Mecca And Its Cube: Part 2

April 20, 2023 Category: History, Religion
Ottoman depiction of the Kaaba (17th century)

A survey of the auspicious locations of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages may serve to elucidate the geopolitics of the time. At some points, the Nabateans controlled as far north as Tadmor / Palmyra, with the following Syriac Christian cities between the capital city, Rakmu / Petra and destinations to the north and east (that is: in Syria and Aram):

  • Darmsuk (Dimaska; Anglicized to “Damascus”)
  • Halab[a] (Greek: Khalibo[n] / Beroea; Arabized to “Aleppo”)
  • Madaba
  • Ker-Heresh (alt. “Harreketh” / “Kharkha”; Arabized to “Al-Karak”)
  • Gabitha (Jabiyah)
  • Bos[t]ra (replete with a suburb that is now known as “Umm al-Jimal”)
  • Gerasa (Jerash)
  • Ar[a]bela (Irbid; renown for its grapes, and thus its wine)
  • Nimreh (Namara)
  • Hatra (alt. Syriac “Beit Elaha” [House of God]; Arabized to “Al-Hadr”)
  • Dibon (Dhiban)
  • Emesa (Homs)

Bear in mind that not all of Syria was Arab (Nabataean / Ghassanid).  For the majority of Late Antiquity, most of the northwestern Levant was Greco-Roman.  Note, for example, Byzantine cities like Leontopolis, Emath[ous], Scythopolis, and Julia Neapolis.  Pursuant to the Ishmaelite conquests, these were re-named “Rakka[h]”, “Hama”, “Beit She’an”, and Nablus respectively.  (The first meant “marsh” in Syriac; the second was from the Syriac “Hamat[h]a”; and the third was later rendered “Baysan” to elide the fact that it was named the “House of” a pagan god.)

Other notable places—like Serug[h] and Urhay (Edessa)—were not within the ambit Nabataean culture; as they were settled by non-Arab Syriac Christians within the Byzantine orbit. As far north as Harran, there were the (Arab) Abgarids, who used the Nabataean (Syriac) alphabet.

Meanwhile, all north Palestinian port-cities—Latakia (a.k.a. “Laodikea ad Mare”), G-B-El (“well of god”; alt. “Gebal”; rendered “Byblos” in Greek), Tyros (Tyre), Berytus, Tartus, Sidon, and Akka (Acre)—were Greco-Roman ALL ALONG (from the advent of the Seleucids in the late 4th century B.C. until the Mohammedan take-over in the 630’s). {22}  In fact, the majority of Levantine cities that became Arab were originally Greco-Roman—as with Antioch, Apamea, Gadara, and Philadelphia (which, oddly, was re-named “Amman” based on its Ammonite origins). Note: The Dead Sea was known to the Romans as “Palus Asphaltites” [Lake of Asphalt], as it was a major source of Bitumen, which was traded along Nabataean routes.

Key Nabatean trading hubs between Petra, the port-cities of Gaza and Ashkelon, and the northern Hijaz included the port-city of Aila (likely corresponding to the Biblical “Aila[t]h” / “Elath” or “Ezion-Geber”; now known as “Aqaba”) as well as inland cities like:

  • Zoar[a] (Greco-Roman “Segor”, possibly corresponding to the Biblical “Zeboim”, “Bela” / “Balac”, or “Admah”)
  • Bozra[h] (Arabized to “Busayra” / “Busheira”; not to be confused with the more northern city of “Bos[t]ra”)
  • Hawara (Auara; rendered in Arabic as “Humayma”)
  • [k]Halus  (Greek: Elousa / Chellous; rendered in Arabic as “Al-Khalasa”) {21}
  • Mampsis (Mamshit)
  • Sobota (Oboda[t]; Hebraic “Shivta” / “Avdat”)
  • Nessana (Nitzana)
  • Bethomolachon (Hebraic “Rehovot[h]” / “Bertheiba”; rendered in Arabic as “Ruheiba”)
  • Udhruh (Greek: Adrou)

These sites—largely located at the eastern end of the Sinai peninsula, in the Negev desert, and the lower Dead Sea plain—were major hubs in the ancient trade routes for myrrh and frankincense. {4}  Many fell into ruin pursuant to the Mohammedan conquests of the late 7th century.  By then, the Iron-Age hub, Kadesh was defunct. (This is not to be confused with the Assyrian city of “Kadesh”, located on the Orontes River in the land of Amurru. It corresponds to the place the Israelites were said to have dwelled after the Exodus, before proceeding into “Arabah”. It is now the archeological site at Tel Qudeirat.) By the Greco-Roman period, the archaic cities of Arad and Hes[h]bon had also fallen into ruin.

