Masjid al-Haram

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Masjid al-Ḥarām (Arabic: المسجد الحرام‎, literally "the sacred mosque"), also called the Sacred Mosque, and the Grand Mosque or Great Mosque of Mecca, is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds Islam's holiest place, the Kaaba, in the historic city of Mecca, modern day Saudi Arabia.


Aerial view of the Masjid al-Haram complex, as in 2013. One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Ḥajj, one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world, at least once in their lifetime when able to do so, including circumambulating the Kaaba. The Grand Mosque includes other important significant sites, including the Black Stone, the Zamzam Well, Maqam Ibrahim, and the hills Safa and Marwa. It is always open, regardless of date or time.

Brief History


The history of the Great Mosque of Mecca, known as the Masjid al-Haram, or simply the Haram, consists of two types in nature, first is the oral or religious tradition and the second is the material tradition.

The religious tradition or the Islamic tradition, originating in the Quran, describes the raising of foundations and construction of a "house" on them by the prophet Ibrahim (identified with biblical Abraham) and his son Ismail (identified with biblical Ishmael)

Notable Structures


Bait ul-Allah, the Kaaba

The Kaaba, (Bait ul-Allah) is the focal point of Muslim prayer i.e. Qibla, it is also the focal point of Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. It is considered by Muslims to be the Bayṫ Allāh (Arabic: بَـيْـت ٱلله‎, "House of God"), and has a similar role to the Tabernacle and Holy of Holies in Judaism. Being the qiblah (Arabic: قِـبْـلَـة‎, direction of prayer), Muslims would face it when praying. The Quran contains several verses regarding the origin of the Kaaba. It states that the Kaaba was the first House of Worship, and that it was built by Ibrahim and Ishmael on Allah's instructions.


The Mataaf is the open area around the Kaaba, where pilgrims and Muslims circumbulate around Ka'bah. Total area of current Mataf's ground floor is about 14,000 square meters. The Kaba is located in the center of Mataf area, along with Hateem (Hajr Ismaeel) and Maqam Ibrahim. The Mataf area was originally just sands, and was first plastered by 'Abdullah ibn Zubayr, since then Mataaf has seen countless, building and rebuilding developments. Current Mataf floor is paved with Carrara marble.

circa 700 CE

ZamZam Well
Zam Zam is a water well near Kaaba, which according to Islamic Tradition sprang to quench the thirst of prophet Ishmael (Ismail). Islamic tradition states that the Zamzam Well was revealed to Hajar, the second wife of Ibrahim's[3] and mother of ʾIsmaʿil. The well originally had two cisterns in the first era, one for drinking and one for ablution. In the era of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur 771 CE (154/155 Hj.) a dome was built above the well, and it was tiled with marble.

circa 700 CE

Maqam Ibrahim
The Station of Abraham (مقام ابراهیم) is a rock that is believed to have an imprint of Abraham's foot and is kept in a crystal dome next to the Kaaba. Muqam Ibrahim is spoken of in Quran in Surah al-Baqarah verse 125:

وَاتَّخِذُوا مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِیمَ مُصَلًّی

And take the station of Ibrahim as a place of salah (prayer).

circa 700 CE

Mount Safa

Hills of Safa and Marwah
Safa and al-Marwah are twin hills of Sa'yee at Sacred Mosque. Safa and Marwah are two hills between which Abraham's wife Hagar ran, looking for water for her infant son Ishmael, an event which is commemorated in the saʿy ritual of the pilgrimage. Pilgrims make rounds at these hills from Safa towards Marwah seven times in commemoration of Hajrah doing the same in search of water almost 4000 years ago.

circa 700 CE

Mas'a Gallery
The Mas'a gallery (as-Safa and al-Marwah) is included in the Mosque, via roofing and enclosures. The length of Sayee gallery (distance between Safa and Marwa) is approximately 450 m (1,480 ft). The two points and the path between them are now inside a long gallery that forms part of the mosque. The Masa'a gallery connects two mounts (still in Mecca) preserving the memory of what Hajira and baby Ishmail had sacrificed for water supplies and food supplies.

circa 700 CE

Masjid al-Haram Gates

Gates of Masjid al-Haram
Today there are about 210 gates of the Masjid al-Haram complex, that grant access to different internal areas of the Grand Mosque.

Historic Structures

circa 1930 CE

Bab Bani Shaybah
The Bab Bani Shaybah (left); until 1950s this single single free standing arch was a part of Mataaf area. al-Maqdisi accounts nineteen gates of Masjid al-Haram while naming these. According to al-Maqdisi's account it is preferable and desirable for pilgrims to enter the mosque through this gate. This gate has since 1960s been removed. The other two significant structures are Muqam Ibrahim (center) and Ka'bah (right).


Maqamat of the Four Imams
The stations (maqamat) of the four imams were a series of four free-standing canopied structures which used to mark the musalla (prayer leading spot for imams) in the mataf area of the Great Mosque. These were of varying sizes, and were located around the Kaaba in four separate directions. These were demolished during the 1925/1926 CE demolition campaign.

circa 700 CE

Ottoman Porticoes
The Ottoman Porticoes, are the arched porches built around the courtyard (mataaf) built during the Ottoman era. During the King Abdullah Expansion these porticoes were designated to be preserved, and now stand re-built on three sides of the Mataaf area, except the al-Masa'a. Some of these porticoes were rebuilt some 15 years ago due to the damage suffered in earlier expansions. All the original porticoes will be preserved except these newly reconstructed ones.


circa 1500-1940 CE

Ottoman and Early Saudi Era
In 1570 CE, Sultan Selim II commissioned the chief architect Mimar Sinan to renovate the mosque. This renovation resulted in the replacement of the flat roof with domes decorated with calligraphy internally, and the placement of new support columns which are acknowledged as the earliest architectural features of the present mosque. These features are the oldest surviving parts of the building.

During heavy rains and flash floods in 1621 and 1629 CE, the walls of the Kaaba and the mosque suffered extensive damage. In 1629, during the reign of Sultan Murad IV, the mosque was renovated. In the renovation of the mosque, a new stone arcade was added, three more minarets (bringing the total to seven) were built, and the marble flooring was retiled. This was the unaltered state of the mosque for nearly three centuries until the Saudi Era.

circa 1950-1975 CE

King Saud Expansion
The first major renovation under the Saudi kings was undertaken during the reign of Malik al-Saud between 1955 and 1973. In this renovation, four more minarets were added, the ceiling was refurnished, and the floor was replaced with artificial stone and marble. The Mas'a gallery (As-Safa and Al-Marwah) is included in the Mosque, via roofing and enclosures.

circa 1975-1990 CE

King Fahad Expansion
The second Saudi renovations under King Fahd, added a new wing and an outdoor prayer area to the mosque. The new wing, which is also for prayers, is reached through the King Fahd Gate. This extension was performed between 1982 and 1988 CE.

circa 2008 CE

King 'Abdullah Expansion
Malik 'Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz expansion of Masjid al-Haram, 2008- till date CE. The modern expansion included 300,000 square metres of space towards the north-west of existing structures. It can accommodate 1.2 million worshippers, including a multi-level extension on the north side of the complex, new stairways and tunnels, a gate named after King Abdullah (lower left). The Great Mosque of Mecca is a very dynamic structure, it has been ever expanding since the sixth century until very recently.

See Also


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