The information on this page contains a short overview of the evidence presented in Gibson's book Qur'anic Geography. If you would like to view all of the evidence Gibson presents, then please purchase the book. To view the various evidences, click the links below.

  1. Problems with Mecca

  2. The Qibla Question

  3. The Changing of the Qibla: Interactive Timeline

  4. Petra Map: Indicators that Petra was the Holy City

  5. The First Qibla: Jerusalem or Petra?

  6. A Timeline of the Becca/Petra Valley


Gibson's book: Qur'anic Geography examines many geographical issues in the Qur'ān. In the final section of his book he comes to the city of Mecca which is mentioned once in Sūra 48. Qur'ānic commentators have traditionally linked the location of Bekka (or “the place of the one who weeps much”) in Sūra 3:96 with Mecca as well. (Pickthal 3:96, note) Added to this, there are numerous references in the Qur'ān to the sacred place,
the Ka’ba, and the house; terms which are universally associated with Mecca today. Nevertheless, the Qur'ān itself does not tell us in so many words that the Ka’ba was located in Mecca. So in this section we will see to what extent historical documents support this commonly held view.

And he it is who hath withheld men’s hands from you, and hath withheld your hands from them, in the valley of Mecca, after he had made you victors over them. Allāh is Seer of what ye do. Sūra 48:24 (Pickthall)

Behold, the first temple (house) ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Bakkah: rich in blessing, and a [source of] guidance unto all the worlds. Qur'ān 3:96 (Asad)

Muslim scholars have seen no reason to doubt what is commonly believed about Mecca’s location, but in recent years, some historians have raised questions. For example, Dr. Patricia Crone in Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam noted that the descriptions of Mecca in Islamic literature don’t seem to match the present day location of Mecca. Dr. Crone first authored a book with Michael Cook called Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, in which they proposed a theory that “Islam, as represented by contemporary, Non-Muslim sources, was in essence a tribal rebellion against the Byzantine and Persian empires with deep roots in Judaism, and that Arabs and Jews were allies in these conquering communities.” (Sean Gannon 2008-12-04, “The gospel truth?” The Jerusalem Post) This theory received much attention and eventually strong opposition, so much so that Crone’s later arguments about Mecca were obscured and eventually lost to the wider Muslim audience. Gibson discovered that when discussing early Islamic history with Muslim scholars that as soon as one mentioned Dr. Crone, the conversation immediately focuses on the “Hagarism” theory, often with bitter comments and angry reactions, and it became impossible for them to address the thoughts presented in her later works.

In chapter sixteen of his book, Gibson raises some of the same objections that Dr. Crone proposes, but he tries to make it clear that he does not hold to the Hagarism theory that she and Cook presented earlier.

So on this webpage we will examine several problems which exist with the location of the city of Mecca, and will explore the possibility that Mecca was originally located elsewhere and later moved to its present location.

Early descriptions of the Holy City

Gibson first became aware that this was an issue when talking to devout Muslims who had returned from their first ḥaj (pilgrimage). Some voiced their surprise at the smallness of Mecca’s mountains, the distance they were from the city, and expressed a vague dissatisfaction with Mecca in general. Somehow they were disappointed that it wasn’t what they had imagined from the picture that formed in their minds when reading the Qur'ān and the ḥadīths. This caused Him to wonder if they had wrong expectations because they had misinterpreted the passages, or if the passages themselves said something that did not match the location. In the following section we will look at some of the concepts people have gained from reading early Islamic literature, and note how the present location of Mecca doesn’t seem to match these descriptions.

1. Described as the “mother of all cities”

This is a term which brings to mind either a large and impressive city or a city of great antiquity.

And this is a book which we have revealed bringing blessings and confirming (the revelations) which came before it: that thou mayest warn the Mother of Cities (Mecca) and all around her. Those who believe in the hereafter believe in this (book) and they are constant in guarding their prayers. Sūra 6:92 (Yūsuf Alī)

The term mother of all cities (Umm al-Qura) is still used for Mecca. (Serageldin, I. Shluger, E. and Martin-Brown, J., 2001, pg 8) and Muslim scholars try to point out that it is worthy of this description. Additionally, some modern scientists say that the city of Makkah is the center of earth in terms of gravity.

