Masjid al-Haram

Al-Masjid Al-Haram (Arabic: المسجد الحرام, The Sacred Mosque or The Grand Mosque) is in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds one of Islam's holiest places, the Kaaba. Muslims face in the direction of the Kaaba while performing formal worship, salat. One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so, includes circumambulation of the Kaaba.

The current structure covers an area of 356,800 square metres (88.2 acres) including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to two million worshipers during the Hajj period, one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world. Unlike many other mosques which are segregated, men and women can worship at Al-Masjid Al-Haram together.


According to Islamic tradition the very first construction of the Kaaba, the heart of Al-Masjid Al-Haram, was undertaken by Abraham. The Qur'an said that this was the first house built for humanity to worship Allah.

With the order of the God, Abraham and his son Ishmael found the original foundation and rebuild the Kaaba in 2130 BCE. Hajar-Al-Aswad, the Black Stone situated on the lower side of the eastern corner of the Kaaba, is believed to be the only remnant of the original structure made by Abraham.

Muslim belief also places the story of Ishmael's mother searching for water in the general vicinity of the mosque. In the story, Hagar runs between the hills of Safa and Marwah looking for water for her infant son until God eventually reveals her the Zamzam.The "Zamzam well" and "Safa and Marwah" are structures in Al-Masjid al-Haram.

Upon Muhammad's victorious return to Mecca in 630, Muhammad and his son-in-law, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, broke all the idols in and around the Kaaba and ended its pagan use. This began the Islamic rule over the Kaaba and the building of Al-Masjid Al-Haram around it.

The first major renovation to the mosque took place in 692. Before this renovation, which included the mosque's outer walls being raised and decoration added to the ceiling, the mosque was a small open area with the Kaaba at the center. By the end of the 8th century, the Mosque's old wooden columns had been replaced with marble columns and the wings of the prayer hall had been extended on both sides along with the addition of a minaret. The spread of Islam in the Middle East and the influx of pilgrims required an almost complete rebuilding of the site which included adding more marble and three more minarets.


In 1570, 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 the heavy rains and flash floods of 1621 and 1629, the walls of the Kaaba and the mosque suffered extensive damage. In 1629, during the reign of Sultan Murad IV, the Kaaba was rebuilt with stones from Mecca and the mosque was renovated. In the renovation of the mosque, a new stone arcade was added, three more minarets (which made the total number 7) were built, and the marble flooring was retiled. This was the unaltered state of the mosque for nearly three centuries


The first major renovation under the Saudi kings was done 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 (Al-Safa and Al-Marwah) is included in the Masjid via roofing and enclosements. During this renovation many of the historical features built by the Ottomans, particularly the support columns, were demolished.

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 accessed through the King Fahd Gate. This extension is considered to have been from 1982–1988.

The third Saudi extension (1988–2005) saw the building of more minarets, the erecting of a King's residence overlooking the Masjid and more prayer area in and around the mosque itself. These developments have taken place simultaneously with those in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah. This third extension has also resulted in 18 more gates, three domes corresponding in position to each gate and the installation of nearly 500 marble columns. Other modern developments include the addition of heated floors, air conditioning, escalators and a drainage system.

Current expansion project

n 2007, the mosque went under a fourth extension project which is estimated to last until 2020. King Abdullah Ibn Abdul Azeez plans to increase the mosque's capacity to 2 million.

Northern expansion of the mosque began in August 2011 and is expected to be completed in 1.5 years. The area of the mosque will be expanded from the current 356,000 m2 (3,830,000 sq ft) to 400,000 m2 (4,300,000 sq ft). A new gate named after King Abdullah will be built together with two new minarets, bringing their total to 11. The cost of the project is $10.6-billion and after completion the mosque will house over 2.5 million worshipers. The Mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Kaaba) will also see expansion and all closed spaces will be air conditioned.

