Masjidil Haram, Makkah Al-Mukaramah
Makkah is located in a valley some 277 meters (909 feet) above sea level and is surrounded by the barren, arid hills of the Sirat Mountains which range from 375 to 766 meters (1,000 to 2,490 feet) in height. There are four gaps in the mountains which provide access to the Holy City of Makkah. The North provides access to Makkah from Mina, Muzdalifah, Arafat and Ta’if. The North West gap provides access from Madinah, the Western gap gives access from Jeddah and the Southern gap opens the way into Makkah from Yemen.
The Holy City of Makkah, which lies inland 73 kilometers east of Jeddah, is the place where the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was born and the place where Allah’s message was first revealed to him. It is also the city to which he returned after the migration to Madinah in 622 CE.
Makkah is the holiest city on earth to Muslims and is variously known as Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Umm Al-Qura (the origin of the Cities), Al Balad Al-Ameen (the Secure City), and Al-Balad Al-Haram (the Sacred City).For most English speakers, “Mecca” has long been the accepted transliteration of the original Arabic for the holy city. The word Mecca in English has evolved to refer to any center of activity sought by a group of people with a common interest. Las Vegas, for example, is considered the “gambling Mecca” (even though gambling is strictly prohibited by Islamic law). Many Muslims find these out-of-context uses offensive.
In an effort to distinguish between the metaphorical and official references to the holy site, the Saudi Arabian government began promoting a new transliteration, Makkah al-Mukkaramah, in the 1980s. Many English-speaking Muslims now consider this the preferred spelling, and it is closer to the original Arabic.
In its long history, Makkah has also been known as Bakkah. It was in Makkah that Allah instructed Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, to build “the House of Allah which known as the Sacred House ( بيت الحرم Baytu Al-Ḥarām)). The Kaaba (Arabic: الكعبة al-Kaʿbah : “The Cube”) is a cuboid building standing in the midst of an open courtyard in Majid Al Haram, Makkah Al Mukarramah. The entire Ka’ba structure is draped with a black silk covering, called a kiswa, upon which passages from the Koran are embroidered in gold. The kiswa is renewed every year and the old kiswah is cut up and distributed so as to allow the barakah of the ka’ba to emanate among those to whom the pieces of the cloth are given.
There are also other religious monuments in the Mosque, such as Maqaam Ibraaheem (the Station of Ibraaheem), which is the rock on which Ibraaheem (peace be upon him) stood whilst he was building the Ka’bah. There is also the Well of Zamzam, which is a spring of water brought forth by Allaah for Haajar and her child Ismaa’eel, peace be upon him, when he was thirsty. There is also the Black Stone and al-Rukn al-Yamaani, which are two of the most precious stones of Paradise.
Al-Tirmidhi and Ahmad reported that ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr said: “I heard the Messenger of Allaah, peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him, saying that the Rukn and the Maqaam are two of the precious stones of Paradise, whose light has been extinguished by Allaah. If He had not extinguished their light, it would illuminate everything between the East and the West.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 804).
Near the Mosque are the two hills of al-Safa and al-Marwah. One of the unique features of the Mosque is that it is the only mosque in the world to which people come on pilgrimage (Hajj). Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Verily! Al-Safa and al-Marwah are of the Symbols of Allaah. So it is not a sin on him who performs Hajj or ‘Umrah (pilgrimage) of the House to perform the going (tawaaf) between them. And whoever does good voluntarily, then verily, Allaah is All-Recognizer, All-Knower.” [al-Baqarah 2:158]
Five times each day, the world’s more than one billion Muslims, wherever they may be, turn towards the Holy City of Makkah to pray.
The Holy Mosque in Makkah, the holy Ka’bah, in the corner of which is set the Black Stone, marks the starting point for Thawaf, the circumambulation seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. Hajj, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, requires every Muslim to perform pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so. This circumambulation is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah. However, the most dramatic times are during the Hajj when about 6 million pilgrims gather to circle the building on the same day. Subhanallah.
The present Haram, meaning “sanctuary”, dates from 1570 CE (978 AH) and takes the form of a central quadrangle surrounded by stone walls. Around the inner sanctuary is a marble pavement, the al-Mataf. The holiest shrine of Islam, the Kaa’ba, is situated at the heart of the Holy Mosque’s central courtyard. The Haram Mosque (Al Masjid Al Haram) has a long and glorious tradition of expansion, dating back to 638 CE (7 AH) when the ever increasing number of Muslims led by the second caliph, Umar bin al-Khattab, developed the site. And now, the extension of the Holy Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia is the largest construction site in today’s modern world. Its true grandeur can be appreciated by the continuous care in serving the holy Islamic places, and within the context of it being the location of the Qiblah of Muslims, the place which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia looks after.