Makkah also falls at the ratio of phi (the mathematical golden ratio) between the north and south poles. The above are scientific theories that are not mentioned in the Islamic scripts. However, what is mentioned is that Makkah is the mother of all cities. ( 2FAskAboutIslamE)

In 2002 Gibson had the opportunity to visit the Second Conference on Nabataean Studies held in Petra, Jordan, and organized by the Al Hussein Bin Talal University. During the conference he had occasion to speak with several leading Jordanian and Saudi archeologists. He asked them specifically about the archeological record in and around Mecca. While not wishing to be quoted or named publicly, they admitted that the archeological record at Mecca was basically non-existent before 900 AD. Gibson had expected them to defend the opinion that ancient Mecca was a walled city with houses, gardens, public buildings and temples. They shook their heads and said, “There was nothing like that there.”

2. Described as the “center of the trade route”

There are numerous occasions where caravans are mentioned as coming and going from the Holy City, and indeed Muḥammad’s uncle Abū Ṭālib was a merchant who regularly sent caravans on trading missions. (Isḥāq, page 79) Later, Muḥammad married Khadīja who also managed caravans of camels. (Isḥāq 119, page 82) Still later when living in Medina, Muḥammad would raid Meccan caravans, some which consisted of as many as three thousand men. (Al Ṭabarī, VII, page 110) While Muslims are adamant that Mecca was the center of the trade route, modern historians give us a different picture. Dr. Patricia Crone tells us:
“Mecca was a barren place, and barren places do not make natural halts, and least of all when they are found at a short distance from famously green environments. Why should caravans have made a steep descent to the barren lands of Mecca when they could have stopped at Tā’if? Mecca did, of course, have both a well and a sanctuary, but so did Tā’if, which had food supplies, too”. (Crone, 1987 page 6-7; Crone-Cook, 1977, page 22)

Furthermore, Dr. Crone asks, “What commodity was available in Arabia that could be transported such a distance, through such an inhospitable environment, and still be sold at a profit large enough to support the growth of a city in a peripheral site bereft of natural resources?” (Crone, 1987, page 7) Muslims and some western scholars have imagined that the caravans carried incense, spices, and other exotic goods, but according to research by Kister and Sprenger, the age of frankincense was over and the Arabs now engaged in a trade of leather and clothing; hardly items which could have founded a commercial empire of international dimensions. (Kister 1965, page 116; Sprenger, 1869, page 94) In seminars on pre-Islamic Arabia, Gibson has often traced the various trade routes on a map of Arabia. Then he asks the audience to indicate where all the
trade routes intersect. This would naturally seem to be the “center of the trade route.” Inevitably, everyone responds that they intersect in northern Arabia, not at Mecca which was not even a stopping place on the caravan routes.

3. Mecca missing on early maps

One would expect that a major merchant city in Arabia would be mentioned on early maps. Such maps never claimed to show every village and settlement, but certainly sought to place significant and famous cities. Surprising as it may seem, not one map before 900 AD even mentions Mecca. This is 300 years after Muḥammad’s death.

Over the years Gibson has gathered copies of many ancient maps of Arabia and has diligently had them translated and transcribed, but never once did he find Mecca mentioned on an early map. An often quoted example of this is Ptolomy’s map of Arabia. Some of the locations are transcribed on a map in Qur'anic Geography. Mecca is never shown, and indeed the mention of Mecca does not appear in any literature prior to 740 AD (approximately 122 years after the Hijra) when it first appears in the Continuatio Byzantia Arabica. (See page 267 and Appendix A, and page 396 in QUr'anic Geography)

4. The Meccan valley

The Qur'ān and the ḥadīths clearly speak of Mecca being in a valley, and as having another valley next to the Ka’ba (possibly a stream bed).

