Naser-e Khosraw’s Pilgrimages to Mecca: From “One Thousand Roads to Mecca” Edited by Michael Wolfe

In our previous instalment, the second in a four-part series, Naser-e Khosraw described the wonders of Cairo and the festival of opening of the canal in the presence of the Fatimid Imam al-Mustansir. He says that if he were to describe the festival in any greater detail, it would fill many pages. Khosraw, during his stay in Cairo, visited Mecca on four occasions for the minor and major pilgrimages, the Umrah and the Hajj respectively. As Michael Wolfe observes in his excellent introduction to the Persian Ismaili traveller (read first part by clicking One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Naser-e Khosraw’s Writing About the Muslim Pilgrimage), Khosraw’s views of the ritual grounds within the Meccan mosque is not only accurate but “presents the core arena as it stands today.” Readers should take note that the rituals that are undertaken during the Umrah, which are described by Khosraw at length below, apply also to the Hajj, which has some additional rituals. The Hajj is specifically undertaken during the month of  Dhu al-Hijja, while Umrah, the minor pilgrimage, can be performed at any time of the year.

A pilgrim’s route during Hajj


The city of Mecca is situated low in the midst of mountains such that from whatever direction you approach, the city cannot be seen until you are there. The tallest mountain near Mecca is Abu Qubays, which is round like a dome, so that if you shoot an arrow from the foot of the mountain it reaches its top. Abu Qubays is to the east of the city, so that if you should be in the Haram Mosque in the month of Capricorn you see the sun rise from behind the top of the mountain. On top of the mountain is a stone stele said to have been erected by Abraham. The city lies on a plain between the mountains and measures only two arrow shots square. The Haram Mosque is in the middle of the plain, and the city lanes and bazaars are built all around it. Wherever there is an opening in the mountain a rampart wall has been made with a gate. The only trees in the city are at the western gate to the Haram Mosque, called Abraham’s Gate, where there are several tall trees around a well. On the eastern side of the Haram Mosque, a large bazaar extends from south to north. At the south end is Abu Qubays. At the foot of Abu Qubays is Mount Safa, which is like a staircase, as rocks have been set in such a fashion that people can go up to pray, which is what is meant by [the expression] “to do Safa and Marwa.” At the other, the north end of the bazaar, is Mount Marwa, which is less tall and has many edifices built on it, as it lies in the midst of the city. In running between Safa and Marwa the people run inside this bazaar.


Binding the ihram, saying the Labayk, kissing the Black Stone, circumambulation

For people who have come from faraway places to perform the Minor Pilgrimage, there are milestones and mosques set up half a parasang away from Mecca (one parasang is three and a half miles – Ed.), where they bind their ihram. To bind the ihram means to take off all sewn garments and to wrap a seamless garment about the waist and another about the body. Then, in loud voice, you say, “Labayk Allahumma, labayk,” and approach Mecca (the words of  the labayk mean approximately “[Thy servant] has answered Thy call, O God” – Ed.). When anyone already inside Mecca wants to perform the Minor Pilgrimage, he goes out to one of the markets, binds his ihram, says the Labayk, and comes back into Mecca with an intention to perform the Minor Pilgrimage. Having come into the city, you enter the Haram Mosque, approach the Ka’ba, and circumambulate….. always keeping the Ka‘ba to your left [shoulder]. Then you go to the corner containing the Black Stone, kiss it, and pass on. When the Stone is kissed once again in the same manner, one tawaf or circumambulation, has been completed. This continues for seven tawafs, three times quickly and four slowly. When the circumambulation is finished, you go to the Station of Abraham opposite the Ka’ba and stand behind the Station. There you perform two rakats called the Circumambulation Prayer.

The Well of Zamzam, running from Safa to Marwa, the shaving of the head

Afterwards you go the Well of Zamzam, drink some water or rub some on the face, and leave the Haram Mosque by the Safa Gate. Just outside this gate are the steps up Mount Safa, and here you face the Ka‘ba and say the prescribed prayer, which is well-known. When the prayer has been said, you come down from Safa and go from south to north through the bazaar to Marwa. Passing through the bazaar, you go past the gates to the Haram Mosque, where the Prophet ran and commanded others to run also. The length is about fifty paces, and on either side are two minarets. When the people coming from Safa reach the first two minarets, they break into a run until they pass the other two at the other end of the bazaar. Then they proceed slowly to Marwa. Upon reaching the end they go up Marwa and recite the prescribed prayer. Then they return through the bazaar and repeat the run until they have gone four times from Safa to Marwa and three times from Marwa to Safa, making seven runs the length of the bazaar. Coming down from Marwa the last time, you find a bazaar with about twenty barber shops facing each other. You have your head shaved and, with the Minor Pilgrimage completed, come out of the Sanctuary. The large bazaar on the east side is called Souk al-Attarin [Druggists’ Market]. It has nice buildings, and all the shopkeepers are druggists. In Mecca there are two [public] baths each paved with a green stone from which flints are made.


I reckoned that there were not more than two thousand citizens of Mecca, the rest, about five hundred, being foreigners and majawirs (a sojourner, one who resides for an unusually long period near a holy place or sacred shrine to receive the blessings upon it – Ed.). Just at this time there was a famine, with sixteen maunds of wheat costing one dinar, for which reason a number of people had left (one maund is roughly three and a half pounds – Ed.).

