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Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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    (circa 2000 BC- )
    Also spelled Makkah
    Population: 1,294,000 (2006 census)
    Birth place of Muhammad
    Location of the holiest site in Islam, the kaaba, which was allegedly built by Abraham and his son Ishmael
    Muslims face towards it during prayers
    Every able bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is required to make a pilgrimage (hajj) here at least once in their life
    Non-Muslims are banned on pain of death.
    Some Muslims have heated disputes over whether you should face Mecca based on a straight line drawn on a flat map or based on the shortest arc on a globe.
    Its economy is based almost entirely on money spent by visitors.
    It gets severely overcrowded during the hajj season.
    The overcrowding caused several disasters in which pilgrims were trampled to death, the worst being a stampede in a tunnel that killed 1,462 (July 2, 1990).
    Tom Tancredo recommended that we 'take out' Mecca if Islamic terrorists attacked an American city with nuclear weapons.
    It is a holy site for over a billion people.
    It inspired the use of mecca in English to mean a place or object to which people are attracted.
    It attracts over 4 million pilgrims a year.
    Saudi officials have tried to relieve the crowding by building additional accessways and emergency exits and by trying to limit the number of repeat hajj visits.
    In response to health concerns, the Saudi government requires pilgrims to be vaccinated for meningitis.

Credit: C. Fishel

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