This region roughly corresponded with the Egyptian “Biau” on the Sinai Peninsula, plus the Biblical lands of Edom and Moab.  Interestingly, Ptolemy mentioned a place he referred to as “Mako-Araba”, which was located somewhere in Arabia Petraea. (!)

It is worth noting the geographical placement of the Biblical “P[h]aran”: the “wilderness” through which the Israelites wandered following the Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 10 and 12).  Granted, the (literal) exodus never actually occurred; but insofar as people were aware of the STORY and the relevant PLACES, they clearly had in mind the Negev desert—that is: the region separating the Sinai Peninsula from the Judean countryside.  This was otherwise known as Edom / Idumaea; and was primarily associated with Beer-Sheba in Abrahamic lore.

Again, the eastern frontier of this region (i.e. the “Arabah”) was alternately referred to as “Palaestina Salutaris” and “Arabia Petraea”; which roughly corresponded to what had been “Kedar” (that is: the Biblical Edom, with Moab—then Ammon—to the north, and Median to the south).  This was effectively Nabataea.

We are told in the Torah that, after wandering across the Sinai peninsula (referred to as the wilderness of Zin), the Israelites eventually came to the settlement of Kadesh, then made their way into a region dubbed “Arabah”.  “Arabah” corresponded to Edom—with Midian to the south and Moab to the north.  (Ammon was even farther north; and [Paddan] Aram was to the north of that.)  This is what would eventually be known as “Nabataea”.  It makes sense, then, that Nabataea was alternately referred to as “Arabah” by those familiar with the Torah.  Their tongue would have been known alternately as Nabatean Syriac and “Arab[i]ya” [Syriac for “tongue of the Arabs”]. {28}

Here’s the thing: The Ishmaelites associated “P[h]aran” with their homeland, in accordance with the Biblical accounts of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21).  This onomastic convention indicates that they—ipso facto—saw themselves as hailing from Nabataea. (!)  Sure enough, it is in “P[h]aran” that they place their original temenos, per the earliest Mohammedan lore.  (Indeed, in the early 8th century, the historiographer, Wahb ibn Mu-Nabi of Dhamar stated that “Makkah” was in “P[h]aran”.)  One thing of which we can be sure: “P[h]aran” was NOT referencing Thamud (i.e. the central Hijaz; which would have been south of Midian).  If the original temenos was, indeed, in “P[h]aran”, then we know that it was, indeed, Nabatean; not from someplace deep into the deserts of the Hijaz.

What does all this mean?  The southern frontier of Median was the southern-most part of what would have been considered the Kedarite (Arab) realm.  Those at the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula were seen as an entirely different people (Sabaeans)…who traded with the Kedarites (via maritime routes), but were not THEMSELVES Kedarites.  The conflation of these disparate peoples was likely the result of a retroactive taxonomy touted by the (Mohammedan) Ishmaelites—who posited the “Kahtanites” / “Himyarites” (ostensibly: Sabaean Arabs) in contradistinction to “Adnanites” (effectively: Nabataean Arabs).  Archeological evidence does not support this categorization scheme (viz. different kinds of Arabs)–which is based on spurious Abrahamic genealogies.

Yemeni peoples (denizens of what the Greco-Romans referred to as “Arabia Felix”) were ethnically related to the ABYSSINIANS far more than to the Kedarites—as a result of the Sabaean and Aksumite Kingdoms.  The barren nether-region between Median (the northern Hijaz) and Saba / Himyar (Yemen) was, for all intents and purposes, terra incognita…until the 8th century.

The etiological mythology used to account for this ethnic bifurcation is based on a fictive genealogy.  “Ishmaelites” did NOT include Yemenis.  The fabled Adnan was said to have had two sons.  The progeny of Ma’ad were the Kedarites (read: Nabataeans); the progeny of Akk were the Yemenis (read: Sabaeans).  Ma’ad was purported to be an ancestor of the Quraysh. {31}  Meanwhile, Akk was believed to be the progenitor of the Kahtanites / Himyarites (notably: the Azd and Khuza’ah).  This is all farce; but the idea is to characterize Nabataeans and Sabaeans as simply two different KINDS of Arab; as both are categorized as Adnanites).  The implication is to associate both with the western part of the Arabian peninsula; which has the effect of blurring the provenance of the Quraysh…who are used to account for the pre-Islamic keepers of the Hijazi temonos (i.e. the Meccan cube).  The etymology of that (contrived) tribal name is quite telling: It derives from the Arabic for “merging together” (that is: bringing into common association): “ta-qarrush”.