While they were in this state Abū-Jandal bin Suhail bin ’Amr came from the valley of Mecca staggering with his fetters and fell down amongst the Muslims. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 3:891)

And he it is who hath withheld men’s hands from you, and hath withheld your hands from them, in the valley of Mecca, after He had made you victors over them. Allāh is Seer of what ye do. (Sūra 48:24, Pickthall)

Al Bukhārī 4.583 tells us that when Abraham cast out Hagar, he took her to a valley beside the Ka’ba. Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka’ba under a tree on the spot of Zam-zam, at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water. So he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward. Ishmael’s mother followed him saying, “O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?” She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him, “Has Allāh ordered you to do so?” He said, “Yes.” She said, “Then he will not neglect us,” and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards, and on reaching the Thaniya (a crack in the rock) where they could not see him, he faced the Ka’ba, and raising both hands, invoked Allāh saying the following prayers. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:583)

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 important verse is helping us to disqualify Mecca and accept Petra as a valid solution. Al Bukhārī tells us that rain used to run in a passage between these two mountains, and that Muhammad whould walk between the two mountains in a rain water passage. If yo think about this for a moment, this is a very unique description. Usually water runs between two mountains but never from one mountain to another. In essence the Holy City was in a valley which contained a water passage that ran from one mountain to the other. In other words, it was located in a large valley, and beside the Ka’ba was a small valley with a stream in it. This is quite different from modern day Mecca. We will visit this later, and discover that this is an exact description of a very unique feature of the city of Petra.

5. Mecca’s mountains don’t seem quite right

Later the Holy City is described as surrounded by mountains where people could look down into the city to see the Yemeni elephant attacking the Ka’ba. (Ibn Isḥāq 939, page 25) In other words, the mountains were close enough to Mecca and the Ka’ba that the people of Mecca could watch from the mountaintops and see details of what whas happening. In Mecca today the nearest small outcropping of rocks is half a kilometer away from the Ka’ba with a gradual slope to the top. There are no recorded fortifications on this mountain. The rest of the mountains are three or more kilometers away. Would an elephant even be visible at a distance of 3 km? How much could you actually see? Mecca is situated at an elevation of 277 meters above sea level in the wide dry river beds of the Wadi Ibrāhīm and several of its short tributaries. It is surrounded by low mountains.

While the mountains around Mecca are impressive, the photos and drawings in Gibson's book demonstrate how far away the mountains are from the city centre. The main wadi (valley) lies some 10 - 15 km awaym meaning that Mecca is not in the actual wadi. Throughout the year this wadi is dry and only flows during seasonal rains in the mountains. In ancient times there was no natural flow of water through the village
of Mecca.

Entrance to the area is gained through five wide passes in the surrounding mountains. These passes lead from the northeast to Jebal Minā & Jebal ’Arafat; from the northwest to a coastal road to Medina; from the west to Jeddah on the coast; and from the south to Yemen. The gaps have also defined the direction of the contemporary expansion of the city.

Many pilgrims have been disappointed with the two mountains called Ṣafa and Marwah. They are so small that today they are totally enclosed inside of the mosque building complex.

Note the Ka’ba in the center of the mosque complex. To the right is a long straight walkway that leads to Jebal Ṣafa on one side and Jebal Marwah on the other (top to bottom of the photo below.) The two mountains are so small that they are totally enclosed inside the building, allowing pilgrims to walk between them. Now note these verses that describe the mountains of Ṣafa and Marwah that supposedly has a rainwater passage between them:

The Apostle of Allāh (peace be upon him) came and entered Mecca, and after the Apostle of Allāh (peace be upon him) had gone forward to the stone, and touched it, he went round the house (the Ka’ba). He 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)

Ar-Rabi’ ibn Saburah said on the authority of his father (Saburah): We went out along with the Apostle of Allāh (peace be upon him) till we reached Usfan, Suraqah ibn Mālik al-Mudlaji said to him: Apostle of Allāh, explain to us like the people as if they were born today. He said: Allāh, the exalted, has included this umrah in your ḥajj. When you come (to Mecca), and he who goes round the house (the Ka’bah), and runs between as-Ṣafa and al-Marwah, is allowed to take off Iḥrām except he who has brought the sacrificial animals with him. (Sunan of Abū Dawood 727)

