Masjid al-Haram

Masjid al-Haram
Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām
The Sacred Mosque
Coordinates: 21°25′19″N 39°49′34″E / 21.422°N 39.826°E / 21.422; 39.826Coordinates: 21°25′19″N 39°49′34″E / 21.422°N 39.826°E / 21.422; 39.826
Location Saudi Arabia Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Established 638
Branch/tradition Islam
Administration Saudi Arabian government
Leadership Imam(s):
Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais
Saud Al-Shuraim
Architectural information
Capacity 900,000 (increased to 4,000,000 during the hajj period)
Minaret(s) 9
Minaret height 89 m (292 ft)

Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (Arabic: المسجد الحرام‎, pronounced [ʔælˈmæsdʒɪd ælħɑˈrɑːm], "The Sacred Mosque") is the largest mosque in the world. Located in the city of Mecca, it surrounds the Kaaba, the place which Muslims worldwide turn towards while performing daily prayers and is Islam's holiest place. The mosque is also known as the Grand Mosque.[1]

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 four million Muslim worshipers during the Hajj period, one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world.



Islamic tradition holds that the Mosque was first built by the angels before the creation of mankind, when God ordained a place of worship on Earth to reflect the house in heaven called al-Baytu l-Ma'mur (Arabic: البيت المعمور, "The Worship Place of Angels"). From time to time, the Mosque was damaged by a storm (flood) and was rebuilt anew. According to Islamic belief it was rebuilt by Ibrahim, with the help of his son Ismail. They were ordered by God to build the mosque, and the Kaaba. The Black Stone (Hajar-ul-aswad) is situated on the lower side of the eastern corner of the Kaaba, believed to be the only remnant of the original structure made by Ibrahim. The Kaaba is the direction for all the Muslims to pray across the globe thus signifying unity among all. The Islamic teaching specifically mentions that nothing is miraculous about the Grand Mosque except for the oasis Zamzam which has purportedly never dried since it was revealed.

And when We assigned to Ibrahim the place of the House (Kaaba), saying: Do not associate with Me aught, and purify My House for those who make the circuit and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves.
And when We made the House a resort for men and a place of security. And: Take ye the place of Abraham for a place of prayer. And We enjoined Ibrahim and Ismael, saying: Purify my House for those who visit it and those who abide in it for devotion and those who bow down and those who prostrate themselves.
And when Ibrahim and Ismael raised the foundations of the House (Kaaba): Our Lord! accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.

Muslim belief places the story of Ismael and his mother's search 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 to her the Zamzam Well, from where water continues to flow to this day.

After the Hijra, upon Muhammed's victorious return to Mecca, Muhammad and his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, removed all the idols in and around the Kaaba and cleansed it. This began the Islamic rule over the Kaaba, and the building of a mosque 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 centre. By the end of the 700s, 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.

The mosque was renovated in 1570 by Sultan Selim II's private architect and it resulted in the replacement of the flat roof with domes decorated with calligraphy internally and the placement of new support columns. These features (still present at the Mosque) are the oldest surviving parts of the building and are in fact older than the Kaaba itself (discounting the black stone) which is currently in its fourth incarnation made in 1629. The Saudi government acknowledges 1570 as the earliest date for architectural features of the present Mosque.

Following further damaging rain in the 1620s, the Mosque was renovated yet again: a new stone arcade was added, three more minarets were built and the marble flooring was retiled. This was the unaltered state of the Mosque for nearly three centuries.

Saudi Development

Minarets of the Masjid al-Haram

The most significant architectural and structural changes came, and continue to come, from the Saudi status of Guardian of the Holy Places and the honorific title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (the other being the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina) been afforded to King Abdul Aziz. Many of the previously mentioned features, particularly the support columns, were destroyed in spite of their historical value. In their place came artificial stone and marble, the ceiling was refurnished and the floor was replaced. The Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, an important part of both Hajj and Umrah, came to be included in the Mosque itself during this time via roofing and enclosement. Also during this first Saudi renovation four minarets were added.

Interior of the Masjid Al Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The second Saudi renovations, this time 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 Mosque 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 being built, 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.

