Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The Jannatul Mualla Cemetery in Mecca is one of the two most famous graveyards in Islam. Not quite as famous or historic as its counterpart, the Maqbarat Al Baqi cemetery in Medina, it is nevertheless older and boasts its share of famous gravesites. The ancestral cemetery of the Banu Hashim and other local Quraish clans, many of the Prophet Muhammad’s ancestors are interred here. These include Muhammad’s mother and grandfather, as well as his first wife, Khadijah. Unfortunately, many of the gravemarkers were removed or destroyed during the 1925 purge. While little remains to commemorate those who are buried here, many thousands of pilgrims to Mecca still make it a point to visit the ancient hallowed ground of the Prophet’s ancestors.
The history of the Jannatul Mualla cemetery goes back several generations prior to the beginning of Islam. Because of its proximity to the Holy Kaaba, the Jannatul Mualla was considered a particularly sacred place even before Muhammad arrived. Sometime around the beginning of the 6th century, the Quraish tribe took control of Mecca, and established the Jannatul Mualla as their own private burial ground. Many members of the tribe, especially members of the Banu Hashim clan, were interred in the century in the decades leading up to the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Among those buried here were Abdul Muttalib, Muhammad’s grandfather, as well as his mother, Aminah.
During the early years of Islam, before Muhammad was forced to emigrate to Medina, several important early Muslims were also buried in Jannatul Mualla, including Abu Talib, the uncle of Muhammad and the father of Ali the fourth caliph; and Qasim, the Prophet’s infant son. Most important of all was Khadijah, Muhammad’s first wife, who died in Mecca in 619 AD, the same year as his uncle. Abu Talib and Khadijah would be the last two major figures to be buried in Jannatul Mualla before the establishment of the Maqbarat Al Baqi in Medina, which became the cemetery of choice for Muhammad’s followers.
In the late 18th century, a particularly orthodox group came to power in the Arabian Peninsula and seized control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Decrying virtually every famous gravesite as being a place where the dead were venerated and thus where idolatry was committed, they systematically destroyed every shrine in Mecca other than the Great Mosque and the Kaaba. This included every grave in the Jannatul Mualla cemetery, as well as the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. Those Muslims who refused to accept the new religious order were driven out of Mecca or worse.
The outcry from Muslims around the world was nearly universal. Under great pressure, the Ottoman Sultan sent his army to Arabia and drove out the extremists, after which many of the shrines and mosques were rebuilt. Unfortunately, a little over a century later, fundamentalists once again returned to power and finished the job that they had begun. When all of the dust had settled, nothing remained standing in the ancient, sacred cemetery. Today the Jannatul Mualla remains where it has been for the last fifteen centuries, a lonely reminder of the simple days of the Prophet’s lifetime.
The cemetery of Junnatal Mualla is not particularly large, smaller in fact than its counterpart in Medina. It was once filled with brilliant marble and white-stone grave markers, and domed shrines which marked the tombs of Khadijah, Abu Talib, and others. It is now literally a gutted shell. A long white-stone wall circumscribes the site, which is filled with neat rows of small piles of rocks noting the locations where the dead are buried, but with no other identification.
Interestingly, the area surrounding the Junnatal Mualla seems to be designed to both accommodate visiting pilgrims and permit easier viewing of the cemetery, despite the fact almost everything is gone. Unlike Maqbarat Al Baqi, there is little information available as to the exact locations of the more important burial sites, so most visiting pilgrims simply pay their respects to the site as a whole.
The Junnatal Mualla Cemetery is located close to the center of Mecca, approximately 460 miles west of Riyadh, not too far from the Masjid Al Haram. Mecca is absolutely off-limits to non-Muslims. For Muslims, the cemetery is open year-round. There is no cost of admission. Web: http://sauditourism.sa/en (official tourism website of Saudi Arabia)
The main site in Mecca, of course, is the Masjid Al-Haram. However, there are a lot of other things to see in Mecca, several of which are mandatory stops on the Hajj. These include the Hill of Arafat and the Tent City of Mina, as well as the Plain of Muzdalifah, where pilgrims acquire pebbles for the stoning of the pillars. Another non-mandatory site that most visitors to Mecca go and see is the Cave of Hira. Just outside of Mecca is the city of Taif and the Masjid Abdullah ibn Abbas. One of the Prophet’s cousins, and one of his earliest converts, is buried there.