Controversies on expansion projects

There has been some controversy that the expansion projects of the mosque and Mecca itself are causing harm to early Islamic heritage. Many ancient buildings, some more than a thousand years old, have been demolished to make room not only for the expansion of Al-Masjid Al-Haram, but for new malls and hotels. Some examples are:

1 Bayt Al-Mawlid, the house where Muhammad was born demolished and rebuilt as a library.

2 Dar Al-Arqam, the first Islamic school where Muhammad taught flattened to lay marble tiles.

3 The house of Abu Jahal has been demolished and replaced by public washrooms.

4 Dome which served as a canopy over the Well of Zamzam demolished.

5 Some Ottoman porticos at Al-Masjid Al-Haram demolished and the remaining under threat.

6 House of Muhammed in Medina where he lived after the migration from Mecca.

Religious significance

The importance of the mosque is twofold. It not only serves as the common direction towards which Muslims pray, but is also the main location for pilgrimages.


The Qibla—the direction that Muslims turn to in their prayers (salat)—is toward the Kaaba and symbolizes unity in worshiping one Allah (God). At one point the direction of the Qibla was toward Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) (and is therefore called the First of the Two Qiblas),[citation needed] however, this only lasted for seventeen months, after which the Qibla became oriented towards the Kaaba in Mecca. According to accounts from Muhammad's companions, the change happened very suddenly during the noon prayer at Medina in the Masjid al-Qiblatain.


The  Haram is the focal point of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages that occur in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar and at any time of the year, respectively. The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the Pillars of Islam, required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford the trip. In recent times, about 3 million Muslims perform the Hajj every year.

Some of the rituals performed by pilgrims are symbolic of historical incidents. For example, the episode of Hagar's search for water is emulated by Muslims as they run between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah.

The Hajj is associated with the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham).


The Kaaba (Arabic: الكعبة) is a cuboid-shaped building in the center of Al-Masjid Al-Haram and is one of the most sacred sites in Islam. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. This is called facing the Qibla.

The Hajj requires pilgrims to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. This circumambulation, the Tawaf, is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage).

Black Stone

The Black Stone (Arabic: الحجر الأسود al-Ḥajar al-Aswad) is the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba. It was set intact into the Kaaba 's wall by Muhammad in the year 605, five years before his first revelation. Since then it has been broken into a number of fragments and is now cemented into a silver frame in the side of the Kaaba . Its physical appearance is that of a fragmented dark rock, polished smooth by the hands of millions of pilgrims.

Many of the pilgrims, if possible, stop and kiss the Black Stone, emulating the kiss that Islamic tradition records it having received from Muhammad.If they cannot reach it, they point to it on each of their seven circuits around the Kaaba.

Maqām Ibrahim

The Maqām Ibrahim (Ibrahim's place of standing) is a rock that reportedly has an imprint of Abraham's foot which is kept in a crystal dome next to the Kaaba . Abraham is said
to have stood on this stone during the construction of the upper parts of the Kaaba, raising Ishmail on his shoulders for the uppermost parts. That means the height of Ibrahim is around parallel to roof top of the Khana Kaaba.

Al-Safa and Al-Marwa

Al-Safa and Al-Marwah (Arabic: الصفا Aṣ-Ṣafā, المروة Al-Marwah) are two hills, now located in Al-Masjid Al-Haram. In Islamic tradition, Ibrahim's wife Hagar runs between the hills of Safa and Marwah looking for water for her infant son Ishmael until God eventually reveals her the Zamzam. Muslims also travel back and forth seven times during the ritual pilgrimages of Hajj and Umrah as a remembrance to her.

Al-Safa – from which the ritual walking (Arabic: سعى saʿy) begins – is located approximately half a mile from the Kaaba. Al-Marwah is located about 100 m (330 ft) from the Kaaba . The distance between Safa and Marwah is approximately 450 m (1,480 ft)

Zamzam Well

The Zamzam Well (Arabic: زمزم) is a well located 20 m (66 ft) east of the Kaaba. It began circa 2150 BCE when Abraham's (Ibrāhīm) infant son Ishmael (ʼIsmāʻīl) was thirsty and kept crying for water. The well has never gone dry despite the millions of liters of water consumed every year. It had been deepened several times in history during periods of severe droughts.

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