Masjid Al Haram Makkah
The Masjid al-Haram in Makkah or the "Grand Mosque" is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds one of Islam's holiest places, the Kaaba. Muslims face in the direction of the Kaaba while performing formal worship. 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. The current structure covers an area of 356,800 square metres (88.2 acres) including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to four million worshipers during the Hajj period, one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world. Unlike many other mosques which are segregated, men and women worship at Masjid al-Haram together.
The Makkah 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, about 3 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 Safa and Marwah whenever they visit Mecca.
The Hajj is associated with the life of the Islamic prophet Mohammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Makkah is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham).
The Kaaba 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. This is called facing the Qiblah.
The Hajj require pilgrims to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. This circumambulation, the Tawaf, is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage.