The Prophet’s Mosque: Great status and vast expansions in the Saudi era

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The Prophet’s Mosque underwent several expansions throughout its history, starting with the days of the Caliphs, followed by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, and finally, the Saudi era. (AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2018
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The Prophet’s Mosque: Great status and vast expansions in the Saudi era

  • The Prophet’s Mosque underwent its first expansion in the days of Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab in 17 AH (638 AD)
  • The largest expansion of all time in the Prophet’s Mosque took place during the reign of the late King Abdullah alongside his umbrella project

The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah is a place Muslims from around the world visit while performing Hajj and Umrah, or simply to pray (performing the salat) and visit Prophet Muhammad’s tomb.
One of the world’s largest mosques, the Prophet’s Mosque underwent several expansions throughout its history, starting with the days of the caliphs, followed by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, and, finally, the Saudi era, during which it underwent the largest expansion in its history and was the first place in the Arabian Peninsula to be lit by electric light bulbs in 1909 (1327 AH).
The Prophet’s Mosque, also known as Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, was the second mosque built by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the first year of Hijrah (the Prophet’s migration with his followers from Makkah to Madinah, which was called Yathrib at the time).
The land on which the mosque was built belonged to two orphans, Sahl and Suhail, and was used as a place for drying dates. The Prophet planned the mosque’s structure to occupy a 50 by 49 meter tract of land and built it facing Jerusalem, the Muslim’s Qibla at the time. He dug the foundation and used palm leaves for the roof and trunks of palm trees as columns.
The Prophet also built his mosque with three doors, one of which was in the back and was called “Atikah” or the “Door of Mercy,” while the other was the “Door of Gabriel” and was the Prophet’s preferred entrance.
In the back of the mosque, there was a shady area for sheltering the poor and strangers known as “Al-Saffa.”
Prophet Muhammad did not build a roof for the entire mosque, so when it rained, water would drip on worshippers. The worshippers asked the Prophet to support the roof with mud, but he refused and said: “No, an arish like that of Moses” — a trellis roof like that of Moses.
In its early days, the mosque’s floor was not covered with anything until in 3 AH (624 AD), when it was covered with pebbles.
When the Qibla was changed to face the Kaaba instead of Jerusalem, Al-Saffa, which was in the southern part of the mosque, was moved to the northern part. The back door was closed, and a new door was opened in the north.
The Prophet’s Mosque underwent its first expansion in the days of Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab in 17 AH (638 AD). Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq did not work on expanding the mosque since he was busy with the Ridda Wars, also known as the Wars of Apostasy.
The mosque became very crowded with worshippers in the reign of Caliph Umar, so he bought the surrounding houses and included them in the mosque to expand it by 20 cubits from the west, 10 cubits from the south (the Qibla part), and 30 cubits from the north. No expansion, however, took place in the eastern part of the mosque as the rooms of the prophet’s wives were located there.
After that expansion, the mosque’s length became 140 cubits from north to south and its width 120 cubits from east to west. It was built in the same form chosen by Prophet Muhammad; the walls were built of bricks, palm-tree trunks were used as columns, the 11-cubit-high roof was made of palm leaves, and the flooring was made of garnet grits. Caliph Umar also added a 2-cubit-high smock to the mosque.
The expansion that took place in the days of Caliph Umar was estimated at about 1,100 square meters. It also gave the mosque six doors: Two in the east, two in the west, and two in the north.
During the reign of Caliph Othman in 29 AH (650 AD), the mosque became too small for the large number of worshippers, so he consulted the Prophet’s companions on expanding it and they found it a good idea.
Caliph Othman had the mosque’s walls built of carved stones and plaster, its columns of engraved stones and iron rods installed in lead, and its roof of teak wood. The six doors were left as they were following the expansion done by Caliph Umar.
The Prophet’s Mosque remained as it was after the expansion carried out by Caliph Othman and until the reign of Al-Walid bin Abdul-Malik in 88 AH (707 AD). Al-Walid wrote to the ruler of Madinah, Omar bin Abdul Aziz (86-93 AH / 705-712 AD), ordering him to buy the houses around the Prophet’s Mosque in order to expand it. He also directed him to include the rooms of the Prophet’s wives in the expansion.
Following the directives of Al-Walid, Omar bin Abdul Aziz expanded the Prophet’s Mosque and made the Prophet’s tomb part of it. Therefore, Al-Walid’s expansion was from three sides — east, north, and west — and the southern wall’s length became 84 meters, the northern wall 68, and the western one 100. The whole expansion was estimated at about 2,369 square meters.
The expansion during the reign of Al-Walid bin Abdul-Malik included building a hollow mihrab and minarets for the first time in the Prophet’s Mosque. A total of four minarets were built, one in every corner, as well as terraces on the mosque’s roof.
No expansion was done in the Prophet’s Mosque after Al-Walid’s expansion, but there were some repairs and renovations.
A fire erupted in the Prophet’s Mosque in 654 AH (1256 AD), and a number of Muslim caliphs and leaders contributed to restoring it. The first to contribute to was the last Abbasid Caliph, Al-Musta’sim Billah, who sent supplies and builders from Baghdad to fix the mosque in 655 AH (1257 AD).
The Abbasid caliphate ended with the fall of Baghdad at the hands of the Tatars. After that, a second fire erupted in 886 AH (1482 AD), destroying many parts of the mosque’s roof. Sultan Qaytbay, ruler of Egypt at the time, received word of the incident and, subsequently, sent supplies, workers, and materials and the mosque was roofed in 888 AH (1484 AD).
Qaytbay’s expansion, estimated at 120 square meters, was completed in 890 AH (1486 AD) and was the last done before the Ottoman and Saudi eras.
No change took place in the Prophet’s Mosque since Qaytbay’s expansion and reconstruction work for 387 years, but during this period, a lot of repair and renovation work was done to the minarets, walls, and doors, and the crescents above the minarets as well as the dome were replaced. Nevertheless, no complete demolition and reconstruction took place until the reign of Sultan Abdulmejid.
The Ottoman Caliph, Abdulmejid II, sent architects, builders, workers, supplies, and materials in 1265 AH (1849 AD) to reconstruct and expand the mosque. The process took 13 years. Materials used included red stone from Al-Jamawat Mountain west of Madinah (known today as Al-Haram Mountain). These stones were used for building columns, while walls were built of black basalt stone.
The largest expansion of all time in the Prophet’s Mosque took place during the reign of the late King Abdullah alongside his umbrella project. He ordered the installation of 250 umbrellas on the columns in the mosque’s courtyards to shade 143,000 square meters around the mosque. More than 800 worshippers can pray under each of these umbrellas.
Moreover, six tracks in the southern part of the mosque were shaded to protect pedestrians.
The umbrellas were specially made for the courtyards of the Prophet’s Mosque. They employ modern technology and operate with high proficiency. They were also tested in the manufacturing country and designed to be of two different heights to overlap and ensure no sun rays or rain reach worshippers. The height of the first group of umbrellas is 14.04 meters, while the second group is 15.03 meters tall. The height of all umbrellas when closed is 21.07 meters.
Madinah saw the largest expansion in the history of the Prophet’s Mosque in late 1433 AH (2012 AD), when King Abdullah laid the foundation stone to expand the mosque so it would be able to accommodate two million worshippers once the project was completed.
King Salman took up the torch after King Abdullah died, and stressed the importance of resuming work in the expansion project and other work that serves Islam and Muslims. Saudi Arabia’s leaders are all very keen to serve and enhance the Two Holy Mosques and provide all services in the holy sites so that pilgrims can easily complete Hajj and Umrah.


