Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (Arabic: المسجد الحرام, “The Sacred Mosque”) is the largest mosque in the world. Located in the city of Mecca, it surrounds the Kaaba, the place which Muslims worldwide turn towards while offering daily prayers and is Islam’s 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 Muslim 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-Ma’mur (Arabic: البيت المعمور, “The Worship Place of Angels”). From time to time, the Mosque was damaged by a storm (flood) and was rebuilt anew. According to Islamic belief it was built by Ibrahim (Abraham), with the help of his son Ismail (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 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 purportedly 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.
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.
And when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House (Kaaba): Our Lord! accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.
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.
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 being 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 Umrah, 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 simultaneously with those in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah. 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. Other modern developments include 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 its current maximum capacity of 800,000 with 1,120,000 outside the Mosque itself.
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.
The qibla—the direction that Muslims turn to in their prayers (salah)—is toward the Kaaba and symbolizes unity in worshiping one Allah(God). At one point the direction of the qibla was toward Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) (and 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.
The Haram is the focal point of the hajj and umrah pilgrimages 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.
The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham).
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 or holy 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 (Kiswah). The kiswa is usually of black brocade with the Shahada outlined in the weave of the fabric. About three quarters of the way up runs a gold embroidered band covered with Qur’anic text.
Imams at Haram Sharif are:
- Sheikh Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais (Arabic:عبد الرحمن السديس).Leading imam; Chief of imams at Masjid Al Haram
- Sheikh Dr. Saud Al-Shuraim (Arabic:سعود بن إبراهيم الشريم)- Judge in Mecca High Court; Deputy Chief Of Imams Mecca.
- Sheikh Abdullah Awad Al Johany (Arabic:عبدالله عواد الجهني) (From 2005 during Ramadhan for taraweeh prayers. Appointed as full Imam of Kaabah in July 2007)
- Sheikh Mahir Al-Muaiqely (Arabic:ماهر المعيقلي) Appointed in July 2007(Has led taraweeh in Al-Masjid(u) ‘n-Nabawiy in Ramadhan 2005 and 2006)
- Sheikh Khaled Al Ghamdi (Arabic:خالد الغامدي) (Appointed after Hajj 2008)
- Sheikh Dr. Salih bin Abdullah al Humaid (Arabic:صالح بن حميد)- Chairman Saudi Majlis al Shura
- Sheikh Dr. Usaama bin Abdullah al Khayyat (Arabic:أسامة بن عبدالله خياط).
- Sheikh Dr.Salih Al-Talib (Arabic:صالح الطالب) (Judge in Mecca High Court) appointed in 2003.
- Sheikh Muhammed Al-Subayyil (Arabic:محمد السبيل)
- Sheikh Faisal Al Ghazzawi (Arabic:فيصل غزاوي) (Appointed after Hajj 2008)
Former Imams include:
- The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Khulaifi (Arabic:عبد الله الخليفي).
- The Late Sheikh Ali Bin Abdullah Jabir (Arabic:على بن عبد الله جابر).
- The Late Sheikh Umar Al-Subayyil (Arabic:عمر السبيل) (son of Muhummad Al-Subayyil).
- The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al Humaid (Arabic:عبد الله الحميد)- Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia.
- The Late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harazi (Arabic:عبدالله الحرازي) Chairman Saudi Majlis al Shura.
- The Late Great Sheikh Abdullah Khayyat (Arabic:عبدالله خياط).
- Shaikh Dr. Salah Ibn Muhammad Al Budair (Lead Taraweeh in 2005-2006) now in Masjid Al-Nabawi
- Sheikh Adil Kalbani (Led taraweeh 1429 A.H)
The imams have a set Rota to decide who leads which prayer in Mecca.
Fajr duty is given to Sheikh Salih bin Abdullah al Humaid. However, since his appointment as chairman/speaker of the Saudi Parliament, Majlis Shura, he spends most of his time in the capital, Riyadh. In his absence Sheikh Saud Al-Shuraim leads, with back-up duty given to Sheikh Juhany.
Zuhar is led by Sheikh Usama Khayat.
Asr is led by Sheikh Al-Talib.
Magrib duty is given to Sheikh Sudais, with Sheikh Faisal Gazzawi as back-up.
Isha is primarily led by Sheikh Al-Talib, with Sheikh Khalid Al Ghamdi leading in his absence.
Nowadays, several families are sharing adhan duty in the Masjid Al-Haram. Mulla, Shaker, Rayes, Abbas, Hadrawi, Basnawi, Khouj, Marouf and Feedah. Some of these families have been holding this position for hundreds of years. Today, The Mosque has 13 Muezzins :
- Ali Ahmed Mulla (Arabic: على أحمد ملا) (Longest serving Muezzin).
- Abdullah Asad Reyes (Arabic: عبدالله أسعد ريس).
- Abdulaziz Asad Reyes (Arabic: عبدالعزيز أسعد ريس).
- Mohammed Ali Shaker (Arabic: محمد علي شاكر).
- Mohammed Yousif Shaker (Arabic: محمد يوسف شاكر).
- Majid Ibrahim Abbas (Arabic: ماجد ابراهيم عباس).
- Ibrahim Mohammed Hassan Abbas (Arabic: ابراهيم محمد حسن عباس).
- Farouk Abdulrahman Hadrawi (Arabic: فاروق عبد الرحمن حضراوى).
- Naif Feedah (Arabic: نايف فيدة).
- Ahmed Abdullah Basnawi (Arabic: أحمد عبدالله بصنوي).
- Ali Mohammed Moammar (Arabic: علي محمد معمر).
- Toufik Khouj (Arabic: توفيق خوج).
- Mohammed Siraj Marouf (Arabic:محمد سراج معروف ).
- New Appointed Immams From July 2009 * * * *
- Isam bin Ali Hasan Khan
- Ahmed bin Ali Hasan Nuhas
- Ahmed bin Yunus Ishaq Hauja
Isam Bin Ali Hasan Khan – hafiz of Quraan. And he has ijazah in tajweed and qira’ah. Has a Phd in engineering and member of higher education University of Umul Quraa.
Ahmed bin Ali Hasan Nuhas- Hafiz of Quraan. MA in Islamic Education from Umul Qura University. A teacher in secondary education.
Ahmed bin Yunus Ishaq Hauja- hafiz of Quraan. Has BA in Qira’ah from department of Dawah and Usul addin. A teacher in secondary school. 
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.