Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (Arabic: المسجد الحرام) is the best-known and the most sacred mosque in the Islamic world, located in Mecca in Arabia in which the Ka'ba, the qibla of Muslims, is located. In addition to the Ka'ba, there are other sacred buildings, objects, and places inside al-Masjid al-Haram, such as the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad), al-Multazam, al-Mustajar, al-Hatim, and Hijr Isma'il all of which are of a high religious and spiritual place for Muslims. In Islamic jurisprudence, al-Masjid al-Haram is subject to some special laws in addition to the general laws of shari'a applied to mosques. In Islam, it is obligatory for every Muslim to travel to Mecca (for hajj) at least once in his or her lifetime if he or she is capable of doing so (istita'a). There are some rituals of hajj that should be done inside al-Masjid al-Haram.
The Arabic word "al-Masjid al-Haram" is a descriptive phrase. "Masjid" means mosque, and it is described as "Haram" because some acts which are not forbidden in other mosques are forbidden (haram) in this mosque, because this mosque should be respected in a special way. Moreover, committing sins in this mosque is doubly wrong, and according to some sources, even the intention to do a sinful action in this mosque counts as equivalent to doing that action.
Islamic sources, and in particular the Qur'an, imply that al-Masjid al-Haram was called so by people of Hijaz even before the emergence of Islam, and even though there used to be no buildings or walls around the Ka'ba, the area in which the pilgrims circumambulate (tawaf) around the Ka'ba was known as al-Masjid al-Haram. The descriptive phrase "al-Masjid al-Haram" is repeatedly used in the Quran; for example in a verse stating that polytheists should not be allowed to pilgrim the Ka'ba and perform hajj:
"وَ ما لَهُمْ أَلاَّ يُعَذِّبَهُمُ اللَّهُ وَ هُمْ يَصُدُّونَ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرامِ"
"And why should Allah not punish them, when they have barred others from al-Masjid al-Haram (the sacred mosque) [Note 1]
The phrase "al-Masjid al-Haram" has also been used in the Qur'an and hadiths to refer to the Ka'ba, the city of Mecca and the whole sacred area called "haram."
Location and Boundaries
Al-Masjid al-Haram is located in Mecca in the Arabia surrounded by the mountains Abu Qubays, Ajyad, Hindi, and 'Umar. The current boundaries of al-Masjid al-Haram are as follows: from the east to the Abu Qubays mountain, from the west to the 'Umar mountain and Shubayka Street, from the north to Shamiyya Street and the Hindi mountain, and from the south to Ajyad Street and Masfala.
The boundaries of the sacred area (haram) is different from different points: 6150 meters from Tan'im to al-Masjid al-Haram, 18000 meters from al-Ju'ranah to al-Masjid al-Haram, 15500 meters in the way to Ta'if from Huda to al-Masjid al-Haram, 17000 meters from the Layth way to al-Masjid al-Haram, and 11000 meters from the Jeddah path to al-Masjid al-Haram.
Al-Masjid al-Haram has long been a sacred and respectful place for people of Hijaz. It is not historically known when it found such a prestige. According to religious and local accounts, the place was venerated since the genesis of the Earth. And according to hadiths, al-Masjid al-Haram is the most venerable place on the Earth.
According to a hadith by the Prophet (s), al-Masjid al-Haram is the oldest mosque on the Earth and it was built before al-Masjid al-Aqsa (or Jerusalem). According to a hadith known as Shadd al-Rihal, the Prophet (s) has said: "do not travel except to visit three mosques..." one of which is al-Masjid al-Haram.
There are special laws of shari'a concerning al-Masjid al-Haram and Mecca. For example, war in al-Masjid al-Haram and even in the whole sacred area (haram) of Mecca is a major sin, except for defense. Worships, such as performing prayers, have more spiritual rewards (thawab) when done in al-Masjid al-Haram than in other places.
Al-Masjid al-Haram has undergone many events, restorations, reconstructions, and expansions as witnessed by sources of history and hadiths. Here are some important ones:
In this period, al-Masjid al-Haram had no walls or buildings; it was just an area in which the Ka'ba was located. It is not historically known exactly when the area was recognized as a mosque, but there are some hadiths in this regard. According to these hadiths, the current location of al-Masjid al-Haram was chosen before the creation of human beings and the Ka'ba was built by angels.
Some hadiths take Adam (a) to be the one who built or rebuilt the Ka'ba. After that, Ibrahim (a) and Isma'il (a) reconstructed the building. There is a hadith from the Prophet (s) to the effect that al-Masjid al-Haram was built by Ibrahim (a). This hadith took al-Masjid al-Haram to be the oldest mosque on the earth.