And when he (Muḥammad) reached Mecca on the 4th of Dhū-al-Ḥijja he performed the ṭawāf round the Ka’ba and performed ṭawaf between Ṣafa and Marwa. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:617)

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) (See page 285)

The ritual of passing between the two mountains is supposedly based on Hagar, the wife of Abraham looking for water for baby Ishmael. Note how Ṣafa and Marwa seem to be mountains on either side of a large valley, not two little hillocks within a shallow valley.

When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she (Hagar) became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Ishmael) tossing in agony. She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and 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)

This is repeated in the Fiqh us-Sunnah, but here it is added that Hagar struggled to cross the valley between the two mountains: Hagar sat under the tree with her baby next to her. She drank from her water container hanging nearby, and nursed her baby, until all the water she had was gone, her milk dried out. Her son grew hungrier and hungrier. She could hardly bear to look at him. She went and stood at Ṣafa - the mountain nearest to her. She looked down the valley to see if there was someone around to help. She could see no one. So, she climbed down Ṣafa and reached the valley. She struggled hard, crossed the valley and reached Marwah. She stood on Marwah, and looked around. Still she could see no one around. She repeated this seven times. Ibn ’Abbās added, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ’It is (to commemorate this walk) that pilgrims walk between Ṣafa and Marwah.’” (Fiqh us-Sunnah 5:85)

Ṣafa Mountain was also high enough to be a lookout position for defense of Mecca as noted in the following ḥadīth: When the verse: “And warn your tribe of near kindred.” (26.214) was revealed, Allāh’s Apostle went out, and when he had ascended al-Ṣafa mountain, he shouted, “O Sabahah!” The people said, “Who is that?” “Then they gathered around him, whereupon he said, “Do you see? If I inform you that cavalrymen are proceeding up the side of this mountain, will you believe me?” They said, “We have never heard you telling a lie.” Then he said, “I am a plain warner to you of a coming severe punishment.” Abū Lahab said, “May you perish! You gathered us only for this reason?” Then Abū Lahab went away. So the Sūrat: “Perish the hands of Abū Lahab!” was revealed. (Ṣaḥīḥ al Bukhārī Ḥadīth 6:495)

Note that in the times before Islam two idols or places of worship existed: one on top of Mount Ṣafa and the other on top of Mount Marwah. Today there is no evidence of these 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 at Sufa, nor walls, nor stairs to climb the mountain.

6. Mecca is described as having a high and low side, and a road from either side.

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) A thaniya is a narrow mountain pass. eg: 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)

When the Prophet came to Mecca he entered from its higher side and left from its lower side. (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 2:647) This is mentioned many more times 2:645 and 2:657.

We (’Ā’isha speaking) set out with the Prophet with the intention of performing ḥajj only. The Prophet reached Mecca and performed ṭawāf of the Ka’ba and between Ṣafa and Marwah and did not finish the Iḥrām, because he had the Hādi with him. His companions and his wives performed ṭawāf (of the Ka’ba
and between Ṣafa and Marwah), and those who had no Hādi with them finished their Iḥrām. I got the menses and performed all the ceremonies of ḥajj. So, when the Night of Ḥasba (night of departure) came, I said, “O Allāh’s Apostle! All your companions are returning with ḥajj and ’umra except me.” He asked me, “Didn’t you perform ṭawāf of the Ka’ba (’umra) when you reached Mecca?” I said, “No.” He said, “Go to Tan’im with your brother ’Abd Raḥmān, and assume Iḥrām for ’umra and I will wait for you at such and such a place.” So I went with ’Abdur Raḥmān to Tan’im and assumed Iḥrām for ’umra. Then Ṣafiya bint Huyay got menses. The Prophet said, “ ’Aqra Ḥalqa! You will detain us! Didn’t you perform ṭawāf-al-ifāda on the Day of Nahr (slaughtering)?” She said, “Yes, I did.” He said, “Then there is no harm, depart.” So 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)

