Mecca was the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed and is the home of the Kaaba, a small cube-shaped building enclosed within a mosque that is revered as the holiest site in Islam. In the year 630, Mohammed conquered Mecca and declared the Kaaba as the center of Islam, requiring that the faithful make a pilgrimage (the Hajj) to the site at least once in their lifetime. Because of its sacredness, Mecca became, and remains, a “forbidden city” – off limits to non-Muslims.
It was Burton’s plan to disguise himself as a Muslim pilgrim, join the Hajj and enter the holy city. Burton had been preparing for his adventure for years. As a British soldier stationed in India, He had immersed himself in Islam and learned Arabic. In the early 1850s he gained permission to take a leave from the British Army and traveled to Egypt to prepare for his adventure. He immediately took on the disguise of a Muslim, his success prompting him to begin his journey into Arabia in July 1853. He traveled by caravan first to Medina and from there to Mecca.