As it turns out, the original moniker for the Banu Quraysh was the Banu an-Nadr; which was a clan of…the Kinana (referred to as the “Kinai-Dokolpites” by the Byzantines).  According to some sources, the early Quraysh (read: the Kinana) undertook two annual pilgrimages.  One was to a site in Yemen in the winter; the other was to a site in the Levant in the summer.  These are obliquely referenced in Surah 106.  (Also ref. 2:198, which alludes to pre-Islamic pilgrimages.)  Lo and behold: At the time, there was—indeed—a Nabataean temenos and a Yemeni temenos.

To reiterate, the Lihyanites (“Edomites” and “Midianites” in Biblical terms) were the forefathers of the Nabataeans. {32}  They TRADED WITH the Sabaeans—a fact recognized in the Book of Isaiah (60:6). This was via maritime routes (that is: shipping on the Red Sea). Travel from the southern Levant to Yemen through the deserts would have made no sense.

The Nabataeans were clearly related to the Lihyanites, as the latter’s structures at Hegra and Dedan were carved into the faces of rocks in what would become the signature Nabataean style (thus closely resembling the structures found in Petra).  Remnants of their capital, located near present-day Tabuk, can be found at the Shu’ayb Caves (named after the Biblical figure, Jethro: the grandson of the Biblical figure, Midian).

During Late Antiquity, the Nabataeans pioneered merchant activity no only in the southern Levant, but in Midian (the northern Hijaz, sometimes referred to in Islamic lore as “Thamud”).  Note that there was a major Nabataean emporium at Hegra.  Meanwhile, in Ta’if, a major (Syriac) literary competition was held during pre-Islamic times—known as the “souk Ukaz[ha]”.  It is no surprise that two famous female (Syriac) poets hailed from that town: Qutayla bint an-Nadr and Hind bint al-Khuss al-Iyadiyya.  Recall that Ta’if was the venue at which the Thaqif worshipped the goddess, Al-Lat.  (The goddess, Al-Uzza was worshipped at a cubic shrine in the nearby wadi: Nakhla / Hurad.)

It’s worth noting that Midian is referenced BY NAME in the Koran (as “Madyan[a]”).  7:85 and 28:22-23 recount Moses’ years in the desert, where he meets his Midianite wife, Zipporah; while 11:84 and 29:36 associate the Midianites with Zipporah’s father: Shu’ayb [Jethro].  9:70 and 11:95 associate the Midianites with the people of A[a]d and/or Thamud. {33}  So what’s going on here?  The Mohammedans sought to distinguish themselves GENEALOGICALLY from their Nabataean (pagan) forefathers.  Note, though, that the Ishmaelites were seen by non-Mohammedans as including the Midianites.  Indeed, the earliest Aramaic and Greek renderings of scripture sometimes use these ethnonyms interchangeably.  In chapter 37, the Book of Genesis tells us that, after being thrown in the well by his brothers, Joseph was retrieved by a caravan.  In one version, it is referred to as a caravan of Ishmaelites; in another version, it was of Midianites.

In embracing their Ishmaelite pedigree, the Mohammedans were adamant about distancing themselves from anyone who was seen as antagonistic to monotheism in Abrahamic lore. There was nothing novel about this; the contempt for the “Midianites” was a trope that went back to the Book of Judges (ref. the first nine verses of chapter 6). {34}

So what of other key locations in the region? The provenance of the city, Ma’an (located slightly to the east of Petra) is unclear.  According to Islamic lore, it was founded by the Minaeans during Classical Antiquity.  Some sources claim that the Minaeans hailed from Karnawu (referred to in Arabic as “Ma’in”) at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula (present-day Yemen).  More likely, Ma’an was established at some point in the pre-Islamic era as a stop along a caravan route between Petra and Duma[tha] (present-day “Al-Jawf”). {16}  This is confirmed by the Zenon Papyri, which mentions that, during Classical Antiquity, the Minaeans (and the Gerrheans) competed with the Nabataeans for the frankincense and myrrh trade of the region. {18}  In any case, Ma’an was home to the (Christian) Banu Judham.  Being, as it was, a major mercantile hub 30 kilometers southeast Petra, it would have served as a way-station for caravan routes between the Nabataean capital and the Hijaz. {17}

These sites would have also been involved with the transportation of copper and turquoise from the ancient mines at Timna (not to be confused with the Qataban city in Yemen), Phaino (Khirbat Faynan), and Wadi al-Ghuwayba (Khirbat an-Nahas). {15}  By the end of Late Antiquity, the residents of ALL these cities would have spoken Syriac; and many seem to have had a significant Jewish and/or Christian presence.  The region stretched from the Sinai peninsula, across the Negev (Edom), into the “Arabah” (Moab and Kedar), and down into the northern Hijaz (Midian). (Copper was also mined and traded by the Nabataeans as far east as the Wadi Arabah.)

