The Masjid al-Ḥarām also called the Sacred Mosque, and the Grand Mosque or Great Mosque of Mecca, is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds Islam’s holiest place, the Kaaba, in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslims face in the Qibla (direction of the Kaaba) while performing Salat (obligatory daily prayers). One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world, at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so, including Tawaf (circumambulation) of the Kaaba. The current structure covers an area of 356,800 square metres (88.2 acres) including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and is open at all times.
The first major renovation under the Saudi kings was done between 1955 and 1973. In this renovation, four more minarets were added, the ceiling was refurnished, and the floor was replaced with artificial stone and marble. The Mas’a gallery (Al-Safa and Al-Marwah) is included in the Masjid via roofing and enclosements. During this renovation many of the historical features built by the Ottomans, particularly the support columns, were demolished. The second Saudi renovations 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 was performed between 1982 and 1988.
The third Saudi extension (1988–2005) saw the building of more minarets, the erecting of a King’s residence overlooking the mosque and more prayer area in and around the mosque itself. These developments have taken place simultaneously with those in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah. This third extension has also resulted in 18 more gates, three domes corresponding in position to each gate and the installation of nearly 500 marble columns. Other modern developments include the addition of heated floors, air conditioning, escalators and a drainage system.
Current expansion project
In 2007, the mosque underwent a fourth extension project which is estimated to last until 2020. King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz planned to increase the mosque’s capacity to 2 million; although the King died in 2015, his successor is likely to continue renovations. Northern expansion of the mosque began in August 2011 and was expected to be completed in one and a half years. The area of the mosque will be expanded from the current 356,000 m2 (3,830,000 sq ft) to 400,000 m2 (4,300,000 sq ft). A new gate named after King Abdullah will be built together with two new minarets, bringing their total to eleven. The cost of the project is $10.6 billion and after completion the mosque will house over 2.5 million worshipers. The Mataaf (the circumambulation areas around the Kaaba) will also see expansion and all closed spaces will be air conditioned.
The Maqām Ibrahim (Abraham’s (R) place of standing) is a rock that reportedly has an imprint of Abraham’s (R) foot, which is kept in a crystal dome next to the Kaaba. This rock was identified by most Islamic scholars as the one behind which Muhammad (PBUH) prayed when he circumambulated the Kaaba. Several traditions existed to explain how Abraham’s footprint miraculously appeared in the stone, including one suggesting it appeared when Abraham (R) stood on the stone while building the Kaaba; when the walls became too high, Abraham (R) stood on the maqām, which miraculously rose up to let him continue building and also miraculously went down in order to allow Ishmael to hand him stones. Other traditions held that the footprint appeared when the wife of Ishmael washed Abraham’s head, or alternatively when Abraham (R) stood atop it in order to summon the people to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Kaaba is a cuboid-shaped building in the center of the Masjid al-Haram and is one of the most sacred sites in Islam. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. The direction from the location of the person who prays to the Kaaba is called the Qibla. The Hajj requires pilgrims to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. This circumambulation, the Tawaaf, is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage).