JABAL AL-NOOR, or the Mountain of Light, is one of the most famous hills on earth. Its historical importance lies in the fact that the first verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) inside a cave at the summit of this hill on the outskirts of Makkah.
Archangel Gabriel appeared before Muhammad (pbuh) and asked him to read. It was in the month of Ramadan in 610 CE.
“Read! In the name of your Lord Who has created,” Gabriel told Muhammad, a 40-year-old illiterate Arab who knew neither to read nor to write. And those words reverberated across the world from that mountaintop, changing the course of human history and giving rise to the greatest of civilizations.
Jabal Al-Noor, which holds tremendous significance to Muslims, is a major attraction for pilgrims from around the world who come to Makkah to perform the annual Haj as well as the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah throughout the year.
The mountain, located about 5 km northeast of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, got the name because of the enlightenment brought about among the pagans of Arabia by the Divine revelation that started in the cave at its summit 1,450 years ago.
Many pilgrims climb this steep hill to visit the Hira Cave (Ghar Hira in Arabic) where Muhammad used to spend time in meditation before his Prophethood. The mountain is barely 640 meters (2,100 feet) tall, but climbing it is extremely strenuous and takes almost two hours for a healthy individual to make it to the peak.
Ghar Hira is a small cave with less than 4 meters in length and a width of a little more than one and a half meters. It is only vast enough for five people to sit.
The road leading to the foot of the mountain is quite narrow and is constantly plagued by traffic jams. The frequent blaring of horns by motorists causes disturbances to people living on the street leading to the neighborhood.
Many visitors have expressed their dismay over the neglect by the local authorities to construct a proper road that takes visitors to the foot of this famous mountain.
Mohammed Arshad, a Pakistani pilgrim, said traffic jams in the area often prevent visitors from joining their groups and reaching their destinations. “Jabal Al-Noor is among the most important historical sites in Makkah and we hope the Saudi authorities would pay greater attention to it,” he told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.
Arshad urged the authorities to widen the road leading to the mountain and build a parking area for vehicles carrying visitors.
A resident of the district said a large number of buses carrying thousands of pilgrims come to the area during peak seasons like Haj and Ramadan. “These buses do not find any parking at the foot of the mountain and drivers leave them parked in front of our houses, causing untold problems to the residents,” he said.
“We have been facing this problem for so many years,” he said and urged the authorities to find a way to resolve the problem quickly.
“Climbing the steep mountain is not an easy task. It needs a lot of energy and endurance,” Arshad, the Pakistani pilgrim, said, adding that many people sit in the foothills unable to climb further.
Some people have suggested that the Saudi authorities, especially the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, take proper care of this historic hill and establish modern transportation means such as a cable car system for visitors to reach its peak without difficulty.
Others have called upon the municipality to regularly remove the piles of garbage that accumulate at the place as well as along the road leading to the hill.
“We don’t see any efforts on the part of the local authorities to properly take care of this place despite its historical importance,” one visitor said.
However, Makkah’s mayor, Osama Al-Bar, insisted that the municipality ensures the area’s cleanliness. There are also plans, he said, for the development of a visitors’ center near the hill to explain to people its history and significance.
The presence of a large number of beggars on the steps leading to the hilltop is a nuisance to the visitors, creating a bad image of the place. The beggars include the elderly, the blind, those who are crippled and people with various other handicaps.
Several undocumented foreigners live off the place helping visitors to climb the hill and extending various other services to them.
“Jabal Al-Noor deserves special attention,” said visitor Jalal Ihsan, while speaking to Okaz/Saudi Gazette. “The authorities should construct a proper pathway to the peak of the mountain so that people will be able to visit Ghar Hira with ease,” he said while calling upon the tourism commission to appoint tourist guides to explain the historical importance of the place to the visitors.
Abdullah Sulaiman also emphasized the need to establish a cable car system to take visitors to the top of the mountain and back without hassle. “It will also solve many other problems,” he said.
Citizens living in the area urged security agencies to keep a close watch on illegal expats who exploit visitors. Some of them act like cleaners of the steps leading to the hilltop while others claim to be the makers of the pathway and live off on draws from pilgrims. Some others stay there selling water and grains to feed pigeons.
Every year countless people force their way up the mountain ignoring the harsh desert climate conditions to see the place where their beloved Prophet first received the heavenly revelation.
The present-day visitors encounter a markedly different summit from the one the Prophet had experienced. There are now more than 1,000 steps that guide pilgrims up the rocky hill to the secluded cave. Along the way, entrepreneurial Pakistanis sell bottled water, snacks and tea to people exhausted by the climb.
Unlike the quiet and seemingly endless stretch of nature the Prophet would have seen from the cave, massive high-rises housing five-star hotels jut into the distant skyline of Makkah.
What differentiates Jabal Al-Noor from other mountains is its strange-looking crown, which makes it look like two mountains on top of each other.
The summit of the mountain is one of the loneliest of places, but the cave within, which faces the direction of the Kaaba, is lonelier.
One would wonder how the Prophet could climb this steep mountain countless times and stayed atop for many days in unfavorable climatic conditions of Arabia at the time.
“It is amazing to be reminded of the sacrifices made by Khadeeja, the elderly wife of Muhammad who climbed up the mountain taking provisions to her husband at least once every day throughout the period of his seclusion in the cave,” said another visitor.