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The Kaaba, a small cubical building now surrounded by the Sacred Mosque, is said by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and has been a religious center ever since.
Soon before the time of Muhammad, Mecca fell under the control of the Banu Quraish, which is, according to traditions, directly descends from Khaidar (Qedar), the second son of Ismail. Descendants of this tribe today refer to themselves as Qurayshis and are predominantly Muslim. Historians generally agree that Mecca was a shrine and trading center for a number of generations before the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The extent of Meccan trade has been hotly debated. Some historians believe that Mecca was a waypoint on a land route from southern Arabia north to the Roman and Byzantine empires, and that Arabian and Indian Ocean spices were funneled through Mecca.
According to the Qur'ān, the city was attacked by an Ethiopian Aksumite army lead by Abraha in 570, the year of Muhammad's birth. The attack was said to have been repelled by the dropping of stones by thousands of birds, followed by a plague. Muhammad, a member of the Banu Quraish exiled from the city for preaching against paganism, returned to the city in triumph in 630 CE and after removing the cult images from the Kaaba, dedicated it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage. (For further information, see the main article, Conquest of Mecca.)
After the rise of the Islamic empire, Mecca attracted pilgrims from all over the extensive empire, as well as a year-round population of scholars, pious Muslims who wished to live close to the Kaaba, and local inhabitants who served the pilgrims. Due to the difficulty and expense of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage was small compared to the millions that swell Mecca today. The city too was small. 18th and 19th century maps and pictures show a small walled city of mud-brick houses crowded around the mosque.
Mecca was never the capital of the Islamic empire; the first capital was Medina, some 250 miles (400 km) away. The capital of the caliphate soon moved to Damascus and then Baghdad. Mecca re-entered Islamic history briefly when it was held by Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who opposed the Umayyad caliphs. The caliph Yazid I besieged Mecca in 683 CE. Thereafter the city figured little in politics; it was a city of devotion and scholarship. For centuries it was governed by the Hashemite Sharifs of Mecca, descendants of Muhammad by his grandson Hassan ibn Ali. The Sharifs ruled on behalf of whatever caliph or Muslim ruler had declared himself the Guardian of the Two Shrines. Mecca was attacked and sacked by Ismaili Muslims in 930 CE and by Wahhabi Muslims in 1803. In 1926, the Sharifs of Mecca were overthrown by the Saudis, and Mecca was incorporated into Saudi Arabia.