The Masjid al-Ḥarām (Arabic: المسجد الحرام, literally "the sacred mosque"), also called the Sacred Mosque, and the Grand Mosque or Great Mosque of Mecca, is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds Islam's holiest place, the Kaaba, in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslims face in the direction of the Kaaba while performing obligatory daily prayers. One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so, including circumambulation of the Kaaba.
The current structure covers an area of 356,800 square meters (88.2 acres) including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces, it is open at all times and during the Hajj period it is the site of one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world.
The Haram is the focal point of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages that occur in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar and at any time of the year, respectively. The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the Pillars of Islam, required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford the trip. In recent times, over 5 million Muslims perform the Hajj every year.
Some of the rituals performed by pilgrims are symbolic of historical incidents. For example, the episode of Hagar's search for water is emulated by Muslims as they run between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah.
The Hajj is associated with the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham).
The Kaaba (Arabic: الكعبة) is a cuboid-shaped building in the center of the Masjid al-Haram and is one of the most sacred sites in Islam. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. The direction from the location of the person who prays to the Kaaba is called the Qibla.
The Hajj requires pilgrims to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. This circumambulation, the Tawaaf, is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage)
The Quran states that Abraham, together with his son Ishmael, raised the foundations of a house [Quran 2:127] that is identified by most commentators as the Kaaba. Allah had shown Ibrahim the exact site, very near to the Well of Zamzam, where Abraham and Ishmael began work on the Kaaba's construction in circa 2130 BCE. After Abraham had built the Kaaba, an angel brought to him the Black Stone, a celestial stone that, according to tradition, had fallen from Heaven on the nearby hill Abu Qubays. According to a saying attributed to Muhammad, the Black Stone had "descended from Paradise whiter than milk but the sins of the sons of Adam had made it black". The Black Stone is believed to be the only remnant of the original structure made by Ibrahim.
After placing the Black Stone in the Eastern corner of the Kaaba, Abraham received a revelation, in which Allah told the aged prophet that he should now go and proclaim the pilgrimage to mankind, so that men may come both from Arabia and from lands far away, on camel and on foot.[Quran 22:27] Going by the dates attributed to the patriarchs, Ishmael is believed to have been born around 2150 BCE, with Isaac being born a hundred years later.
Therefore, Islamic scholars have generally assumed that the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham around 2130 BC. The Kaaba is, therefore, believed by Muslims to be more than a millennium older than Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, which is believed to have been finished in 1007 BCE. These dates remain consistent with the Muslim belief that the Kaaba is the first and thus oldest mosque in history.