Arts & Culture

The Prophet's Mosque │ Masjid Al-Nabawi

Construction of the Mosque

When the Prophet emigrated from Makka to Madina, one of the first things he did was to construct a mosque there. One of the first buildings ever constructed by the Prophet himself, the Mosque of the Prophet was always at the center of all the Prophet’s activities in Madina. At the same time, it has served as an example to most subsequent mosques and masjids built in Islamic architectural history. Though simple and sober, this first mosque was constructed so as to be extremely functional. Also, according to generally accepted view of Islamic scholars, the Mosque of the Prophet is one of the three holiest mosques in Islam.

The area where the Prophet’s camel had settled during the Hejira (his migration) was purchased from its owners. After the ground was laid out, the construction started in the month of Rabi’ul-awwal (September 622 AD), when the Prophet located the first stone into the foundation, which was about 3 yards deep. The construction took approximately 8 months, and was completed in the month of Shawwal (April 623). The main building was built on stone foundation, and its walls were made up of single-row adobes. It covered an area of 60x70 zir’a (1022 sq.m, a zira-ı mimarc was an Arabic term of measurement which in Ottoman times approximated 75.8 cm ~= 2.46 feet ~= 0.82 yards); the side walls were about the height of a man, and it had three entrances and no ceilings. Its Qibla was determined by the Prophet in the direction of Jerusalem. To this main portion, two rooms were added by the Prophet for his wives Aisha and Sawda; later seven more rooms were built adjacent to the mosque. (1)

Restoration and Expansion of the Mosque (2)

With all restorations, the border of the Mosque’s Qibla wall has been kept unchanged as was built by the Prophet himself, except for some minor repairs and renovations. Major restoration projects can be described, in chronological order, as follows:

  1. The first expansion project was in the year 7 (H) (628 AD) right after the Khaibar war. The mosque was expanded in three directions (excepting the Qibla side) and made square-shaped with the dimensions of 100x100 zir’a. The walls reached 1.5 zir’a (74 cm) wide, and 7 zir’a (3.45 m) high. The top portion was then covered with the branches and leaves of date trees, which were located on 9 columns with intervals of 9 zir’a (4.44 m). This way it was protected from rain and hot weather.
  2. When the mosque was no longer large enough during the reign of Omar, in 17 (H) it was expanded again. After the nearby houses were expropriated, the number of entrances reached to 6, the height of side walls to 11 zir’a (5.43 m), its north-south dimension to 140 zir’a and east-west dimension to 120 zir’a, and its area to 4088 sq.m. The ground was covered with stones brought from the Aqiq valley, and the area of first lines was covered with felt.
  3. The Mosque of the Prophet was later expanded and restored during the reign of Othman, which was financially sponsored by the Caliph himself. This renovation was started in Rabi’ul-awwal of o29 (November 649) and ended in Muharram of 30 (September 650). With this expansion, the mosque’s area became 5061 sq.m. The material used composed mainly of chipped stone and lime. Also, the number of columns reached twelve, which were made up of stones with ornaments.
  4. After the first four “Rightly Guided Caliphs”, no restoration or expansion took place in the Mosque of the Prophet until the time of the Umayyad caliph Waled ibn Abdulmalik. During 87-88 (707-708) when Omar ibn Abdulaziz was the governer of Madina, the rooms that had previously belonged to the Prophet’s wives were incorporated into the mosque, which caused great grief and disturbance among muslims at that time. During this renovation, the Caliph Waled requested some craftsmen from the Emperor of Byzantium of the time, who then sent 100,000 mithqal of gold, 40 big mosaics, and 100 craftsmen. The mosque was then expanded on three sides and its reached 7500 sq. m. All of walls were made up of cut stone, and the Hujra al-Saadah was incorporated into the the Mosque of the Prophet. This major restoration also involved some new additions, including a minaret, a mihrab (a niche of the mosque indicating the direction of the Ka’ba) and the calligraphic illustration from the Qur’an (from the Surah Shams to the end of the Qur’an) with the jali style. These renovations were later recorded in writing with an epigraph in the year 91 (710 AD).
  5. When the Abbasid caliph Mahdi-Billah visited Madina in 160 (777), he saw that the mosque was not large enough for the population; so he decided to once more expand it. The expansion was completed between 162-165 (778-782), as a result of which the area of the mosque reached 9309 sq.m., and the number of columns 290. The ornamentation of the Qibla wall was paid special attention: the bottom portion of it was covered with marble, and the top portion was decorated with mosaic-shaped pieces of gold. Later some other Abbasid caliphs made expansions and renovations in the mosque as well.
  6. When the mosque was damaged due to earthquakes and fires during 460-654 (1068-1256), a major restoration project was initiated by Caliph Mu’tasim-Billah, but because of certain historical factors, this project could not be completed until the reign of Mamluks. It was then re-initiated by the Mamluk sultan Malik Mansur Nureddin Ali and completed later in 668 (1269-70) by Baybars I.
  7. The first (wood) dome was built by Sultan Kalavun. In 881 (1476) Sultan Kayitbay renovated this dome and made some new arrangements in the mosque. On 13 Ramadan 886 (November 5th 1481) the mosque and its minarets were ruined by a thunderbolt, and repair and renovation continued until 888 (1483). With this renovation, in addition, the mosque’s area reached 9429 sq.m.
  8. With the transfer of the Caliphate to the Ottomans, the first renovations of the Mosque of the Prophet took place during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificient in the 16th century, which lasted 9 years. Then there were several minor renovations by the subsequent Ottoman sultans. During the reign of Sultan Mahmud II., the dome on top of the Hujra al-Saadah was made up of stone, leaden and then painted in green. Since then this dome has been known as the Green Dome (Kubba al-Khadra).
  9. The most comprehensive renovation has been done by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid. In 1266 H. (1859) the Sultan sent a team of workers headed by a special engineer to Madina for the renovation of the Mosque of the Prophet which had not been repaired for four centuries. With this renovation, which was completed in 1277 (1861), the area of the mosque reached 10,939 sq.m., and the number of columns in the front section of the mosque and in the porches of the courtyard reached 327. The number of porches on the Qibla side became 12, and the ground of the mosque was covered with marble. The top portions of columns were covered by gold, and the Qibla wall by Ottoman chinas. In addition, the entire dome of the mosque, the Qibla wall, top portions of the five doors, and the mihrab (the niche) were decorated by beautiful calligraphic illustrations consisting of verses from the Qur’an, hadiths and Prophet’s names with the jali-sulus style by calligrapher Abdullah Zühdü, which took three years to complete. In this major renovation 700,000 majidiya gold was spent, in addition to materials sent from Istanbul and Egypt.
  10. Between 1949-55, under the Saudi dynasty, the mosque was expanded again, its area reaching 16,326 sq.m. This expansion was done in unison with the earlier Ottoman renovation. Also, the 232 inter-connected columns inside the mosque were covered with a wood ceiling of high-square plan.
  11. The biggest renovation and expansion project in the history of the Mosque of the Prophet was undertaken between 1984-1994. With this project, its area reached 98,326 sq. m., and a second, 67,000 sq. m. floor was added as an area for prayer. Now the marble courtyard around the mosque has the area of 235,000 sq.m, where 650,000 people can pray at the same time. Finally, the number of minarets is ten; and the basement is designed as parking lot.