To the south was Tabawa (Tabuk), near which was a settlement called “Al-Bada’a”—best known for the ruins in the so-called “Shuaib” [Jethro] caves.  Hegra (Arabized to “Al-Hijr”; now known as “Mada’in Salih”) and Dedan (now referred to as “Al-Ula”) were also significant cities at the time; yet went into decline soon after the rise of the nearby commercial center of “Al-Mabiyat” during the early Islamic era.  Both Dedan and Hegra (which were first established by the Lihyanites) were located between Duma[tha] and Hijazi locations to farther south…perhaps as far south as Yathrib-cum-Medina.  There was a small oasis settlement along that route known as Tiamat (possibly named after the Mesopotamian creator goddess; rendered “Tayma” in Arabic), which probably served as a stop for caravans. {19}  Also note the remains at Darb Zubaydah (now known as “Al-Rabatha”), which was later used on the caravan route between Yathrib-cum-Medina and Kufa.

The (predominantly Jewish) settlement at Khaybar was in the region as well.  Farther inland, the days of Duma[tha] (alt. “Dumat al-Jandal”) were numbered; as the Mohammedans would soon raze the ancient Nabataean city and convert its church to the Umar mosque—rechristening it “Al-Jawf”.

The other key Hijazi settlement was, of course, Yathrib (alt. “Taybah”; later christened “Madinat an-Nabi” during the Umayyad period), home of Jewish tribes like the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Qurayza, and Banu Nadir.  Non-Jewish Arabs in the vicinity would have included the Banu an-Nar and Banu Huraq clans of the Banu Ghifar, which was—like the Quraysh—a branch of the Banu Kinana[h] (itself a member of the Mudar confederation, so grouped for all being descendants of the patriarch, Nizar ibn Ma’ad ibn Adnan).

The vast majority of activity in the Hijaz would have been limited to the coastal plain along the Red Sea coast, known as the “Tihama[h]”; which lies to the west of the Sarawat mountain range.  As mentioned, farther inland was Wajj (a.k.a. “Ta’if”), home of the Syriac-speaking Banu Thaqif of the Qays Aylan.  Ta’if was located in a lush garden valley; so—unlike a hypothetical pre-Islamic Mecca—its existence is explicable.  (It was on the eastern / inland side of the Sarawat mountains.)  To review: There seems to have been a small oasis settlement just to the west of Ta’if known as Nakhla [meaning “Palms”; alternately referred to as “Hurad”]—where, as mentioned earlier, the Mudar worshipped Al-Uzza at ANOTHER cubic shrine. In addition, there were (purportedly) other nearby venues–notably: Mijannah and Dhul Majaz (alt. “Dhu al-Majaz”) in the Hunayn valley.

That accounts for auspicious places in Midian—that is: in the northern half of the Hijaz, on the southern frontier of Nabataea.  If one were to transport anything from Yemen / Himyar, it would have been shuttled NOT up through the desert on camels, but over to Jeddah, so that it could be shipped.  The only Nabataean caravans through the desert would have been those used to get to and from places at their southern frontier (i.e. northern Hijazi locations like Tabawa, Hegra, Dedan, Khaybar, Tiamat, and possibly even Yathrib). This would have accounted for the routes of the so-called “Incense Road”.  Such routes would not have stretched any farther south than that; as travel through the desert would have made no sense in lieu of maritime transportation.

Key cities in Yemen / Himyar included:

  • Nashan [alt. Nestum] (Khirbat al-Sawda)
  • Nashak (Khirbat al-Bayda)
  • Kaminahu (Kamna)
  • Haram[um] (Khirbat Hamdan)
  • Karnawu (Ma’in)
  • Najran
  • Zafar (alt. “Saphar”; Haql Yahdib)
  • Ma’rib
  • Azal (Sana’a)
  • Timna
  • Raydan
  • Dhamar

…as well as the port-cities of Muza (Mokha) and Eudaemon Arabia (Aden).  Most of those cities were established by the Sabaeans or Himyarites in Late Antiquity.  Recall that the (Christian) Arab tribe known as the “Khatham” used to perform a pilgrimage to the Kaaba at Najran (also notable are nearby sites like Al-Ukhdud and Bir-Hima).  Meanwhile, the Sabaeans established Barran and Awwam as holy sites near Ma’rib.  (Ma’rib was also known for its great dam, on which there are Old South Arabian inscriptions.)  Dhamar was next to an auspicious Sabaean site known as the “Nakhla al-Hamra’a” [Red Palm].  The sacred Ghumdan palace in Sana’a dated back to the 3rd century.  And the Al-Qalis church at Azal attests to the pre-Islamic presence of Christianity in Sana’a.  Slightly farther to the east, in Hadramaut were the cities of Shabwa (Sabbatha) and Shibam.

