The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has reiterated its plans to rehabilitate the historical mountains of Makkah to woo pilgrims from different parts of the Islamic world to visit the sites.
Jabal Al-Noor, where the first verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed, is among the few sites in Makkah still preserved from the Prophet’s time though it does not hold any importance in the religious rites of the obligatory pilgrimage.
In addition to this revered mountain, the Kingdom’s tourism authority has promised to develop three historic sites in the holy city, including Jabal Ghar Thawr, where the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr hid from the enemies during their migration to Madinah.
The other two sites are Hudaybiyyah, where Muhammad (PBUH) signed a 10-year truce with the pagans of Makkah, and the path which the Prophet and his companion took for their historic flight from Makkah to Madinah, which came to be known as the Hijrah of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Pilgrims form the bulk of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million annual foreign visitors, apart from workers and business travelers. Nearly 2.4 million came for last Haj, up from 1.9 million the previous year, and 7.5 million performed the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah in 2016.
Saudi Arabia plans to increase the number of Umrah and Haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the Umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
An informed SCTH source disclosed the commission’s plan to establish a project to develop Jabal Noor and Jabal Thawr into tourist sites. Currently, illegal foreign workers are the ones who extend various serivices to the large numbers of pilgrims who visit the historic mountains.
Residents living in the area have urged the commission to carry out a number of projects to facilitate visits to the sites and to rid the place of illegal foreign workers.
“We’ll establish buildings in the foot of the two mountains. We’ll also set up a small exhibition center to display antiquities in Makkah. This project will be implemented shortly,” the SCTH source told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
Nasser Abdul Rahman, a Saudi who lives in the neighborhood of Ghar Thawr, said more than 10 Asian workers live on the mountain. “These Asians use mules to carry foodstuffs to the mountain and sell them at high prices to visitors to the cave,” Abdul Rahman said while speaking to Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
An electric generator lights the top of the mountain where these illegal migrants have set up shops. “These illegal workers occupy this mountain evading security officers and municipality inspectors,” Abdul Rahman said while urging the SCTH to develop the area for the benefit of visitors.
He said illegal foreign workers also control the road leading to the Thawr Cave and neighboring areas. “They don’t speak Arabic and whenever they see a stranger, they will go up the mountain to hide.”
Ahmed Al-Saeedi, another resident, stressed the need to develop Jabal Thawr and neighboring areas by the commission to prevent illegal foreign workers from using it as a hideout. “The absence of SCTH from the scene has given illegal expats an opportunity to take control of the historic place,” he added.
Dr. Fawaz Al-Dahhas, professor of Islamic history at Umm Al-Qura University, said Jabal Al-Thawr has an important place in the history of Islam. "The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon, stayed inside the Thawr Cave for three nights hiding from the Quraish of Makkah during his migration to Madinah. He and his companion Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, left the cave only after receiving information that the Quraish had abandoned their intense search to capture the Prophet,” he explained.
The Holy Qur’an refers to this incident in Verse 40 of Chapter 9, Tawbah (Repentance): “If you do not aid the Prophet -- Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out [of Makkah] as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, ‘Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us’."
The books of Traditions by Bukhari and Muslim cite Abu Bakr voicing his concern about the safety of the Prophet when the agents of the Quraish pursuing them reached the mouth of the cave. Abu Bakr said of the grave threat, "If any one of them bent down and looked, he would see us." The Prophet reassured him calmly: "Oh, Abu Bakr, of what do you worry about two (persons) when God is the Third (in their company)."
"And Allah sent down His tranquility upon him (the Prophet) and supported him with angels you did not see and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowest, while the word of Allah -- that is the highest. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Qur’an 9: 40)
The Thawr Cave is about 4 km south of the Grand Mosque. Nearly 750 meters above sea level, the cave is a hollow rock with two entrances and a height of 1.25 meters.
“This mountain has gained historical importance as the place from where the Prophet set off his historic journey to Madinah,” Al-Dahhas told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
“We need a culture of tourism in order to have a keen interest and understanding toward historical places. We have to preserve them for coming generations. They represent part of the Kingdom’s rich heritage,” he added.
Hani Al-Harbi, a tour guide, urged the authorities to identify all historical sites in Makkah and neighboring areas and develop them with the support of private companies. He also proposed the establishment of a cable car system between Jabal Al-Noor and Jabal Al-Thawr to facilitate visits by pilgrims.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on December 8, 2017.