking) I met the Prophet when he was ascending the heights towards Mecca and I was descending, or vice-versa. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:815)

When considering the topography around Mecca, the phrase “ascending the heights towards Mecca” does not make sense as Mecca in Saudi Arabia is located lower than most other cities, such as Taif. This term however could apply to several places in the Petra region as Petra is higher than the Araba Valley, and lower than the King's Highway through Edom. Also there is clearly a higher and lower side to the city.

During the year of the conquest (of Mecca), the Prophet entered Mecca through its upper part through Kada. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 5:586) That she said, “O Allāh’s Apostle! Your companions are returning with the reward of both ḥajj and ’umra, while I am returning with (the reward of ) ḥajj only.” He said to her, “Go, and let ’Abdur-Raḥmān (i.e. your brother) make you sit behind him (on the animal).” So, he ordered ’Abdur-Raḥmān to let her perform ’umra from Al-Tan’im. Then the Prophet waited for her at the higher region of Mecca till she returned. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:227)

Allāh’s apostle came to Mecca through its higher region on the day of the conquest (of Mecca) riding his she-camel on which Usāma was riding behind him. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:231)

The terms higher and lower part of the Holy City could easily be applied to Petra, which was split apart by a water course and a colonnaded road in the middle. The higher part of the city was to the north and the lower part of the city to the south.


The ancient histories speak of Jews, Christians and churches present in the Holy City (Mecca). However, there are no ruins of churches in Mecca, and no mention of a church at Mecca in any church records. Petra on the other hand had several churches, and even a bishop at one time.

In the mid-4th century, Bishop Asterius of Petra was named as a participant in the Arian controversy. Over the following century or so, bishops from Petra took part in the various councils of the church, convening to discuss a series of doctrinal disagreements which followed the Arian controversy with increasing frequency. Petra also seems to have become a place of exile for troublesome or heretical priests, prelates, or prominent laymen who failed to agree with the emperor or with the decisions of these councils. According to one contemporary document, one of the most well-known of these men was Nestorius, one of the promoters of the Nestorian heresy which was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. A fourth century Syriac letter attributed to Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem discusses major earthquake destruction at Petra on May 19, 363 AD. Some parts of the city continued in use afterwards, but it seems that many of the civic buildings ceased to function for a while. (Brock, 1977) It was during this time (4th Century AD) that the Urn Tomb in Petra was transformed into a church. The photo above shows a mosaic floor from a large church in Petra.


While there is only sand and rock at the current Mecca site with no evidence of ancient cultivation, the city of Petra had fields and soil in the various places. There were private and public gardens, as well as running water brought to the city through aqueducts and clay pipes. Archeologists have described fruit trees, grapes and gardens existing in ancient Petra. Even today there are cultivated plots of land between Petra and el-Beidha or Little Petra which is 5 km away. Researchers have discovered that only one hundred years ago the hills around Petra were covered with several indigenous tree species including oak, juniper, pistachio, and carob trees. In the centre of Petra is a pistachio tree (see photo) which is claimed to be over 450 years old.

In addition to this, a mere five kilometers from Petra is a Neolithic village where archeologist Diana Kirkbride-Helbaek excavated from 1958 to 1967 and again in 1983. (Byrd, 2007) During her excavation Dr. Kirkbride-Helbaek discovered old granaries and hypothesized that it was at el-Beidha or nearby villages like this where grains were first domesticated, demonstrating that plots of cultivation existed in the Petra area many centuries before the time of Muḥammad. When reading the descriptions of trees, grasses, glens, fields and soil near the Holy City, would Petra not be a better fit than the barren wadi bed of present day Mecca?

