MAKKAH: Al-Masjid Al-Haram, or as translated, the Grand Mosque, is the most sacred site in Islam and located in the heart of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.
The Grand Mosque is a key part of the Hajj pilgrimage, which every Muslim must do at least once in their lives if able, during a specific time of the year, or Umrah, which Muslims can undertake any time of the year.
The Grand Mosque has significant sites, including the Kaabah, Black Stone, Zamzam well, Maqam Ibrahim and the hills of Safa and Marwa. The Grand Mosque has 13 minarets, making it the mosque with the highest number of minarets.
Many renovations have been undertaken to expand the Grand Mosque to increase the capacity of pilgrims and visitors. Many of these took place before the establishment of the Kingdom, and three major expansions occurred after the establishment of the Kingdom.
The first Saudi expansion was undertaken between 1955 and 1973; four minarets were added, the ceiling was refurnished and the floor was replaced with artificial stone and marble. The Mas’a gallery was included in the mosque, via roofing and enclosures.
The second expansion was done under King Fahd, between 1982 and 1988. He added an outdoor prayer area to the mosque and a new wing that is reached through the King Fahd Gate. Between 1988 and 2005, the expansion included 18 more gates, three domes corresponding in position to each gate, the installation of nearly 500 marble columns, heated floors, air-conditioning, escalators and a drainage system.
The third major expansion took place during King Abdullah’s reign. In 2008, the king announced that the expansion would involve the expropriation of land to the north and northwest of the mosque, covering 300,000 square meters. In 2011, further details about the expansion were announced, covering an area of 400,000 square meters, which would raise the mosque’s capacity from 770,000 to more than 2.5 million worshippers after completion.
In July 2015, King Salman launched five megaprojects as part of the King Abdullah Expansion Project, covering an area of 456,000 square meters. The project was carried out by the Saudi Binladin Group.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, and for the first time in history, on March 5, 2020 the Grand Mosque began to close at night with restricted and limited attendance time for worshippers. On Oct. 4, 2020, the Umrah resumed gradually in three phases.
The first phase was limited to Saudi citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to cover only 30 percent of the mosque’s capacity, allowing only 6,000 worshipers to perform Umrah and prayers wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
The second phase was also limited to locals, with a capacity coverage of 75 percent, allowing 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 worshipers to enter the Grand Mosque a day.
The final phase opened the door to pilgrims and worshipers from outside the Kingdom to perform Umrah, covering 100 percent of the mosque’s capacity, meaning 20,000 pilgrims, 60,000 worshipers and 19,500 visitors were allowed inside the mosque each day, with precautionary measures in place.
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