RIYADH: Flocks of pigeons at Makkah’s Grand Mosque roam the courtyards, flapping their wings as they receive Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.
The birds are known by many names, including sanctuary pigeons, fever pigeons, and quiet pigeons.
Samir Ahmed Barqah, a researcher specializing in Makkah’s history, said: “Pigeons of the Grand Mosque are called fever pigeons because of how they hover around God’s safe sanctuary; they’re called sanctuary pigeons because of how reassured those pigeons are of their safety in Makkah.
“The distinctive features of sanctuary pigeons differ from the other types of pigeons and other birds in the world.”
These features include their beautiful shape, unique colors, drawn eyes, and long necks.
The pigeons do not fear visitors, no matter how packed the area becomes.
Sanctuary pigeons do not defecate on the Kaaba or its surroundings, which earns them further appreciation from both pilgrims and caretakers.
The birds have become one of Makkah’s most famous landmarks and are always seen either flying over visitors or standing between the sides of buildings searching for kind people who might offer them something to eat.
The loving relationship between the pigeons and visitors goes back hundreds of years.
Barqah added: “Some have traced the origin of the sanctuary pigeons way back to the pigeons whose nest was placed in the cave of Mount Thawr during the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah.
“As a reward, God rewarded these pigeons and their descendants by letting them live safely in the holy sanctuary of Makkah.”
Historian Sheikh Mohammed Tahir Al-Kurdi says the sanctuary pigeons can be traced to descendants of the ababil birds, which were sent by God to destroy and expel the army led by Abraha Al-Ashram.
The army tried to destroy the Kaaba, but God sent flocks of birds that dropped small stones on them, eventually destroying and expelling them from Makkah.
Al-Ashram and his army are commonly known as the people of the elephant, and their story is briefly mentioned in a chapter in the Qur’an.
Barqah added: “This is most likely the correct narration regarding this matter.
“There are those who believe that the sanctuary pigeons are a descendant of the two pigeons that were in Noah’s Ark. Nonetheless, these beliefs are mentioned in history books and need to be looked at.”
The sanctuary pigeons hold a special place in Islam, and it is not permissible for either pilgrims or non-pilgrims to kill them.
Muslim jurists have also forbidden turning them away, breaking their eggs, or expelling them from the place in which they nest.
Barqah said: “Some say that the sanctuary pigeons fly peacefully in the sky until they die on land, without any force from the Earth daring to deliberately harm them, except in cases such as when the pigeons are the reason behind disease, which has not yet occurred.”