Before Qusayy b. Kilab b. Murra b. Ka'b, the fourth ancestor of the Prophet (s) and the head of Quraysh, people of Mecca did not build houses near al-Masjid al-Haram. However, Qusayy encouraged people to build houses near the Ka'ba, though with a certain space that allows tawaf (circumambulation around the Ka'ba).
Period of the Four Caliphs
The first change in the area of al-Masjid al-Haram occurred in the period of the Second Caliph. He purchased some houses around it and attached them to it. A short wall was built around the mosque, with some candles on them to illuminate the mosque.
Al-Walid b. 'Abd al-Malik (reign: 86/705 - 96/714-15) added an area of 1725 square meters to al-Masjid al-Haram and reconstructed it. He built porches around it with large pillars. The pillars were nicely decorated and partly gilded. Al-Walid made a golden downspout for the Ka'ba that is still known as the golden downspout.
Al-Mansur al-'Abbasi, the second Abbasid caliph, (reign: 136/753-54 - 158/774-75) doubled the area of al-Masjid al-Haram in 137/754-55, adding an area of around 5000 square meters to its northern and western sides. He also made porches around it, built a minaret in its western side, and made more decorations on its walls and pillars.
Al-Mahdi al-'Abbasi, al-Mansur's son, (reign: 159-169/ 775-785) destroyed more houses around al-Masjid al-Haram and attached them to its area. Thus 8,380 square meters were added to it and many doors were opened to the mosque from different sides—the doors remained so for many centuries.
In 164/780-1, al-Mahdi al-'Abbasi expanded al-Masjid al-Haram from its southern part as well in order to turn the whole mosque into a square at the center of which the Ka'ba was located. Thus 6,560 square meters were added to the area of the mosque, porches were built around it, and pillars were made. These pillars are still there with the al-Mahdi's inscription of on it.
In the period of al-Mustansir al-'Abbasi (reign: 623/1226 - 640/1242-43) a lot of attempts were made to renew al-Masjid al-Haram. In particular, they reconstructed al-Mataf (the area in which hajj pilgrims perform tawaf around the Ka'ba).
In 1368/1948-49, the King 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Saud issued an order to expand al-Masjid al-Haram in all its sides. The expansion began in 1375/1955-56 and the area of the mosque was expanded to 160,861 square meters. The area was intended for a population of over 300,000 worshippers. The doors of al-Masjid al-Haram was increased to 64 ones.
In 1409/1988-89, Malik Fahd started an unprecedented expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram. The studies for the project and the purchase of places around the mosque had started from 1403/1982-83. It was the largest expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram ever in the history. An area of around 76,000 square meters were added to the western side of the mosque. Two monumental 89-meter high minarets were built in this area. Three large domes were built in the middle, each resting on 4 pillars. Currently the number of al-Masjid al-Haram's minarets is 9.
Today al-Masjid al-Haram is a very large complex with an area of over 88,000 square meters, containing approximately one million worshippers. al-Masjid al-Haram has three floors, and its third floor is a very vast roof.
Internal Buildings and Objects
- Main article: Ka'ba
The Ka'ba is the well-known cube-shaped building at the center of al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. It is the qibla of Muslims and their most important place of worship. It is obligatory for Muslims to visit the place as part of the hajj rituals at least once in their lifetime if they meet some conditions such as financial ability.
- Main article: Black Stone
The Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad) is a sacred stone with an old history and a special place in the Islamic culture and hajj rituals. It is located in the eastern side of the Ka'ba (also known as al-Rukn al-Aswad, that is, the black side, or al-Rukn al-Hajari, that is, the stone side), 1.5 meters higher than the ground.
- Main article: Maqam Ibrahim (a)
Maqam Ibrahim is a stone on which Ibrahim (a) is believed to had stood, when he was reconstructing the Ka'ba, in order for his hands to reach the upper parts of the wall. On one account, the stone used to be inside the Ka'ba before Islam, but when the verse "make Maqam Ibrahim [the place where Ibrahim (a) stood] as a place of prayer" [Note 2] was revealed, the Prophet (s) ordered it to be taken out of the Ka'ba and put around it.
