Mecca’s Hera Cave, one of early Islam’s rarest relics

By Reuters Staff
October 24, 2012

(Muslim pilgrims make their way to Hera Cave on Mount al-Nour during the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca October 21, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Millions of Muslim pilgrims congregate in Mecca for the haj every year. The come from all corners of the globe, carrying with them their own versions and interpretations of Islam, but some things unite them: their simple white robes and rituals such as circling the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure that Muslims believe was built by the Prophet Abraham, standing at Mount Arafat and the hurling pebbles at a wall in an act of ritual stoning.

But in the shadow of these sacred rituals lurk some practices that Saudi Arabia’s austere Wahhabi clerics describe as sinful or “innovative”.

One of those innovated rites is visiting Mount al-Nour, which Muslims believe is the place where the Koran was first revealed to Prophet Mohammad as he was praying in a small cave tucked between slabs of rock near the top of the mountain. Its name is Hera Cave.

The mountain is in the outskirts of Mecca and, upon arrival at the area, pilgrims are greeted with a sign that tells them visiting the cave is not a part of the pilgrimage.

(Muslim pilgrims make their way to Hera Cave on Mount Al-Nour during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 11, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem )

It takes 20-30 minutes for the fit to climb the stairs flight up the peak, but for many it could take as much as two hours.

On Sunday, in the late afternoon, Mecca’s skies were covered with a thick curtain of clouds, which made the climb easier.

Upon reaching the peak, sand storms could be seen brewing in the valleys before the dust settled down with the heavy rain that followed.

As sunset approached, the lights of Mecca’s Grand Mosque could be seen just in front of the giant Mecca Clock Tower.

Pilgrims surrounded the tiny cave, which barely have room for two persons, and waited impatiently to take a glimpse of the place where Archangel Gabriel is said to have appeared to a 40-year-old Mohammad and told him: “Recite!”

“Recite in the name of your Lord who created,” read the first verse revealed to the Prophet who was stunned and ran to his wife to tell her about what had just happened as he shivered.

Outside the cave, some men were upset that pilgrims were praying inside the cave, saying that the Prophet would have not approved of that. But a Lebanese man excitedly moved around the small area outside the cave, touching several parts of the rocky area and saying: “The Prophet walked here and here and he prayed here and here.”

(Muslim pilgrims stand at the entrance of Hera Cave at the top of Mount al-Nour in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage, November 2, 2011. REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Lightening struck incessantly in the sky as the wind whipped the shalwar kameezes of a number of young Pakistani men standing at the mountain peak as a group of men reciting solemnly Sufi poems in praise of the Prophet stood outside the cave. They continued their note until nightfall and as they climbed down the stairs.

Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islam as well as practical needs to expand the sites of the haj’s main rites to accommodate millions of pilgrims meant left little or no historical buildings in Mecca.

This left places like Hera Cave one of the rarest relics of early Islam where pilgrims can visit a place that Mohammad frequented to worship God before he became a prophet.

– by Mahmoud Habboush in Mecca

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