There are even the ruins of minor settlements in Arabia’s barren interior, the Najd—as with the ancient Kindite cities of Qaryat Dhu Kahl (alt. “Dhat al-Jannan”; now known as “Qaryat al-Faw”) and Jebel Umm Sanman (now known as “Jubbah”); not to mention the ancient Lakhmid city of Hir[t]a (“Al-Hirah”) farther east, next to which Kufa would eventually be established. {3}  Another Lakhmid city, Kashkar, was located on the Tigris, next to where Basra would be founded.  Those seem to have been located in lush venues during Late Antiquity…unlike the site where Mecca was later founded, which was NEVER lush.  We might venture even farther east, to the northeastern part of the Arabian peninsula (Dilmun), were there was a Lakhmid location known as “[h]Agarum” (alt. “Akarum”; “Pit-Ardashir” in Persian; later dubbed “Al-Ahsa” / “Al-Hasa” in Arabic); with Gerrha, Ad-D[o]ur [alt. “Ed-Dur”], Saruk al-Hadid, Muwe-ilah, and Shimal slightly to the south (many of which traded with the Nabataeans, and even used Nabatean coinage).

That’s more than A HUNDRED documented cities in the region; yet no allusion to a Hijazi settlement called “Makkah” before the 8th century; and no archeological evidence for such a place until even later than that.  (!) There are, of course, myriad other archeological sites of lesser significance scattered across the region; but—to reiterate—Arabian archeology is comparable to Sudanese figure skating: It’s not a burgeoning industry.  There are probably plenty more sites awaiting discovery.  But as things currently stand, there were no traces of Mecca. {11}

The question cannot be avoided: How is it that we have evidence of ALL these places in the pre-Islamic period; yet NOTHING for the one place for which proponents of the traditional Islamic narrative would have every incentive to proffer evidence?  And why Mecca’s utter lack of prominence in the (ACTUAL) historical record until the Ottoman period?

Tellingly, the “Kitab Akhbar Makkah” [Book Of Accounts Of Mecca] provides THE FIRST description of the place in the central Hijaz that came to be the Islamic temenos. {30}  It was purportedly written by someone from the Banu Ghassan in the 860’s.  Recall that, during the advent of the Mohammedan movement, the Ghassanids were Syriac Christian Arabs.  The original author’s name was—we are told—Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Ahmad al-Ghassani (who came to be known as “Al-Azraqi”, meaning “The Blue”).  We rarely hear about this document, as its exposition (spec. its terminology; as with “masha’ir”) does not accord with what one might expect…that is, were one to presume the veracity of the standard Islamic narrative.

A brief survey of the Hijaz in its post-Abbasid eras is worth mentioning.  Note that the Abbasid period endured from c. 750 until 1258 (when Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad); yet they had dominion over the Hijaz for only the first two of those five centuries.  Then…

Starting in the late 940’s, the Ikhshidids (a Turkic dynasty operating out of Fustat, Egypt) took control of Canaan down to the northern Hijaz (i.e. Midian; corresponding to the southern-most reaches of old Nabataea); as well as Egypt and Nubia.  We hear of nothing about Mecca.  Following them (starting c. 969), the Fatimids (a Berber dynasty that originated in Tunisia, and operated out of Fustat-cum-Cairo) controlled that area well into the 11th century.  Again, we hear nothing about Mecca.

Let’s be clear: There is nothing concrete on Mecca in the historical record up to this time. Thamudic / Safaitic inscriptions exist in the northern Hijaz–from Dedanic to Hismaic to Taymanitic–going back to the Lihyanites.

At the turn of the millennium, the (Isma’ili) Fatimids were a major presence in the region-in-question. They were followed by the (Isma’ili) Sulayhid dynasty in Yemen, founded by a local Hamdani leader named Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ali al-Sulayhi c. 1047.  According to a handful of scholars (ref. Farhad Daftari’s “Isma’ilis in Medieval Muslim Societies”), the Sulayhids became custodians of the Meccan cube; yet this assertion is based on scant evidence.  In any case, the Sulayhids were vassals of the Fatimids.  Their dynasty endured through the reign of a female ruler named Arwa, who died c. 1138.  During her time on the throne, she moved the local capital from Sana’a to a new city, which was christened “Jibla”.