After the death of King Fahd, the Mosque is went under a fourth extension which began in 2007 and is projected to last until 2020. King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz plans to increase the capacity of the mosque by 35% from its current maximum capacity of 800,000 with 1,120,000 outside the Mosque. Right next to the mosque is the Abraj Al Bait Towers which were completed in 2011 and stand as the largest, and second tallest building in the world.[2]

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 airconditioned.[3]

Controversies on expansion

It has been a strong controversy that, expansion of the city Mecca is causing harm to archaeological sites. Many millennium old buildings have been demolished. Here are some examples[4]:

  • The house where the prophet Muhammad was born, has possibly been demolished and turned into a library.
  • The house of Abu jahal has been demolished and replaced by public toilet.

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.


Masjid al-Haram, Mecca at night

The Qibla—the direction that Muslims turn to in their prayers (salah)—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.


Pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba.

The Haram is the focal point of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages[5] 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 Five 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 Safa and Marwah whenever they visit Mecca.

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).

Unlike Hajj, the Umrah or (Arabic: عمرة‎) is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year.


The Kaaba at Masjid al-Haram

Literally, Kaaba in Arabic means square house. The word Kaaba may also be derivative of a word meaning a cube. Some of these other names include:

  • Al-Bait ul Ateeq which, according to one interpretation, means the earliest and ancient. According to another interpretation, it means independent and liberating.
  • Al-Bayt ul Haram which may be translated as the honorable or holy house.

The whole building is constructed out of the layers of grey blue stone from the hills surrounding Mecca. The four corners roughly face the four points of the compass. In the eastern corner is the Hajr-al-Aswad (the Black Stone), at the northern corner lies the Rukn-al-Iraqi (The Iraqi corner), at the west lies Rukn-al-Shami (The Levantine corner) and at the south Rukn-al-Yamani (The Yemeni corner). The four walls are covered with a curtain (Kiswah). The Kiswa is usually of black brocade with the Shahada outlined in the weave of the fabric. About three quarters of the way up runs a gold embroidered band covered with Qur'anic text.


Masjid al-Haram, Mecca. Inside

Imams at the Masjid Al-Haram are:

  • Sheikh Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais (Arabic: عبد الرحمن السديس). Leading imam; Chief of imams at Masjid Al Haram
  • Sheikh Dr. Saud Al-Shuraim (Arabic: سعود بن إبراهيم الشريم). Judge in Mecca High Court; Deputy Chief of imams Mecca.
  • Sheikh Abdullah Awad Al Juhany (Arabic: عبدالله عواد الجهني) (From 2005 during Ramadhan for taraweeh prayers. Appointed as full Imam of Kaabah in July 2007. Ex-Imaam of Al-Masjid(u) 'n-Nabawiy)
  • Sheikh Dr. Maher Al Mueaqly (Arabic: ماهر المعيقلي) Appointed in July 2007 (has led taraweeh in Al-Masjid(u) 'n-Nabawiy in Ramadhan 2005 and 2006)
  • Sheikh Dr. Khaled Al Ghamdi (Arabic: خالد الغامدي) (Appointed after Hajj 2008)
  • Sheikh Dr. Salih bin Abdullah al Humaid (Arabic: صالح بن حميد). Chairman Saudi Majlis al Shura
  • Sheikh Dr. Usaama bin Abdullah al Khayyat (Arabic: أسامة بن عبدالله خياط).
  • Sheikh Dr.Salih Al-Talib (Arabic: صالح ال طالب). Judge in Mecca High Court; appointed in 2003.
  • Sheikh Faisal Al Ghazzawi (Arabic: فيصل غزاوي) (Appointed after Hajj 2008)

Former Imams include:

  • The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Khulaifi (Arabic: عبد الله الخليفي).
  • The Late Sheikh Ali Jaber (Arabic: على بن عبد الله جابر).
  • The Late Sheikh Umar Al-Subayyil (Arabic: عمر السبيل) (son of Muhummad Al-Subayyil).
  • The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al Humaid (Arabic: عبد الله الحميد). Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia.
  • The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harazi (Arabic: عبدالله الحرازي). Chairman Saudi Majlis al Shura.
  • The Late Great Sheikh Abdullah Khayyat (Arabic: عبدالله خياط).
  • Sheikh Ali Bin Abdur Rahman Al Hudhaify. Now Leading imam; Chief of imams of Al-Masjid(u) 'n-Nabawiy
  • Sheikh Dr. Salah Ibn Muhammad Al Budair. Lead Taraweeh in 2005–2006; now in Al-Masjid(u) 'n-Nabawiy
  • Sheikh Muhammed Al-Subayyil (Arabic: محمد السبيل)
  • Sheikh Adil Kalbani (Led taraweeh 12 A.H)

The imams have a set rota to decide who leads which prayer in Mecca. The rota is decided in advance and the imams' duties change as per the rota.