Temple of Uzza

From ancient times, Middle Eastern religions have equated gods with locations rather than peoples. When considering pre-Islamic Arabia, it is important to recognize that the Nabataeans did not so much universally worship a pantheon of gods as much as multiple gods each attached to a specific location. Therefore the gods worshiped in Petra were not necessarily the same gods worshiped in Hijra or Tā’if. For instance, worship of the God Hubal was mostly restricted to Hijra (Healy, 2001, page 37) Likewise al-Kutba is distinctively North Arabian, and al-Uzza of the Ḥijaz. Originally each deity had its own temple and religious practices attached to it. In time however, the worship of some of the Arabian deities spread to nearby areas. The Nabataeans seemed content with their practice of worshiping local gods, and never attempted to actively export the worship of any of their deities to other peoples.Such a view of religion naturally leads to accepting territories and locations as being sacred to specific gods. Thus, the area around a temple, a specific valley or remote desert location, could be considered as sacred. When modern tourists enter the majestic beauty of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan, they marvel at the unique splendor of that remote location. Many tourists are so taken in by the wild desert scenery as it stands in stark contrast to the rugged rocks and mountains, that they miss the Nabataean temple dedicated to the goddess Lat (Allat). When viewing Arabia as a whole, it is possible to deduce that throughout the Arabian peninsula the gods of Arabia each had particular places where they resided. These were sacred precincts, and were places of refuge and security where regular activities ceased and violence was forbidden. Thus, Petra has a temple for Al Uzza, the god of ????.

NorthArabia.jpgPeople of Ad

Gibson spends several chapters associating the people of 'Ad, mentioned many times in the Qur'an with the people of Edom demonstrating many links between these two, demonstrating how the land of 'Oz in the Bible (Edom) is equal to the land of 'Ad in the Qur'an. Gibson then notes that Muhammad only spoke of 'Ad when he was in the Holy City. Later, when speaking in Medina, he spoke of the Thamudic people, but never of 'Ad. This makes sense if the people of 'Ad are the Edomites who originally inhabited Petra. While speaking to his audience, he drew their attention to the early polytheists of that area. Then later, when in Medina, he spoke of the polytheists of Medina (the Thamudic people). All of this indicates that when in the Holy City, he was in Petra.

Marwa Mountain

In the time before Islam two idols or places of worship existed: one on top of Mount Ṣafa and the other on top of Mount Marwah. Today, in Mecca these large rocks have no evidence of idols, neither idol bases nor inscriptions.

"... Ṣafa and Marwah as they used to do in the days of Jahiliyya while two idols were set on top of Ṣafa and Marwah." (Fiqh us-Sunnah 5:86)

’Amr set up an image on al-Ṣafa called Nahlik Mujawid al-Rih and one on al-Marwa called Mut’im al-Tayr. (Isḥāq 56, pg 30)

The trip between the two mountains was so strenuous that some people could not do the seven crossings in one day: The author of Al-Mughni observes: “Aḥmad says there is no harm in delaying the Sa’i after performing ṭawāf until one is rested, or postponing it until evening. ’Aṭa’ and Al-Ḥasan also see no harm in someone making ṭawāf early in the day and postponing the Sa’i between Ṣafa and Marwah until evening. Al-Qāsim and Sa’īd bin Jubair followed this, because the continuity of Sa’i is, as such, not a condition, much less the continuity of ṭawāf and Sa’i. Sa’īd bin Manṣūr reported that Saudah, the wife of ’Urwah bin al-Zubair performed Sa in between Ṣafa and Marwah and because she was a big and heavy woman, she completed it in three days. (Fiqh us-Sunnah 5:88a)

Climbing Ṣafa and Marwah and making supplications for one’s material and spiritual well being and welfare is encouraged. During the supplications one should face the Ka’ba. It is well known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) went through the Ṣafa Gate, and on approaching Ṣafa he recited the Qur'ānic verse 2.158 “Verily, Ṣafa and Marwah are among the symbols of Allāh” and then saying “I begin with what Allāh himself began” he climbed Ṣafa until he could see the Ka’ba from where he stood. He faced the Ka’ba, thrice proclaimed Allāh’s oneness, glorified him, praised him, and then said, “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allāh. He has no partners. To him belongs the kingdom and all praise. He alone grants life and causes death, he has power over all things. There is no God but he. He has fulfilled his promise, given victory to his servant, and he alone defeated the confederates.” Thrice he made similar supplications. Then he walked toward Marwah and climbed it, until he could see the Ka’ba. There he made supplications as he had at Ṣafa. (Fiqh us-Sannah 5:90)

Today there is no evidence of an ancient gate near Sufa, nor walls, nor stairs to climb the mountain in Mecca. There is, however, the bases of ancient idols and high-place altars on both of these mountains in Petra.