Ibn ’Umar used to spend the night at Dhi-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)

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)

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, pg 102) It is interesting to note that Mount Ḥira was located in the “upper part of Mecca.” However, today Mount Ḥira is a considerable distance from the Ka’ba. (see page 226 in Qur'anic Geography)

Today Mecca is located in a large open area, with low rocky mountains rising from the sand. Thus it is my belief that the early descriptions of Mecca and its mountains do not fit the Mecca of today.

7. Grass grew in the original Holy City valley

(Muḥammad) … would go forth for his affairs and journey far afield until he reached the glens of Mecca and the beds of its valleys where no house was in site. (Isḥāq 151, pg 105)

One night the Prophet was unable to sleep and said, “Would that a righteous man from my companions guarded me tonight.” Suddenly we heard the clatter of arms, whereupon the Prophet said, “Who is it?” It was said, “I am Sa’d, O Allāh’s Apostle! I have come to guard you.” The Prophet then slept so soundly that we heard him snoring. Abū ’Abdullāh said: ’Ā’isha said: Bilal said, “Would that I but stayed overnight in a valley with Idhkhir and Jalil (two kinds of grass) around me (i.e., in Mecca).” Then I told that to the Prophet.(Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 9:337)

It is hard to believe that this was written about the Mecca we know today, as the area around Mecca is completely desert sand where no grass grows naturally, nor is there any evidence that the area was ever irrigated and able to support grass and fields in the past.

8. The original Holy City had clay and loam

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 bint Wahb ibn ’Abd Manaf ibn Zuhrah. He had been working in the soil and traces of soil were still on him when he invited her to lie with him. She made him wait because of this. He went out, performed his ablutions, washed off the clay which was on him and went to Aminah’s quarters instead. And so Muḥammad was conceived. R. B. Serjeant in his comments on Alfred Guillaume’s translation of the same story in the Sirah (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, xxi, 1958, pages1-14) is puzzled by this discrepancy as the Arabic word used here specifically means a cultivated plot or field, and refers to clay and loam. He then notes that there was no cultivable land near Mecca. (See Isḥāq, page 69) Once again, the ancient description doesn’t match what archeologists have found.

9. The original Holy City had trees

Once when I was with the Prophet in Mecca and we went out into one of its districts in the neighbourhood, not a mountain or tree which confronted him failed to say, “Peace be upon you, Messenger of Allāh.” Tirmidhi and Darimi transmitted it. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Tirmidhi Ḥadīth 1535)

This is an interesting reference to both ’districts of Mecca’ and ’trees.’ The ancient village of Mecca left a very small archeological footprint and didn’t have much for districts, let alone trees. This is reinforced by Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, 72 (Guillaume, 2006, pg 46) When they came to Mecca they saw a town blessed with water and trees and delighted with it, they settled there. Ibn Isḥāq mentions trees again a little later when he tells us that the people of Mecca were reluctant to cut down trees in the sacred area. (Guillaume, 2006, pg 53) The presence of trees and plants in ancient times can be easily tested by the presence of spores and pollens in undisturbed ancient soil. To date there is no record of trees having ever existed in ancient Mecca.

10. The original Holy City had grapes growing in it

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 trees and fruit growing in and around it. Once again, it is hard to imagine this happening where Mecca is located today.

11. The Holy City produced large armies

Apparently Mecca had no trouble in raising large numbers of men to work large caravans and march in their armies. The following chart is information gleaned from Al Ṭabarī’s History.

