Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (المسجد الحرام ),is the largest mosque in the world. Located in the city of Mecca, it surrounds the Kaaba, the place which Muslims turn towards while offering daily prayer and is considered to be the holiest place on Earth by Muslims. The mosque is also commonly known as the Haram or Haram Sharif.
The current structure covers an area of 356,800 square meters including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to 2 million worshippers during the Hajj period.
Isha at the Masjid al-Haram
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-Maˤmur (Arabic: البيت المعمور, "The Worship Place of Angels"). Al-Baytu l-Maˤmur is believed to be located in heaven directly above the Kaaba. The first Kaaba was built by angels and Adam was the first human to re-build it. From time to time the mosque was destroyed and rebuilt anew. According to popular belief it was famously built by Ibrahim (Abraham), with the help of his son Ismael. They were ordered by Allah to build the mosque, and the Kaaba. The Black Stone is situated near the eastern corner of the Kaaba, and according to some people is believed to have 'fallen from heaven' and turned black due to man's misdeeds. Others believe it is only a mark to start the circumambulation around the Kaaba. 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 magical about Masjid-ul-haram except for the oasis ZamZam which has never dried ever since it was revealed.“ And when We assigned to Abraham 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. „ —Qur'an, [Qur'an 22:26]
“ And when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House (Kaaba): Our Lord! accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing. „ —Qur'an, [Qur'an 2:127]
Muslim belief places the story of Ishmael 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 son, until God eventually reveals to her the Zamzam Well, from where water continues to flow non-stop to this day.After the Hijra, upon Muhammed's victorious return to Mecca, the people of Mecca themselves 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 been risen and decoration to the ceiling – the Mosque was a small open area with the Ka’aba 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 came to include more marble and three further minarets.
In 1399 the Mosque caught fire and what wasn’t destroyed in the fire (very little) was damaged by unseasonable heavy rain. Again the mosque was rebuilt over six years using marble and wood sourced from nearby mountains in the Hejaz region of current day Saudi Arabia. When the mosque was renovated again in 1570 by Sultan Selim II’s private architect 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 in fact older than the Ka’aba itself (discounting the black stone itself) 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.
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.
Pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba during the Hajj
The qibla—the direction that Muslims turn to in their prayers (salah)—is toward the Kaaba and symbolizes unity in worshipping one God. At one point the direction of the qibla was toward Bayt al-Maqdis, Jerusalem (and it is therefore called the First of the Two Qiblas), 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. Muhammad was leading the prayer when he received a revelation from Allah instructing him to take the Kaaba as the qibla (literally, "turn your face towards the Masjid al-Haram"). According to the historical accounts, Muhammad, who had been facing Jerusalem, upon receiving this revelation, immediately turned around to face Mecca, and those praying behind him also did so.
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 house'. The whole building is constructed out of the layers of gray 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 Syrian corner') and at the south Rukn-al-Yamani ('The Yemeni corner'). The four walls are covered with a curtain (Kiswa). The kiswa is usually of black brocade with the Shahada outlined in the weave of the fabric. About two-thirds of the way up runs a gold embroidered band covered with Qur'anic text.