boundarystone.jpgMarker Stones

We read in Sīrat Rasūl Allāh by Ibn Isḥāq, (Guillaume, 2006, pg 540) about killings and revenge killings between the Khaza’a and the Hadrami tribes. The sons of a prominent sheik were attacked beside Mount ’Arafa at the boundary stones of the sacred area of the Islamic Holy City. This is a very interesting statement, as it shows to us two things. First, the sacred area was quite large, extending all the way to ’Arafat mountain. In today's Mecca in Saudi Arabia the distance between the Ka’ba and the base of Mount ’Arafat is around 18 kilometers. Second, it speaks of boundary stones that mark the sacred area. In the minds of many readers, this might mean small stones laid out to show the boundary. Small stones however, could be moved, and they would be lost or buried in the sand shifting across desert plains that surround Mecca and Minā. Much larger stones would have been more appropriate, but alas, there are no large boundary stones around Mecca to show travelers where the sacred precinct began and ended. All around the city of Petra, however, there are large stone blocks carved out of the mountain. Each stone is about 20 feet tall. Photos of these stones are shown in the printed book. There are several that tourists pass as they enter Petra via the siq path. All together there are about 25 of these giant square blocks surrounding the greater city area. (Browning, 1994, page 110) Is it possible that these stones mark out the sacred precinct of the Holy City? Why are they missing in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but present in Petra?


Catapult Stones

During the civil war with Ibn Zubayr (64 AH, 683 AD) the Syrian army attacked the Holy City, and during the month of October destroyed the Ka’ba in the center of the city with a trebuchet (or catapult) which hurled large stones into the Ka’ba area. (Cosman, 2008, pg 305) (Ṭabarī XIX: 223-224) In the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia there is no evidence of trebuchet stones ever being used against the city, or even city walls over which a trebuchet would have thrown stones. No evidence of this battle exists in Mecca. There are no city walls, and no remnants of debris left from a destructive battle. In Petra,however, archeologists have uncovered many trebuchet stones which were hurled into the central courtyard in front of the Temple of Dushara. Using the fallen roof tiles from the nearby Great Temple, it is possible to date the fortified area and stones to sometime after the earthquake of 551 AD. The area was covered in rubble from the later earthquake of 713 AD (128 AH). Is it not an amazing coincidence that a tebuchet was used against Petra at exactly the same time as a battle was supposed to be fought against Mecca? Did a later editor simply erase the name of Petra (known as Becca) and replace it Mecca?

PetraSiq.jpgTwo Thaniyas

The Hadiths tell us: Allāh’s Apostle used to enter Mecca from the high thaniya and used to leave Mecca from the low thaniya. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:645) The thaniya is a narrow mountain pass. The Prophet went on advancing till he reached the thaniya (i.e. a mountainous way) through which one would go to them (i.e. people of Quraish). (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 3:891) Ibn ’Umar used to spend the night at Dhū-Tuwa in between the two thaniyas and then he would enter Mecca through the thaniya which is at the higher region of Mecca, and whenever he came to Mecca for ḥajj or ’umra, he never made his she-camel kneel down except near the gate of the Masjid (Sacred Mosque) and then he would enter (it) and go to the Black (stone) Corner and start from there circumambulating the Ka’ba seven times: hastening in the first three rounds (Ramal) and walking in the last four. On finishing, he would offer two Rakat prayer and set out to perform ṭawāf between Ṣafa and Marwa before returning to his dwelling place. On returning (to Medina) from ḥajj or ’umra, he used to make his camel kneel down at Al-Batha which is at Dhū-al-Ḥulīfa, the place where the Prophet used to make his camel kneel down. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al- Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:820)

There are four ways into the Petra basin. Since Petra is in a valley, one could enter from either end of the valley and enter the city throug a gate in the city wall. One end is considerably higher than the other, hence the higher and lower side of Petra. However, there are two thaniya entrances that could also be used. One of these is the famous siq that tourists pass through to enter the city. The other is on the far side of the colonnaded street and leads into the maze of canyons that eventually empty out into Wadi Araba.