Source .........Year AH .....Event....... Size of Meccan Army
Al Ṭabarī VII, pg 13 Year 1 Expedition to Al Abwa 300 Meccan horsemen
Al Ṭabarī VII, pg 15-16 Year 2 Raid on Meccan caravan 100 Meccan men, 2,500 camels in the caravan.
Al Ṭabarī VII, pg 33 Year 2 Battle of Badr 1000 Meccan soldiers
Al Ṭabarī VII, pg 90 Year 2 Expedition of al-Sawiq 200 Meccan soldiers
Al Ṭabarī VII, pg 98 Year 3 Expedition to al-Qaradah, 20,000 dirham captured from Meccan caravan.
Al Ṭabarī, VII, pg 110 Year 3 Expedition to Uḥud 3000 Meccan soldiers, 200 cavalry
Al Ṭabarī VIII, pg 13 Year 5 Battle of the Trench, associated tribes, 10,000 Quraysh soldiers

When one considers the number of soldiers and camels that the Meccans could raise despite their losses in battles year after year, one would expect the Holy City to be a large city. However, archeological evidence points to Mecca being a small place in a harsh environment. How then could it have produced such armies?

12. There is scarce rainfall in Mecca

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.

13. Questions concerning Abraham & Ishmael

The Jews have always been great keepers and guardians of their ancient documents. Their records clearly trace in detail the travels of Abraham who is considered the father of the Jewish people . There is no evidence that this history was ever contested before Islam came on the scene, so there is no reason to suppose that the record had been intentionally falsified. Why then do the biblical records not include Abraham’s trips into Arabia that are referenced by Islamic scholars? Admittedly, there are periods of Abraham’s life for which the
biblical documents give no detail, but if there were important journeys undertaken it would be surprising if they were not mentioned. The Bible recognizes no polemic against Ishmael in ancient times. Of course, it may be argued that no evidence is needed. If God has revealed that Abraham went to Mecca, then he did so, no questions asked. That still leaves us with the question as to why it is stated in the Qur'ān as though it was a known fact.

And when we made the house (at Mecca) a resort for mankind and a sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham stood (to pray). And we imposed a duty upon Abraham and Ishmael, (saying): Purify my house for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves (in worship). And when Abraham prayed: My Lord! Make this a region of security and bestow upon its people fruits, such of them as believe in Allāh and the Last Day, he answered: As for him who disbelieveth, I shall leave him in contentment for a while, then I shall compel him to the doom of fire--a hapless journey’s end! And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the house, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only thou, art the hearer, the knower. (Sūra 2:125-127 Pickthall)

Allāh speaketh truth. So follow the religion of Abraham, the upright. He was not of the idolaters. Lo! the first sanctuary appointed for mankind was that at Mecca, a blessed place, a guidance to the peoples; Wherein are plain memorials (of Allāh’s guidance); the place where Abraham stood up to pray; and whosoever entereth
it is safe. And pilgrimage to the house is a duty unto Allāh for mankind, for him who can find a way thither. As for him who disbelieveth, (let him know that) Lo! Allāh is independent of (all) creatures.
(Sūra 3: 95 & 96 Pickthall)

If Islamic sources are correct in saying that Abraham journeyed to Mecca, it is surprising that there is no reference to this event in the biblical history. It would have required many months of difficult travel. If the Bible is correct, then it is surprising that Islam gives such a different view. Is there a possibility that the divergence is narrower than it appears? It is Gibson's belief that if we can discover the original location of the Holy City of Islam and the location of the first Ka’ba, that it might also answer the questions and objections that historians have raised for years about associating Abraham with the Holy City of Islam.


So what have we learned from this page? While we have presented no conclusive evidence, we have tried to demonstrate that there are some discrepancies between the ancient descriptions of Mecca and what archeology and historians have learned about the current location of Mecca. Keep these things in the back of your mind as we move on to discuss the pilgrimages in Arabia in the page and see what conclusions Gibson comes to.


  1. Problems with Mecca

  2. The Qibla Question

  3. The Changing of the Qibla: Interactive Timeline

  4. Petra Map: Indicators that Petra was the Holy City

  5. The First Qibla: Jerusalem or Petra?

  6. A Timeline of the Becca/Petra Valley

  7. What do the early Qur'an say about the Qibla?

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