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Masjid al-Haram (The Sacred Mosque)

Masjid al-Haram today
Masjid al-Haram today

Located in Makkah, the Masjid al-Haram (Arabic: المسجد الحرام‎‎‎‎) means the ‘Sacred Mosque’. It is the largest and most important mosque in the world. Housing the Ka’bah, it is a place of pilgrimage for millions of Muslims each year.

Praying in Masjid al-Haram

  • Abu Hurairah (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “A prayer in this mosque of mine is a thousand times greater than a prayer in other than it, except for the Masjid al-Haram.” [Bukhari; Muslim]
  • Allah the Almighty has made special rulings which pertain to the Sacred Mosque of Makkah. Inside, a Muslim is not allowed to fight, hunt birds or animals, cut off grown plants and flowers, or pick up something not his/hers unless he/she can ascertain the ownership of the object. One of the greatest merits of praying in the Sacred Mosque is that a Muslim will have his/her reward multiplied.

Development of Masjid al-Haram through history

Below is a timeline of how the Masjid al-Haram has been expanded and by who from the era of the Quraysh to the present day. Note that there are some disagreements among historians on the exact details of expansions and dates.

1. In the time of the Quraysh

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by the Quraysh
Expansion by the Quraysh
  • The Quraysh rebuilt the Ka’bah in 604/605 CE. The highlighted area shows the approximate open area around the Ka’bah at the time. This was 5 years before the Prophet (ﷺ) received the first revelation of the Quran.

2. Expansion by Umar (رضي الله عنه)

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by Umar (رضي الله عنه)
Expansion by Umar (رضي الله عنه)
  • During his Caliphate, Umar (رضي الله عنه) purchased and then demolished the houses immediately around the Ka’bah to enlarge the space. A low wall was built around to demarcate the area and torches were placed on it.

3. Expansion by Uthman (رضي الله عنه)

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by Uthman (رضي الله عنه)
Expansion by Uthman (رضي الله عنه)
  • During his Caliphate, Uthman (رضي الله عنه) purchased more of the neighbouring houses and demolished them to increase the Haram area. The section behind the Maqame Ebrahim was covered with a wooden roof as this was where salah took place.

4. Expansion by Abdullah Ibn al-Zubair (رضي الله عنه)

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by Abdullah bin Zubair (رضي الله عنه)
Expansion by Abdullah bin Zubair (رضي الله عنه)
  • Abdullah Ibn al-Zubair (رضي الله عنه) further extended the Haram behind the Maqame Ebrahim. He also reconstructed the Ka’bah on the foundations of Ebrahim (عليه السلام), after it had been damaged by the first Umayyad siege.

5. Expansion by al-Walid ibn al-Malik

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by al-Walid ibn al-Malik
Expansion by al-Walid ibn al-Malik
  • During the Umayyad era, the outer walls of the Haram were raised. All four sides of the Kab’ah started being used for congregational prayers with prayer lines (sufuf) encircling the Ka’bah. A minaret was added for the first time.

6. Expansion by Abu-Jafar al-Mansur

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by Abu-Jafar al-Mansur
Expansion by Abu-Jafar al-Mansur
  • The Abbasid Caliph, Abu-Jafar al-Mansur further enlarged the Haram in the mid-8th century CE. Some historians are of the view that his expansion was only a little on the northern side.

7. Expansion by al-Mahdi al-Abbasi

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by al-Mahdi al-Abbasi
Expansion by al-Mahdi al-Abbasi
  • Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi made a large expansion all around the Haram after acquiring neighbouring houses and demolishing them. His son Musa succeeded him and completed the work during his reign.

8. Expansion by al-Mu’tadid al-Abbasi

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by al-Mutadid al-Abbasi
Expansion by al-Mutadid al-Abbasi
  • Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tadid built a place of residence for Hajj pilgrims on the side of the Haram facing the Hateem.

9. Expansion by al-Muqtadir al-Abbasi

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by al-Muqtadir al-Abbasi
Expansion by al-Muqtadir al-Abbasi
  • Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir Billah made a small extension on the side where the Bab-e-Ebrahim (the Gate of Ebrahim) was located.

Ottoman era

  • In the Ottoman era, the Haram underwent major renovations. In 1571, Sultan Selim II directed the court architect Sinan (who designed many of the mosques in Istanbul) to make improvements. He built the support columns around the Mataf and replaced the flat roof with small domes.
Ottoman era Masjid al-Haram
Ottoman era Masjid al-Haram
  • The changes made by Sinan are the oldest surviving features of the present Masjid al-Haram. Another renovation was undertaken by Sultan Murad IV in 1630, who also rebuilt the Ka’bah. After this the Haram remained largely unchanged until the Saudi era in the 20th century.
Ottoman photo of Masjid al-Haram
Ottoman photo of Masjid al-Haram

10. Expansion by King Saud

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by King Saud
Expansion by King Saud
  • The first Saudi expansion of the Haram began in 1955 during the reign of King Saud. Four more minarets were added, the flooring was replaced but many of the historical features built by the Ottomans were removed. The work was completed in 1973.
King Saud expansion
King Saud expansion
  • The first Saudi expansion integrated the Mas’aa (the walkway between As-Safa and Al-Marwah) within the Haram. It increased the total area of Masjid al-Haram from around 27,000 square meters to 152,000 square meters. This increased its maximum capacity to 500,000 worshippers.

11. Expansion by King Fahd

11. Expansion of Masjid al-Haram by King Fahd
Expansion by King Fahd
  • The second Saudi expansion, under King Fahd, was done between 1982-1988 to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims to Masjid al-Haram. Surrounding buildings were razed to create a new wing and outdoor praying space.
King Fahd expansion
King Fahd expansion
  • As part of the expansion work, the Haram was fitted with escalators and pedestrian tunnels. An advanced indoor and outdoor air-conditioning system was also introduced. After the enlargement, Masjid al-Haram covered 356,800 square meters and could accommodate 820,000 worshippers.

12. Expansion by King Abdullah

12. Masjid al-Haram expansion by King Abdullah
Expansion by King Abdullah
  • The third Saudi expansion was initiated in 2011 by King Abdullah, the largest in the history of the Haram. More of the neighbouring buildings were to be razed to increase the indoor and outdoor praying space. The Mataf area was also to be enlarged.
Completed King Abdullah expansion
Completed King Abdullah expansion

References: The History of Makkah Mukarramah – Dr. Muhammad Ilyas Abdul Ghani, IslamiCity.com, Britannica.com, Wikipedia. Mecca the Blessed, Medina the Radiant: The Holiest Cities of Islam – Seyyed Hossein Nasr