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Masjid al-Haram Makah Mukarama
Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Province Hejaz)
Date: 638, 1571
Capacity: 820,000, Minaret(s) Nine

Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (المسجد الحرام IPA: [ʔælˈmæs.ʤi.dæl.ħɑˈrɑːm] "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 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.[1]

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.

HistoryIslamic 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.

Saudi DevelopmentFollowing 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.

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 been 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 Umarh, 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.

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 further minarets, the erecting of a King’s residence overlooking the Mosque and further prayer area in and around the mosque itself. These developments have taken place simaltenously with those in Arafat, Mina and Mazdilifah. This third extension has also resulted in 18 more gates been built, three domes corresponding in position to each gate and the installation of nearly 500 marble columns.

Modern but essentially non-architectural developments have been the addition of heated floors, air conditioning, escalators and a drainage system.

The death of King Fahd means that the Mosque is now undergoing 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 it’s current maximum capacity of 800,000 with 1,120,000 outside the Mosque itself.

Religious significanceThe 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.

QiblaThe 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.

Pilgrimage

The Haram is the focal point of the hajj and umrah pilgrimages[2] 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.

KaabaLiterally, 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.

ImamsImams at Haram Sharif are:

His Eminence Sheikh Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais (Arabic:عبد الرحمن السديس)- leading imam of Al-Masjid Al-Haram
His Eminence Sheikh Dr. Saud Al-Shuraim (Arabic:سعود الشريم)- Judge in Mecca High Court
His Eminence Sheikh Dr. Salih bin Abdullah al Humaid (Arabic:صالح بن حميد)- Chairman Saudi Majlis al Shura
His Eminence Sheikh Dr. Usaama bin Abdullah al Khayyat (Arabic:أسامة خياط)
His Eminence Sheikh Salih Al-Talib (Arabic:صالح الطالب)
His Eminence Sheikh Salah Al Budair (Arabic:صلاح البدير) (from 2005 during Ramadhan for taraweeh prayers; He is permanent Imam of Prophet's Mosque in Madinah)
His Eminence Sheikh Abdullah Awad Al Johany (Arabic:عبدالله الجهني) (from 2005 during Ramadhan for taraweeh prayers. Recently appointed as full Imam of Kaabah in July 2007)
His Eminence Sheikh Mahir Al-Muaiqely Recently appointed in July 2007(Has led taraweeh in Madinah in Ramadhan 2005/2006)
Former Imams include:

His Eminence Sheikh Muhammed Al-Subayyil (Arabic:محمد السبيل)
The Late Sheikh Ali Bin Jabir (Arabic:على بن جابر)
The Late Sheikh Umar Al-Subayyil (Arabic:عمر السبيل) (son of Muhummad Al-Subayyil)
The Late Sheikh Abdullah al Humaid - Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia
The Late Sheikh Abdullah Khayyat
The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Khulaifi

MuezzinsMuezzins at the Haram Sharif include:

Sheikh Ali Ahmed Mulla (Arabic:على أحمد ملا)
Sheikh Mohammed Farouk Abdul Rahman Hadhrawi (Arabic: محمد فاروق عبد الرحمان حضراؤى), Muezzin of Masjid al-Haram and Masjid Namirah, on the day of Arafah.
Sheikh Mohammed Shaker Muezzin (Arabic:محمد مؤذن).
Sheikh Ahmed Raiyes (Arabic:أحمد ريس)
Sheikh Majid Ibrahim Abbas (Arabic:ماجد ابراهيم عباس)
Sheikh Abdullah Basnawi
Sheikh Abdul Rahman Basamji
Sheikh Ahmad Toufik
Sheikh Naif
Sheikh Faisal Nu'maan
Muezzins at the Haram Sharif should have certain qualities, most importantly good morals and a good voice in addition to Islamic knowledge which all help him perform his duty in the best manner.

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 worshippers throng the mosque.

Incidents

1979 Grand Mosque Seizure
A terrorist attack on the mosque took place on November 20, 1979. The seizure by the dissidents (men and women) was led by Juhayman al-Otaibi. This event shook the Muslim world as the holiest of Islamic sites saw violence and killing, when hundreds of pilgrims present for the annual hajj were taken hostage, and in the aftermath, large numbers of both Saudi forces and of the militants were killed in the ensuing battles for control of the site.

1987 riots

On July 31, 1987 Iranian pilgrims staged a demonstration in the Grand Mosque and tried to take over the control of the Masjid al-Haram. Following the intervention of the Saudi security forces 402 people were killed (275 Iranians, 85 Saudis including policemen, and 45 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranians, 145 Saudis, and 201 other nationalities).[citation needed]


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Isha at the Masjid al-Haram, 2006

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Pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba during the Hajj

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Makkah al-Mukarramah and 1787 Turkish artwork of the Holy Mosque and related religious sites (Jabal al-Nur)

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Mecca 1850

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Mecca 1910

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Mecca 2007

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