- Main article: Hijr Ismail (a)
Hijr Isma'il is the space between the Ka'ba and a half-circled wall extending from the northern part of the Ka'ba (al-Rukn al-'Iraqi) to its western part (al-Rukn al-Shami). Some called it as Huzayra. When Ibrahim (a), Hajar, and their infant, Isma'il (a), entered the area of Mecca, Gabriel guided them to reside where Hijr is now located. Then Hajar and Isma'il dwelled there under a canopy, made of woods, with their sheep. After their death, both Hajar and Isma'il were buried there. Hijr Isma'il was venerated before Islam. After his Bi'that, the Prophet (s) sat in this place, worshiped, recited the Qur'an, and answered people's questions there. According to the majority of Imamiyya jurists, and by an appeal to reliable hadiths, Hijr Isma'il is not part of the Ka'ba, but also it is not a part of al-Mataf, so it is not permissible to perform tawaf through it.
The space between the side of the Black Stone and the door of the Ka'ba is called al-Hatim. It is mentioned in the narrations that this is the best place in al-Masjid al-Haram. It is called as such because people gather there for supplication and press each other.
- Main article: Zamzam Well
There is a water well on the eastern side of al-Masjid al-Haram that is variously called the Zamzam Well, Isma'il's well, 'Abd al-Muttalib's well, Shafa' al-Suqm (healing of the disease), 'Afiya (health), Maymuna (blessed), Tu'm (tasty), Baraka (blessing), and Barra. The well is located underground near Maqam Ibrahim (a) about 18 meters from the Ka'ba.
The Ka'ba had two doors; one on the eastern wall which is present today, the second door was on the western wall near al-Rukn al-Yamani. When Quraysh rebuilt Ka'ba they shut the western door and only left the eastern one. The place of the western door is called al-Mustajar and is visible on the western wall. Touching the wall of Ka'ba on this place and supplication is recommended in the seventh round of tawaf.
Al-Multazam is between al-Rukn al-Yamani and al-Mustajar. This is called "multazam" (the place held or adhered by people) because hajj pilgrims stand there and hold to the wall and recite their prayers and orisons. According to some hadiths, the Prophet (s) put his face and hands on this part of the wall. He is reported as having said that God listens to people's prayers in this place. One recommended action in this place is to confess one's sins to God and ask for His forgiveness.
al-Masjid al-Haram has over 60 doors. Its three main doors are Bab al-'Umra, Bab al-Salam, and Bab Malik 'Abd al-'Aziz.
Written Sources about al-Masjid al-Haram
There are many written works concerning al-Masjid al-Haram. These works can be classified into two categories: some are directly concerned with al-Masjid al-Haram, and others mainly concern the city of Mecca. The oldest available work that has described al-Masjid al-Haram in detail is Akhbar Makka wa ma ja' fiha min al-athar authored by Abu l-Walid al-Azraqi in the third/ninth century and then Akhbar Makka fi qadim al-dahr and hadithih written by Muhammad b. Ishaq b. 'Abbas al-Fakihi al-Makki in the same century.
Here are some other works:
- Ishara al-targhib wa l-tashwiq ila l-masajid al-thalatha wa ila l-Bayt al-'Atiq (encouraging to the three mosques and to the old house [that is, the Ka'ba]) by Shams al-Din Muhammad b. Ishaq al-Khwarazmi (d. 827/1424).
- Al-'Iqd al-thamin by Taqi al-Din al-Fasi (d. 832/1428-9) which is one of the most important source concerning the history of Mecca and al-Masjid al-Haram.
- Tarikh Makka wa l-Masjid al-Haram wa l-Madina al-munawwara wa l-qabr al-sharif (history of Mecca and al-Masjid al-Haram and Medina and the blessed mausoleum) by Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. al-Diya' al-Maliki (d. 885/1480-1).
There is a great deal of information about Mecca and al-Masjid al-Haram in the travel literature. Most travel logbooks in this literature are reports of their authors' hajj pilgrimage, containing information about al-Masjid al-Haram as well. Two of the most important and the oldest hajj logbooks, containing precious historical information, are Tadhkir bi l-akhbar 'an ittifaqat al-amsar by Ibn Jubayr (540-614/1145-6 - 1217-8) and Tuhfa al-nuzzar by Ibn Battuta (d. 779/1377-8).
Iranian Shiite have shared a lot of information about al-Masjid al-Haram in their hajj logbooks. Some important works in this literature are Safarnama by Nasir Khusru (d. 481/1088-9), Safarnama by Farhad Mirza Mu'tamad al-Dawla (d. 1305/1887-8), and Dalil al-anam fi sabil ziyarat bayt Allah al-Haram wa l-Quds al-sharif wa madinat al-salam by Hisam al-Saltana (d. 1300/1882-3).
- The material of this article is mainly taken from مسجد الحرام in Farsi WikiShia.