Arabia, the center of a rich civilization, is surrounded by water on three sides (the Arabian and Oman gulfs from the east, Indian Ocean from the south, and the Red Sea from the west) and by sand on the fourth (Jordan and Iraq). Historically, Arabia was the center of the caravan trade. Before Islam, cities fl ourished on the edge of the huge desert. Commerce, art, and literature found fertile ground in these cities. Just after the birth of Islam in Mecca, Arabia came to play a vital political and religious role in the area. When the capital of the Arab/Islamic Empire was relocated to Damascus and then to Baghdad, Arabia maintained its strategic importance for Arabs and Muslims. This is because the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the shrines of the Prophet Mohamed and other Islamic fi gures are in Arabia.