Inside the city of Mecca are hospices for the natives of every region — Khurasan, Transoxiana, the Iraq, and so on. Most of them, however, had fallen into ruination. The Baghdad caliphs had built many beautiful structures, but when we arrived some had fallen to ruin and others had been expropriated. All the well water in Mecca is too brackish and bitter to drink, but there are many large pools and reservoirs, costing up to ten thousand dinars each, that catch the rainwater from the hills. When we were there, however, they were empty. A certain prince of Aden, known as Pesar-e Shaddel, had brought water underground to Mecca at great personal expense. This water was used to irrigate crops at Arafat and was limited to there, although conduits had been constructed and a little water reached Mecca, but not inside the city; therefore, a pool had been made to collect the water, and water carriers drew the water and brought it to the city to sell. Half a parasang out on the Borqa Road is a well called Bir al-Zahed [the Ascetic’s Well]. A nice mosque is located there, and the water is good. The water carriers also bring water from that place for sale.

The climate of Mecca is extremely hot. I saw fresh cucumbers and eggplants at the end of the month of Aquarius. This was the fourth time I had been to Mecca.

From…. [19 November 1050] until…. [5 May 1051] I was a mojawer in Mecca. On the fifteenth of Aries the grapes were ripe and were brought to town from the villages to be sold in the market. On the first of Taurus melons were plentiful. All kinds of fruit are available in winter, and [the markets] are never empty.


On the ninth of Dhu al-Hijja 442 [24 April 1051], with God’s help, I completed my fourth pilgrimage. After the sun had set and the pilgrims and preacher had left Arafat, everyone traveled one parasang to Mash‘ar al-Haram [Sacred Shrine], which is called Muzdalifa. Here a nice structure like a maqsura (an enclosed or screened-off portion of a mosque originally reserved to protect a ruler while praying – Ed.) has been built for people to pray in. The stones that are cast in Mina are gathered up here. It is customary to spend the holiday eve in this spot and then to proceed to Mina early the next morning after the dawn prayer for making the sacrifice. A large mosque called Khayif is there, although it is not customary to deliver the sermon or to perform the holiday prayer at Mina, as the Prophet did not establish a precedent. The tenth day is spent at Mina, and stones are cast, which practice is explained as a supererogatory act connected with the Pilgrimage.

On the twelfth, everyone who intends to leave departs directly from Mina, and those who intend to remain awhile in Mecca go there. Hiring a camel from an Arab for the thirteen-day journey to Lhasa, I bade farewell to God’s House.

Date originally posted: October 23, 2012

Ed. notes in brackets (….) are Michael Wolfe’s.

Reproduced from ONE THOUSAND ROADS TO MECCA © by Michael Wolfe with the permission of the publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

A note by Simerg’s editor: The pilgrim’s route shown on the image posted at the top of this page is not part of Michael Wolfe’s book. It has been included because the route corresponds closely to Naser-e Khosraw’s overall description of the Umrah and the Hajj.


Complete Series:

Part I – One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Naser-e Khosraw’s Writing About the Muslim Pilgrimage
Part II – Naser-e Khosraw in Fatimid Cairo
Part III – Naser-e Khosraw’s Pilgrimages to Mecca: From “One Thousand Roads to Mecca” Edited by Michael Wolfe (USA) – this page, you are reading it
Part IV – Naser-e Khosraw’s Dangerous Homeward Journey: From “One Thousand Roads to Mecca” by Michael Wolfe (USA)

Michael Wolfe. Photo and profile credit: Wikipedia.

About the author: Michael Wolfe is an American poet, author, and the President and Executive Producer of Unity Productions Foundation. He is a frequent lecturer on Islamic issues at universities across the United States including Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, SUNY Buffalo, and Princeton. He holds a degree in Classics from Wesleyan University. As a Muslim convert he performed the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1990 and wrote extensively about it. Wolfe’s first works on Islam were a pair of books from Grove Press on the pilgrimage to Mecca: The Hadj (1993),a first-person travel account, and One Thousand Roads to Mecca (1997, Grove/Atlantic), an anthology of 10 centuries of travelers writing about the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Shortly after 11 September 2001, he edited a collection of essays by American Muslims called Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith which won the 2003 annual Wilbur Award for “Best Book of the year on a Religious Theme”. In 1999, Wolfe helped found an educational media foundation focused on promoting peace through the media, Unity Productions Foundation (UPF). In 2002, UPF produced its first full-length film, called Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, a two-hour television documentary on the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad. The film, which Wolfe co-created, co-produced, and co-executive edited, received a national broadcast on PBS and subsequent international broadcasts on National Geographic International. Wolfe also co-produced in 2007 Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, which was aired in the same year on PBS, 2007. Wolfe continues to produce long and short-form documentaries for PBS and other broadcasters in the US and abroad with Unity Productions Foundation. His co-production partner on all these films is Alex Kronemer.


Michael Wolfe’s articles on this website:

“Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” – A Film Created and Produced by Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe
Jesus Through a Muslim Lens
How a Muslim Sees Muhammad

Grove/Atlantic website:

GroveAtlantic – One Thousand Roads to Mecca


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