Enough about Yemen for the time being (as it would be ruled thereafter by various other Hamdani dynasties—from the Zurayids to the Sulaymanids to the Mahdids).  The Zengids (Turkic vassals of the Seljuks from 1127 to 1250) then took control of the relevant area (the Levant and northern Hijaz).  As with the Ikhshidids, their dominion stretched only as far south as Midian.  Why not farther to the south?  Barring humble oasis settlements at Khaybar, Tiamat / Tayma, and possibly Yathrib, there was no major municipality located in the Hijaz south of Hegra and Dedan (barring small ports along the Red Sea)…that is, until one got as far south as Yemen / Himyar; as explicated in Appendix 1.  Trade between the northern Hijaz and Yemeni destinations would have been MARITIME. It’s worth asking: If Mecca had been so pivotal, why would the Zengids—notably, the famous leader, Nur ad-Din—have been utterly unconcerned with bringing it into their fold?

Well, then, what about the Ayyubids?  In 1173, the Kurdish sultan, Saladin sent his older brother, Turan-Shah to conquer Yemen / Himyar.  (Not Mecca.)  The fear was that Egypt might fall to the aforementioned Zengid ruler, Nur ad-Din.  Therefore, control over the southern end of Arabia was seen as a key geopolitical strategy.  (At the time, Yemen was still controlled by the Sulayhids, who were ruled by Queen Arwa.)  The idea, then, was to dominate the Red Sea trade routes.

How did Turan-Shah get to southern Arabia?  Not by riding camels through the west-Arabian desert.  He took ships down through the Red Sea; as they were constantly traveling along that ancient maritime route.  Tellingly, records of Turan-Shah’s military campaign did not include Mecca.  In 1174, he seized the Yemeni city of Zabid.  He then seized the port-city of Eudaemon Arabia (Aden).  He promptly chose Ta’iz (not Mecca) to be the Ayyubid’s Arabian capital.  (Ta’iz was a new city that had recently been founded by the Sulayhids.) The next year, Turan-Shah drove out the Hamdanid rulers from Sana’a.  The prize acquisitions were thus Zabid, Aden, Ta’iz, and Sana’a.  Nothing is mentioned about Mecca.  (Why would there be?  At the time, the only relevant Hijazi locations were a few sea-ports along the Tihamah; as outlined in Appendix 1.)  Turan-Shah’s touted conquests tell us much of what we need to know about what mattered most at the time.

And after that?  In 1180, the Ayyubid emir of Yemen, Uthman al-Zandjili was charged with further conquest.  Up into the Hijaz?  Nope.  His incursions were eastward into Hadramaut.

As it turns out, the first incursions into the (inland) central Hijaz—where Mecca was located—would be by the (Bahri) Mamluks (a Turkic dynasty operating out of Cairo, Egypt) in the early 14th century.  That was well after the famous conquests of the Cumen-Kipchak sultan, Bay-pars [Turkic for “Great Panther”] during the 1260’s and 1270’s (which were primarily in the Levant); as Mecca is nowhere mentioned in the commemoration of the sultan’s major accomplishments: the “Sirat al-Zahir Baybars”.

In fact, we don’t encounter any major references to Mecca in Islamic documentation until its appearance in the aforementioned “Rihla” (travelogue) of Ibn Battuta from later in the 14th century…which is ITSELF rather suspect.  To review, the tract was penned not by Ibn Battuta, but by an Andalusian amanuensis named Muhammad ibn Ahmed ibn Juzayy (almost three decades later).  Ibn Juzayy was operating out of Granada.  But, as it turns out, Ibn Juzayy cribbed his descriptions of Mecca from an account by the 13th-century writer, Ibn Jubayr (from over a century earlier), who also claimed to have done the Hajj from Granada.  To make matters worse, Ibn Jubayr was HIMSELF guilty of cribbing much of his material.  (His accounts of Palestine are facsimiles of material composed by Mohammed al-Abdari al-Hihi.)  Meanwhile, the entire account of China seems to have been plagiarized from the “Masalik al-Absar fi Mamalik al-Amsar” by Ibn Fadlallah al-Umari of Damascus.  Other sources on which these amanuenses were riffing include Sulayman al-Tajir, Al-Juwayni, Rashid ad-Din Hamadani, and even the Alexander Romance.

In sum, neither Ibn Jubayr nor Ibn Juzayy were dependable sources; ergo neither was the “Rihla” of Ibn Battuta (see Appendix 2).  It comes as no surprise, then, that this travelogue has passages that are remarkably similar to the travelogue of Marco Polo—going so far as to share specific commentary with the Venetian explorer (who, it might be noted, was Roman Catholic and sympathetic to the pagan Mongols; making such parity rather odd).

