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

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.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.