By Dr. Mozammel Haque
The Holy City of Makkah, which lies inland, 73 kilometres (45 miles) east of Jeddah, was the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and was the city to which he returned after the migration to Madinah in 622 AD. Makkah is the holiest city on earth to Muslims. It is the place which captures the hearts of a billion Muslims all over the globe, a place where Allah’s Word was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) and now the location of the Holy Mosque and the sacred Ka’abah. It is also the destination of millions of pilgrims and visitors and the holiest spot on earth.
Allah the Almighty honoured it in His Holy Book, in which it is given eleven names, including Makkah, Bakkah, Al-Balad Al-Amin, Al-Balad Al-Ameen, Al-Haram Al-Aamin and Um-Al-Qura. It was also the Will of Allah that the Holy Ka’abah be situated in Makkah. This Divine Will has affected the building and growth of the city as it is today.
The Holy City of Makkah houses the Holy Mosque wherein there is the Ka’abah, a large stone cube-shaped structure, therefore predates Islam, and, in Islamic tradition, it is associated as a shrine with the earliest history of man. In the northeast corner of the Ka’abah is set the Black Stone, given to the Prophet Ibrahim by the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel). Towards the end of the fifth century, the Quraysh, a tribe which had settled in the Makkan valley, took control of the Ka’abah. The Quraysh prospered in trade and the prestige of the Ka’abah brought many Arabs to the city on the annual Hajj. Yet, the Prophet Ibrahim’s message of the One God was gradually forgotten and pagan idolaters violated the sacred Ka’abah. Only a few visionaries kept the faith, until the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who was born in 570 AD, returned from the Hijrah in 629 AD to destroy the pagan idols in the Ka’abah.
The first Sura of the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on the outskirts of Makkah. These revelations to the Prophet continued later. It was in and around Makkah that the early Muslims launched their “Jihad” against polytheism, heresy and idolatry. It was here that Allah gave victory to His Prophet and his fellow-believers when he triumphantly entered Makkah in the 8th year after Hijrah (630 AD), ending the state of polytheism and exalting the name of Allah, the one and only God. The idols were destroyed and God’s House was purified and Makkah became a secure and sacred city.
Muslims all over the world turn their faces in prayer five times a day towards the Ka’abah in Makkah and begin and end their pilgrimage with a “Tawaf” (Circumambulation) of it. And, at least once in their lives, all Muslims who are not prevented by personal circumstance perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah. Thus each year, the Holy City of Makkah is host to some 2 million Hajjis (pilgrims) from all over the world. The pilgrimage instructions were first given to the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), peace be upon him, when Almighty God instructed him to build a house, the Ka’abah.
Thus, the religious centre of the Holy City of Makkah is the Holy Mosque (Al-Masjid Al-Haram) and the Well of Zamzam, located inside. The present Haram, meaning “sanctuary”, dates from 1570 AD, and takes the form of a central quadrangle surrounded by stone walls. Around the inner sanctuary is a marble pavement, the El Mataf. The holiest shrine of Islam, the Ka’abah, as mentioned earlier, is situated at the heart of the Holy Mosque’s central courtyard. The new expansion was launched by King Abdullah, would increase the Grand Mosque’s capacity by nearly 1.2 million worshippers. The new project covers 400,000 square meters in the northwest and northeast of the mosque. Real estate properties appropriated for the project are valued at more than SR40 billion.
King Abdullah ordered the new expansion to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims who come from different parts of the world. During the peak days of Ramadan, thousands of worshippers stand in the courtyards and streets around the mosque for taraweeh and qiyamullail prayers.
Al-Khozaim disclosed plans to expand the mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Holy Kaaba) and provide air-conditioning for all parts of the Grand Mosque, adding that the two schemes would be carried out shortly along with the new Haram expansion project. Abdullah Al-Asheikh, chairman of the Shoura Council, said the latest expansion would herald a new era in the history of the Grand Mosque. He commended the king’s special care for the two holy mosques, adding that Muslims all over the world admire the royal gesture.
Al-Asheikh described the King Abdul Aziz residential towers as the largest endowment project whose revenues would be used for the development of the Grand Mosque. He also noted the initiative taken by the king to expand the masaa (the pathway between Safa and Marwa), increasing its capacity from 44,000 to 118,000 pilgrims per hour.A senior official at PTHM said once the new expansion is completed, the Grand Mosque would be able to accommodate more than 2 million worshippers at a time. The project has three parts: construction of a new building; expansion and development of courtyards around the mosque, including walkways, tunnels and toilets; and development of service facilities for air-conditioning, electricity and drinking water, he said.
The expansion starts from the Masjid Al-Haram Street on the east and extends to Khaled bin Walid Street on the west. It also covers Muddae, Abusufyan, Raquba and Abdullah bin Zubair streets in Shamiya as well as parts of Jabal Hindi and old districts of Harrat Al-Bab before reaching Jabal Al-Kaaba Street. The government of Saudi Arabia has announced an initiative which will expand the Grand Mosque (Al-Masjid Al-Haram) in Makkah to accommodate an increasing numbers of pilgrims and worshippers. The expansion project will add 400,000 square meters, nearly doubling the existing space, and increasing its total capacity to 2.5 million worshippers at a time.
The mosque expansion will take place to the northwest and northeast of the existing mosque structure, and will cost approximately 80 billion SAR ($21 billion USD). Anyone who has been watching the taraweeh prayers in Makkah over the past few years can easily see that an expansion of the existing mosque is needed. Worshippers regularly take over the surrounding streets, which is both unsafe and uncomfortable. The only other option would be for the Saudi government to severely restrict the number of pilgrims and visitors, which they are reluctant to do.
The planned work to develop the sites’ architectural, technical and security aspects is considered to be the largest expansion of the Two Holy Mosques. The 750,000 sq. meter project has been divided into three sections. The first section will expand the Haram to accommodate two million worshippers at a time.
The second section to expand and develop the Grand Mosque’s external courtyards will include work on restrooms, passages, tunnels and other components to facilitate the entry and exit of worshippers and visitors. The third section will develop the services zone, which includes the air-conditioning, electricity and water plants, and other utilities that support the Haram area.
The expansion project is bordered by the northern boundaries of Al-Masjid Al-Haram and includes parts of the old districts adjacent to the Haram from the same side. Those areas include parts of Al-Mudda’a, Al-Shamiah, Al-Qararah districts and the area extending from Al-Mudda’a District to the northeast of the Grand Mosque to Al-Shamiah District and Harat Al-Bab to the northwest of the Haram.The expansion begins from Al-Masjid Al-Haram Street in the east and extends east in a crescent shape up to Khalid Bin Al-Waleed Street, and westward in Al-Shubaikah.
This is in addition to Al-Mudda’a, Abi Sufyan, Al-Ragoubah, and Abdullah Bin Al-Zubair streets in Al-Shamiah and an area from Jabal Hindi to Jabal Al-Ka’bah Street. A total of 11,000 workers, including engineers, technicians, masons and laborers, have been employed for the largest-ever expansion of the Grand Mosque in history.