There are only three other tales of pilgrimages to Mecca prior to the reign of Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II in the 15th century (who, by the way, never once mentioned Mecca during his long reign). {12}

  • The account of Persian writer, Nasir Khusrow Qubadiyani of Bactria (Khorasan), who’s journey purportedly took place in the late 1040’s.  The tale of his visit comes from his “Safar-nama” [Book of Travels], which is more a work of literature than anything else.  According to him, his endeavor was inspired by a dream sequence.  The work provides detailed descriptions of Jerusalem and Cairo.
  • The account of the famed polymath, Ibn Khaldun visiting Mecca c. 1388.  As it turns out, this is dubious as well.  Indeed, Ibn Khaldun—who lived in Mamluk Egypt—seems to have been subject to the same kinds of apocrypha as Ibn Battuta.  Only a little digging reveals that the record of his visit is rather flimsy.
  • The account of the fabled Malian “Mansa”, Musa c. 1324…which, funny enough, ALSO comes from the writings of Ibn Fadlallah al-Umari…and, unsurprisingly, winds up in the writings of Ibn Khaldun.  Such incestuous hagiography should be a red flag.

In conclusion: Lots of good scholarship has been done on the Abbasid presence in the Hijaz (from c. 750 to the late 940’s), but—oddly enough—nothing specific is known of their activity in Mecca.  Some scholarship has been done on the brief reign of the Ikhshidids (vassals of the Abbasids), but there’s nothing specific about any activity in Mecca.  Much scholarship has been done on the Fatimids, but there’s nothing specific about any activity in Mecca.  Much scholarship has been done on the Zengids, but there’s nothing specific about any activity in Mecca.  And a little bit of scholarship has been done on the Sulayhids, but there’s nothing specific on anything they might have done in Mecca.

Notice a pattern?

Moving forward, extensive scholarship has been done on the Ayyubids. This is largely due to their involvement in the Crusades.  Remarkably, we hear nothing specific about anything happening in Mecca.  Morover, plenty of scholarship has been done on the Mamluks, yet we hear of virtually nothing about activity in Mecca during the two centuries that they ruled the Hijaz.  This lack of documentation is peculiar for a place that is supposed to be the center of the universe.

What can we conclude from this? Anyone claiming with apodictic certainty that Mecca existed—replete with its cubic shrine—in the late 6th century (when MoM was coming of age) is—to be frank—full of shit.  And those who insist that the Meccan cube has been there since the Bronze Age are just being silly. {13}

To reiterate: It is not until the Ottoman period (read: the modern era) that we find dependable accounts of Mecca in the historical record.  And it’s not until the Dutch scholar, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje of Lieden University did his doctoral thesis, “Het Mekkansche Feest” [The Festivities Of Mecca] in 1880 that we have anything approaching meticulous documentation of the city.  (Hurgronje was not actually permitted entry until he converted to Wahhabism a few years later.)  In 1881, an Egyptian documentarian named Muhammad Sadiq Bey took the first photographs of Mecca.  At the time, the population of the city was around 30,000; and its primary industry was the slave trade.  (In fact, it had the largest slave market in the world.)  During World War I, the Hashemites allied with the British and drove the Ottomans out of the Hijaz.  Shortly thereafter, the Saudis drove out the Hashemites. {14}

That brings us to today.  To the degree it exists, Wahhabi-sanctioned archeological projects are highly regulated by the House of Saud, who’d much prefer certain things remain forever lost to history (i.e. anything that doesn’t comport with the official narrative).  There’s a reason that the Saudi monarchs have never permitted scientists to carbon date the gazelles painted on the interior of the Meccan cube; as it would be shown that the renown shrine is almost certainly less than 13 centuries old; perhaps FAR less.  (Gazelles are the most frequently depicted animals in Arabian petro-glyphs; and played a significant role in pagan lore in the region going back thousands of years.) And what of the paintings of trees on the interior of the Mecca’s cubic shrine (referenced in some of its earliest descriptions)?  As it turns out, they were virtually identical to the images found in the mosaic on the cathedral of Al-Qalis in Sana’a.  The iconographic—one might even say semiotic—parity between the Meccan cube and the Yemeni church is very telling.

A dating of less than 13 centuries would, indeed, corroborate the present thesis.  Even if the Meccan cube wasn’t erected until after MoM’s fabled seizure of the city, whereupon Mohammedans first enjoyed control (thus placing the shrine’s founding at the latest possible date within the ambit of Islamic lore), it would STILL be (almost) 14 centuries old.  If he’d truly grown up in proximity to the Meccan cube, it would need to be more than 14 1/2 centuries old.  And if Abraham had built it, it would need to be about 37 centuries old.

In the first decade of the 21st century, during the considerable excavations conducted all around the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, if there was ANYTHING to find, it surely would have been found.  The Saudis found nothing.  Not ALMOST nothing.  LITERALLY nothing.  (Rest assured, if they would have found so much as a shard of pottery with an Arabic letter on it, they would have been shouting from the rooftops.)  This non-event speaks volumes.