In the ḥadīths it is recorded that games of chance and the use of azlams were common in the original Holy City. Azlams refer to any method of obtaining a result by chance. In some instances they were arrows, sometimes they were dice, or they could simply be sticks thrown down as used by Bedouin today. In the account where Muḥammad removed the idols from the Holy Sanctuary, Bukhārī records the following:

When Allāh’s Apostle came to Mecca, he refused to enter the Ka’ba with idols in it. He ordered (idols to be taken out). So they were taken out. The people took out the pictures of Abraham and Ishmael holding azlams in their hands. Allāh’s Apostle said, “May Allāh curse these people. By Allāh, both Abraham and Ishmael never did the game of chance with azlams.” Then he entered the Ka’ba and said Takbir at its corners but did not offer the prayer in it. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2.671

Gibson claims there are no records of games of chance recorded as being used in or around the modern city of Mecca. However, in Petra there are many ancient game boards carved in the rocks all around the city. At the Second Conference on Nabataean Studies held in Petra, Jordan, October 2002, Dr. Bilāl Khrīsat and Ṭalāl ’Akasheh presented a paper called Gaming Boards from the Nabataean Capital City of Petra: Documentation and Study.

Regarding azlams, these were often “arrows that the Arabs used, and dice that the Persians and Romans used in gambling.” (The Meaning and Explanation of the Glorious Qur'ān, Volume 2, Muḥammad Saed ’Abdul-Raḥmān, MSA Publication Ltd., 2007 page 362) (Also see Sūra 5:90-92)

Expedition2.jpgBack way into Petra

The descriptions of the Mecca district are puzzling. (Al Ṭabarī VIII, 1531, page 71) When approaching Minā: he met Ikrimah in a canyon and routed him so that he drove Ikrimah back into the walled gardens of Mecca…. There are numerous references to the Holy City being surrounded by canyons and rough terrain. This is not true of the Mecca region today, which can be approached from various different angles.

Page 72: The prophet then asks: Who is a man who will lead us forth on a way other than the one on which they are?” According to Ibn Ḥumayd – Salamah- Ibn Isḥāq-’Abdallāh ibn Abū Bakr: A man from Aslam said “I will, Messenger of God.” He took them on a rough and rugged path among canyons. When they emerged from it, it was exhausting for the Muslims – they reached level ground at the end of the valley, the Messenger of God said to the people:…”

It is interesting to note that Muḥammad who was born and raised in the Holy City, and who roamed the mountains in his youth needed a guide. Historians have not been able to trace this route into Mecca as the description of mazes of canyons does not fit any landscape around Mecca.

Page 73: Turn right amid the salt-bushes on a path that will bring [the army] out over al-Murar Pass to the descent of al-Hudaybiyah below Mecca. The Murar Pass with a descent of al-Hudaybiyah has never been identified and historians are unsure what is meant by “below Mecca.” The Messenger of God set out, but when he entered al-Murar Pass, his camel kneeled down…. The Thaniyyat al-Murar (Bitter Bush Pass) has also never been identified in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, although Yāqūt (Mu’jam al-buldan, VIII, 3) mentions it he cannot identify it.

If the Holy City of Islam was actually Petra, is it possible to find the Thaniyyat al-Murar, or Bitter Bush Pass where an army could approach the city from the south?

In 2002, researcher Dan Gibson and a group of adventurous enthusiasts traveled this route into Petra. The undertaking was difficult, but it proved that it was possible to travel through the maze of canyons into the very south end of the city. This route takes you through several mountain passes and through a maze of canyons filled with bitter Salt Bushes and comes out into the south of Petra. Today it is unused except by the local Bedouin.


