Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, Masjidil Haram, The Sacred Mosque, Mecca Saudi Arabia
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 turn towards while offering daily prayers and is Islams holiest place. The mosque is also known as the Grand Mosque.
The current structure covers an area of 400,800 square metres (99.0 acres) including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to four million worshippers 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-Maˤmur (Arabic: البيت المعمور, “The Worship Place of Angels”). From time to time, the Mosque was destroyed and rebuilt anew. According to Islamic belief it was built by Ibrahim (Abraham), with the help of his son Ishmael. They were ordered by Allah to build the mosque, and the Kaaba. The Black Stone is situated near the eastern corner of the Kaaba. Some believe it is to start the circumambulation around the Kaaba, while some believe it to be the only remnant of the original structure made by Abraham. 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 the Grand Mosque 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 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 Abraham and Ishmael, 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.—Qur’an, [Qur’an 2:125]
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 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 came to include more marble and three further minarets.
In 1399, the Mosque caught fire and what was not 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 Kaaba 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.
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.