King Salman’s support vital to national heritage achievements

The program aims to protect, promote and develop cultural heritage and make it part of the life and memory of citizens. (Supplied)
Updated 17 October 2018
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King Salman’s support vital to national heritage achievements

  • The Saudi leadership made key decisions to protect antiquities and historical sites
  • Saudi Arabia aims to conduct awareness campaigns, establish museums and develop them in a modern way to attract citizens and visitors

JEDDAH: The achievements made in Saudi Arabia’s national heritage sector, and the prizes and awards that have been won as result, are thanks to the support and efforts of King Salman, said Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
His comments came as the king received the Sharjah International Award for Cultural Heritage, which was awarded in recognition of the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques cultural heritage program.
King Salman oversaw the creation of the antiquities and heritage sector 50 years ago and stood firmly against the elimination or extinction of archaeological and heritage sites, Prince Sultan said, and has made historical and important decisions to protect antiquities since the era of the late King Saud.
This support culminated in the adoption of the innovative Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques for the Care of Cultural Heritage program, implemented by the commission to bring about a qualitative shift in projects and programs devoted to national cultural heritage.
Prince Sultan said: “The award is a result of King Salman’s follow-up and support to the program, which the SCTH and our team have translated into projects and initiatives carried out in cooperation with highly professional partners, in order to preserve, restore and develop the national heritage and make it a reality that connects citizens to their country’s history and heritage.”
He said the SCTH has built upon the great efforts of the institutions that preceded it in taking care of the nation’s antiquities, as well as individual efforts to preserve national heritage.
“Today, we reap the fruits of these efforts: The culture we have learnt from King Salman and previous leaders, which has taught us to complete the work and loyalty of all those who built and achieved before us,” he said.
Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, a member of the Federal Supreme Council and ruler of Sharjah, announced that the Sharjah International Award for Cultural Heritage had been awarded to the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques Program for the Care of Cultural Heritage during a ceremony on April 22, 2018.
The program aims to protect, promote and develop cultural heritage and make it part of the life and memory of citizens. It also conducts awareness campaigns, establishes museums and develops them in a modern way to attract citizens and visitors, prepares Islamic historical sites to welcome visitors, and preserves culturally important buildings and towns to showcase the role of the Kingdom as a crossroads for civilizations through the ages and achieve a qualitative shift in the field, contributing to economic growth.