The word “bacca” is an ancient Semitic word that means to weep or lament. If a location was assigned the title “Bacca” it would mean the place of bacca. This term is used of the Holy City in several places (Ibn Ishaq 73 and Sura 3:96) Some people have confused this with the term "baraka" which means blessing, and might refer to Jerusalem. "Becca" however was never used of Jerusalem, nor of anywhere near it. It appears in the Bible (Pslam 84) in reference to a "valley of weeping" and is associated with pilgirmage. Gibson takes a full chapter in Qur'anic Geography to demonstrate that Petra was the object of Arab pilgrimage for hundreds of years before Islam. There are now a number of Bacca valleys in the Middle East today remembering some tragedy that existed there. The Petra Valley could also bear this title, as there were a number of tragic events that took place at Petra including the following major earthquakes:

There is archeological evidence that these earthquakes caused a great deal of damage. The greatest damage was probably inflicted in 713 AD when not only was Petra affected, but the entire Mediterranean seacoast. Even the mosque in Jericho was destroyed, so much so that it was never rebuilt. (Nur& Burgess, 2008) It may have been that in 713 AD, Petra was finally abandoned since no records of Petra exist after this date.

During the rebuilding of the Ka'ba (Ibn Ishaq 122-124) the people went out and dug up building blocks from the rubble. Several of these stones had inscriptions on them which are clearly described as being written in Syriac, the language of the Nabataeans in Petra.

Lower City

When the Prophet came to Mecca he entered from its higher side and left from its lower side. (Ṣaḥīv Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:647) There are many mentions of this between 2:645 and 2:657.

During the year of the conquest (of Mecca), the Prophet entered Mecca through its upper part through Kada. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 5:586) That she said, “O Allāh’s Apostle! Your companions are returning with the reward of both ḥajj and ’umra, while I am returning with (the reward of ) ḥajj only.” He said to her, “Go, and let ’Abdur-Raḥmān (i.e. your brother) make you sit behind him (on the animal).” So, he ordered ’Abdur-Raḥmān to let her perform ’umra from Al-Tan’im. Then the Prophet waited for her at the higher region of Mecca till she returned. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:227)

Allāh’s apostle came to Mecca through its higher region on the day of the conquest (of Mecca) riding his she-camel on which Usāma was riding behind him. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:231)

Mecca does not have a high side and a low side. The terms higher and lower part of the Holy City could easily be applied to Petra, which was split apart by a water course and a colonnaded road in the middle. The higher part of the city was to the north and the lower part of the city to the south.

Rainwater Passage

The ḥadīths tell us: When the Prophet performed the ṭawāf of the Ka’ba, he did ramal during the first three rounds and in the last four rounds he used to walk, and while doing ṭawāf between Ṣafa and Marwa, he used to run in the midst of the rain water passage. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:685) This is a very unique feature found only in Petra. Usually streams run down valleys between mountains, but Bukhari tells us that a stream ran from Safa mountain to Marwa mountain! How unusual for a stream to run across a valley from one mountain to another! There is nothing like this in Mecca, but it fits Petra perfectly where water enters from the right thanyia and flows out the left into Wadi Araba. It is joined by rainwater comming from the high side of the city as well.

dush2.jpgTemple of Dushares

This temple is located in Petra. Ibn Isḥāq records the story of Al-Ṭufayl bin ’Amr of Mecca accepting Islam. (Guillaume, 2006, 176) When he returned home to the Holy City (Mecca) his wife also decided to accept Islam. Al-Ṭufayl then tells his wife to go to the hima (temonos) of Dhū-al-Shara (the Nabataean god Dushara) and cleanse herself from it. Now Dhū al-Shara was an image belonging to Daus and the hima was the area which they had made sacred to him; in it was a trickle of water from a rivulet from the mountains. She asked, “Have you any fear from Dhū-al-Shara on my account” He replied “no” so she went and washed and returned and learned about Islam. (Quote fromIbn Isḥāq)

What is interesting about this passage is that, as far is known, the god Dushara was only worshiped by the Edomites and Nabataeans. The main center of Dushara worship was none other than Petra. The god Dushara was the god of the Edomite mountains. So when Al-Ṭufayl bin ’Amr who lived in the Holy City (Mecca) tells his wife to go to the sacred area of Dushara, it would have meant that he sent her on a thousand kilometer trip. But if Petra was the Holy City, then she would have only gone down to the temple of Dushara in the centre of the city beside the Ka'ba.


Many non-Muslims are confused about the matter of the Ka’ba, as they consider the black ornate cloth-covered building to be the stone itself, when the stone is actually quite small, around 12 inches in diameter. (al-Butanuni, page 12) The stone is housed in a silver container so that pilgrims can touch only one end of it.