Nowadays, several families are sharing adhan duty in the Masjid Al-Haram. Mulla, Shaker, Rayes, Al-AlAbbas, Hadrawi, Basnawi, Khouj, Marouf and Feedah. Some of these families have been holding this position for hundreds of years like AlAbbas family who are generated from ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.

Old Muadhins:

  • Ahmad Mohammad Al-AlAbbas (Arabic: أحمد بن محمد بن أمين آل العباس) died in 1924 .
  • Mohammed Hassan Al-AlAbbas (Arabic: محمد حسن بن أحمد آل العباس) died in 1971 .
  • ِAbdulHafith Khoj (Arabic: عبد الحفيظ خوج) .
  • AbdulRahman Shaker (Arabic: عبد الرحمن شاكر) .
  • Ahmad Shahhat (Arabic: أحمد شحات) .
  • Mohammad Ramul (Arabic: محمد رمل) .
  • Hassan Zabidi (Arabic: حسان زبيدي) .

Today, The Mosque has 13 Muezzins :

  • Ali Ahmed Mulla (Arabic: على أحمد ملا) (Longest serving Muezzin).
  • Abdullah Asad Reyes (Arabic: عبدالله أسعد ريس).
  • Abdulaziz Asad Reyes (Arabic: عبدالعزيز أسعد ريس).
  • Mohammed Ali Shaker (Arabic: محمد علي شاكر).
  • Mohammed Yousif Shaker (Arabic: محمد يوسف شاكر).
  • Ibrahim Mohammed Hassan Al-AlAbbas (Arabic: ابراهيم محمد حسن آل العباس).
  • Majid Ibrahim Al-AlAbbas (Arabic: ماجد ابراهيم آل العباس).
  • Farouk Abdulrahman Hadrawi (Arabic: فاروق عبد الرحمن حضراوى).
  • Sheikh Naif bin Salih Wa'dhudeen (Arabic: نايف فيدة). Appointed Chief Of Muadhins 2010 October
  • Ahmed Abdullah Basnawi (Arabic: أحمد عبدالله بصنوي).
  • Ali Mohammed Moammar (Arabic: علي محمد معمر).
  • Toufik Khouj (Arabic: توفيق خوج).
  • Mohammed Siraj Marouf (Arabic:‫محمد سراج معروف ‬).

There are 16 muezzins at the mosque now, and during Ramadan an additional six are appointed. Apart from adhan, a muezzin also supports imams by repeating what they say in a loud voice. This is important, especially during Ramadan, when a large number of worshipers throng the mosque.


1979 Grand Mosque Seizure

The Grand Mosque Seizure on November 20, 1979, was an armed attack and takeover by armed Islamic fundamentalist dissidents of the Al-Masjid al-Haram. The insurgents declared that the Mahdi, or redeemer of Islam, had arrived in the form of one of the insurgents' leaders, Abdullah Hamid Mohammed Al-Qahtani and called on Muslims to obey him.

The seizure shook the Islamic world as hundreds of pilgrims present for the annual Hajj were taken hostage, and hundreds of militants, security forces and hostages caught in crossfire were killed in the ensuing battles for control of the site. The siege ended two weeks after the takeover began with militants cleared from the mosque.[6]

1987 riots

On July 31, 1987, Iranian pilgrims staged a demonstration in the city of Mecca. Following the intervention of the Saudi security forces 402 people were killed (275 Iranians, 85 Saudis including policemen, and 42 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranians, 145 Saudis and 201 other nationals).[7]

See also


  1. ^ Orientation
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Historic Masjid al-Haram Extension Launched". onislam. 20 August 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Mohamed, Mamdouh N. (1996). Hajj to Umrah: From A to Z. Mamdouh Mohamed. ISBN 0-915957-54-x. 
  6. ^ Benjamin, The Age of Sacred Terror (2002) p.90
  7. ^ K. McLachlan, Iran and the Continuing Crisis in the Persian Gulf. GeoJournal, Vol.28, Issue 3, Nov. 1992, p.359; also, "400 Die as Iranian Marchers Battle Saudi Police in Mecca; Embassies Smashed in Tehran," New York Times, 8/2/87

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