And what of Petra? From the remains of the city, we can see that the Nabataeans excelled at building irrigation systems—including dams, ducts, cisterns, and reservoirs.  Their technological advances were most on display from the highly-sophisticated carving required for the massive structures built into stone edifices—replete with tunnels and chambers within.  Most famous are the “Khazneh” (treasury), the “Deir” (monastery), and the giant amphitheater; but there is also the Great Temple, the Kasr al-Bint, the Temple of the Winged Lions, the “Jabal an-Nmayr”, and—of course—the mysterious cubic shrines (including the Nabataean Kaaba). {23}  Even now, archaeologists estimate that only about 15% of the city has been uncovered.  The other 85% remains underground; so has yet to be investigated. {20}

It is worth delving into this matter with humility and caution. Sacred cow-tipping is a perilous enterprise.  The problem is that when you lift up the rug to see what’s underneath, you end up pulling the it out from beneath some people’s feet.  (They’d much prefer everyone just leave the rug “as is”; and be on their way.) Upsetting consecrated apple-carts is not always the best career move. Further discussion of archeology in the region can be found in the works of Greg Fisher—especially “Rome And The Arabs Before The Rise Of Islam”, “Between Empires: Arabs, Romans, And Sassanians In Late Antiquity”, and “Rome, Persia, And Arabia”.

There are still many unanswered questions about the history of Mecca; and there are several pending queries about the origins of the Mohammedan movement.  As we have seen, myriad things in the standard Islamic narrative don’t add up; and much of it does not comport with the available historical evidence.  It should not be taboo to openly acknowledge this.  Needless to say, scholars should not be chastised for trying to find explanations, even if those explanations wind up being unpalatable to those who are adamant about upholding conventional wisdom.

A heterodox monograph such as this warrants critical feedback.  But such feedback does not come in the form of a harumph or a jeer; it comes in the form of “Here’s what you missed” or “Here’s where you’re mistaken”, followed by hard evidence to back up the counter-claim.  (It might also come in the form of: “Here’s how your deductive reasoning is flawed”, followed by a cogent argument that yields alternate results.)  In spite of my diligence, I have no doubt that I may have missed something.  Perhaps I even got some facts wrong.  As I have no vested interest in any given verdict, I’d love to find out. 

In exploring this topic, I have found that there are two kinds of people who will meet the preceding essays with sneering contempt: those who are craven and those who are deluded.  The former typically devolve into an “who can really say?” morass of relativism.  This is pusillanimity disguised as humility.  The latter—who are smitten with a certain brand of dogmatism—tend to feign certitude about things of which they have no actual knowledge.  (The former involves a cop-out; the latter involves conceit.)  Both sorts of people are being dishonest—not only with others, but with themselves.  Consequently, both will be inclined to scoff at the disquisition offered here—a reminder that intellectual dishonesty correlates with intellectual paralysis.

Those with a modicum of courage forge onward. In trying to make sense of the clues currently at our disposal, it is important to be perspicacious. Assumptions should be made judiciously, inferences modulated, and speculation tempered. The key–easier said than done–is to resist the (ever-present) temptation to pretend to know things that we don’t really know.

Here’s what we can surmise from the available evidence: Going back to Classical Antiquity, the earliest Arabs were Lihyanites, who were referred to as Edomites and Midianites (per Biblical nomenclature); and later as “Kedarites”.  Their successors were the Nabataeans (who were pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Manichaean); and, starting in the 730’s, THEIR successors would be those referred to alternately as “Ishmaelites” or “Saracens” (who, by the end of the 8th century, were primarily Mohammedan).


It bears worth repeating: In the midst of the extensive digging around the Masjid al-Haram in the first decade of the 21st century, Saudi excavators found absolutely nothing that indicated a Bedouin presence before the 8th century.  Unsurprisingly, when they came up empty-handed, the authorities remained completely silent.  Nobody was the least bit perplexed by this (rather deafening) silence.  The workers simply proceeded with pouring the concrete foundations for the massive building projects…as if it weren’t a monumental embarrassment that no evidence whatsoever was uncovered that might have corroborated the tales about Mecca during MoM’s lifetime.

Given what we currently know, we can surmise the following: The earliest Mohammedans were Nabataeans and Arab tribes in the vicinity (e.g. the Banu Tayy).  By the early 8th century, the majority of the Nabataeans–still operating primarily out of Rakmu / Petra–were ruled by the Ghassanid dynasty: Arab Christians who ruled from Bos[t]ra (and served as vassals of the Byzantine Empire). {24} After considering all the evidence enumerated in part 1 of this essay, we cannot come to any other conclusion than that the genesis of the movement was in Petra; not in Mecca.

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