Some have claimed that there were other Ka’bas in Arabia. At present Gibson is unaware of the existence of any other Ka’ba which housed multiple idols. As far as he knows, the Ka’ba in the Islamic Holy City with its multiple gods was a unique structure in Arabia.

Consider how the Ka’ba might have come into existence. Is it natural to place sacred objects of multiple religions together in one building? Imagine the uproar if someone wanted to place an idol in a church or mosque today! How about three hundred idols? But this is what we find in the original Ka’ba. There were pictures from the church, along with idols of every kind. How could this have happened?

Gibson suggests that this was the outcome of people struggling with the devastation after an earthquake. As people recovered their personal possessions from the rubble and buried the dead, they would also have removed any holy relics they found. These could have been collected in the open plaza in the center of the city where they would be safe from falling objects in any further aftershocks. It would be a natural thing to place the idols and pictures around the outer walls of an open area where people could still gather for worship, each area being used by different people. Gibson believes that this may have been the origin of the first Ka’ba. After some weeks people might have begun to walk around the courtyard pausing to pray in front of different holy objects. Eventually this would have become known as circumambulation, and this is still practiced by pilgrims today, except all of the idols with the exception of the Black Stone have been removed.


Every Muslim accepts it as fact that the Well of ZamZam is located beside the Ka’ba, and that this well is located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. During Gibson's research he was struck with the name z-m-z-m. He searched through his electronic database of ancient manuscripts and writings and was surprised to have only one result. It was from the Bible. (Deuteronomy 2:20) The Zamzummims were renowned in ancient times and lived in the land of Seir, Edom and Ammon. The Edomites (’Ud) “overthrew them, and dwelt in their stead.” It would seem reasonable that if one was looking for the well of Zamzam they would need to look in the land of Seir or Edom in the mountains near Petra.

Muslim tradition holds that the well of Zamzam was opened by the angel Gabriel to save Hagar and her son Ishmael from dying of thirst when they were out in the desert. It was later filled in, but Muhammad's father dug it again. It is described as being a depression between the two idols of the Quraysh, Isāf and Nā'ila, at the slaughter-place.

Sunan Abū Daoud 2507 records how the Arabs swept out Zamzam and removed the snakes, which makes it sound more like a cistern than a well. Interestingly enough, Petra is known as a city of cisterns.


According to Islamic teaching, the foundation stones of the Ka’ba were said to have been laid by Abraham and Ishmael. (al-Baqarah 2:127) However, non-Islamic history has no record of either Abraham or Ishmael ever having journeyed into Arabia.

Guillaume points out the difficulties with Abraham and Ishmael, “... there is no historical evidence for the assertion that Abraham or Ishmael was ever in Mecca, and if there had been such a tradition it would have to be explained how all memory of the Old Semitic name Ishmael (which was not in its true Arabian form in Arabian inscriptions and written correctly with an initial consonant Y) came to be lost. The form in the Qur'ān is taken either from Greek or Syriac sources.” (Alfred Guillaume, Islam, Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, 1956, pages 61-62) The proposal of Petra as the original Holy City of Islam changes the claims about Abraham. The Bible clearly places Abraham and Ishmael on the mountains above the Dead Sea. Traditionally Sodom and Gomorrah were situated at the south end of the Dead Sea. If Abraham grazed his sheep on the mountains, he could easily have been on both the east and west banks of Wadi ’Araba. After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire, Lot and his daughters fled to Zoar on the east bank. Today there is a monastery in Zoar to commemorate the spot and cave where Lot fled to. When considering the claim that Abraham and Lot laid the foundation stones of the original house in the Holy City, Petra seems a much better fit than Mecca in Arabia. (There is much more about this topic in Qur'anic Geography.)

Sodom and Ghomarah

The Qur’an speaks of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah: Lot was one of our Messengers. Behold, we delivered him and his whole family except an old woman who was among those who remained behind, and we destroyed the others. Surely you pass by their ruins by day and by night. Sura 37: 133-138 (F. Malik translation) Sura 37 is a Meccan Sura, so it was in the Holy City that Muhammad revealed to his followers that they pass by the ruins of the people that God destroyed during the time of Lot. This reference to Sodom and Gomorrah would make us assume that the Holy City of Islam is close to these locations. The traditional locations of Sodom and Gomorrah are the south end of the Dead Sea. This is only 60 kilometers (roughly 40 miles) to the north of Petra, and on a much lower elevation, below the mountains of Petra. Once again the early Islamic records seem to point to Petra rather than Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Photo of the Ka'ba from the airṢafa

Muhammad ..."then went to as-Ṣafa and climbed it so that he could look down at the house. Then he raised his hands began to make mention of Allāh as much as he wished and make supplication. The narrator said: The Anṣār were beneath him. The narrator Hashim said: He prayed and praised Allāh and asked him for what he wished to ask. (Sunan of Abū Dawood 750)

Bukhari describes Hagar at the well of Zamzam. Note how Zamzam and the Ka'aba are closer to one mountain than the other. She (Hagar) ... found that the mountain of Ṣafa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Ṣafa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Ṣafa and Marwa) seven times. (Ṣaḥīḥ al- Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:583,4)

Now compare this with the photo above. The Ka'ba stands exactly between the two mountains. (These mountains are so small that they are included INSIDE the mosque! They are at the ends of the long walkway on the right side of the photo, where pilgrims can walk inside between the two rocks that are known today as Ṣafa and Marwa. How could Muhammad look DOWN onto the Ka'ba from the top of Ṣafa? How is Ṣa'fa closer to the Ka'ba and Marwa across the valley. The ancient description are clearly speaking of another location! It is not Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This description, however, fits Petra perfectly!

The Hadith, Fiqh us-Sannah 5:90 mentions a gate near Ṣafa. It is well known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) went through the Ṣafa Gate, and on approaching Ṣafa he recited the Qur'ānic verse 2.158. In Mecca today there is no indication that there ever was a gate at Ṣafa. However, there was an ancient arched gate near the Ṣafa moutain in Petra at the end of the colonnade street.


Photos of Nabataean ZodiacThe Arabs of Arabia were a nomadic merchant people. One of the problems they faced was having a stationary place to bury their dead. As they slowly migrated north they developed a burial location in the place we know today as Petra. Dead bodies would be exposed to the elements until only bones were left. These bones were then collected and transported to family tombs in Petra. Beside the tombs were large dinning halls were the extended families would gather twice a year to eat a memorial meal. This twice yearly event is born out by a 2nd century AD Nabataean zodiac which portrays Allat, the female goddess of fertility among other Nabataean deities. The Nabataean zodiac is extraordinary in that contains two opposite and completely separate halves. Some archeologists believe that this denotes the existence of two New Year celebrations, one in the spring and the other in the fall, and this might help explain why there were two great festivals at Petra each year.

Doctor Avraham Negev of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey suggests that much of the Arab graffiti found throughout the Negev and southern Jordan was written by people on pilgrimage to Petra. In his detailed study he notes the variety of names that occur in Thamudic, Safaitic, and other early Arabian dialects. (Negev, 1991)

Al Ṭabarī, notes in volume VI (page 12) that during the days before Islam, there were two pilgrimages to the Holy City. The lesser was known as ’umrah. He notes that ’Abd al-Muttalib (Muḥammad’s grandfather) performed ’umrah on one occasion. This was at a time when the forbidden sanctuary held many pagan idols, among them Hubal (Ṭabarī VI, 1075 page 3) and Isaf and Na’ilah (pg 4). The Qur'ān tells us that these pre-Islamic pagan pilgrimages were known respectively as ḥajj (Qur'ān 2:158, 196) and ’umrah, commonly called the greater and lesser pilgrimage. While Christians and Jews looked towards Jerusalem, for many centuries the Arabian pilgrimage was always to the religious center of Arabia, the forbidden sanctuary, the holy burial city of Petra. It was in this city that the Nabataean dead were buried, and it was in this city that the living gathered to eat a ritual meal with their extended family in the presence of the long departed ancestors. This custom was part of the cultural and ethnic make-up of the Nabataeans, (from whom Muhammad descended) and was the glue that held them, a nomadic merchant people, together as a society. Photo: Nabataean zodiac