Sections of the Mosque

The Hujra al-Sadah: When the Prophet died and was buried in his wife Aisha’s room, this room was called the Hujra al-Saadah. Every renovation project in the mosque has been started from this room, which was built together with the mosque itself and made up of adobe on a stone foundation. The other rooms were added during renovations at the time of the Umayyad caliph Walid. The Hujra was further renovated by Caliph Omar ibn Abdulaziz who employed Byzantine and Coptic experts by adding the Hujra of Fatima to the north into the main Hujra al-Saadah, and by covering it with a small dome. In reign of Zangis, the tomb was completely covered by marble by Wazeer Jamaluddin Muhammad ibn Ali al-Isfahani. Sultan Kalavun covered the dome of the Hujra al-Saadah with lead, which had been covered with a canopy. When the Hujra al-Saadah was ruined by a fire in 881 (1476), it was re-built of stone completely. During Ottoman times, Sultan Ahmed I sent silver gridirons covered with gold to the Hujra al-Saadah; Sutan Mahmud II built the current dome and painted it in green, and covered the outer wall of it with chinas. Later Sultan Abdulmecid replaced those chinas with more valuable ones. (3) This sacred place has been attached to the Prophet’s minbar and thus made the most important part of the mosque.

The Minbar: When addressing the people in the mosque, the Prophet used to lean on large wood block of date tree. Later, when some difficulties arose in terms of people hearing and seeing the Prophet, a minbar made up of tamarisk, which was one-meter high with the dimensions of 50 x125 cm and a three-stair ladder located on three columns behind, was built in the year 7 (628) or 8 (629). First caliphs did not use the third stair, due to respect for the Prophet, and covered it with a piece of wood. In the time of the third caliph, Othman, a dome was placed on top of the minbar, which was covered with a fabric, and the stairs were covered with ebony. Muawiya ibn Abû Süfyan added six more stairs to the minbar. This first minbar was used until 654 (1256), when it was ruined by a fire; a new minbar was placed which was sent by the king of Yemen, al-Malik al-Muzaffar Shamsuddin in 656 (1258). After this, the minbar was either replaced or removed in 666 (1268) by Sultan Baybars I, in 797 (1395) by the Mamluki Sultan Barkuk, and in 820 (1417) by another Mamluki Sultan Sheikh al-Mahmudi. In 886 (1481) the minbar was once more ruined by a fire, and a new minbar made up of brick plaster was built, which was later replaced by a marble minbar sent by Sultan Kayitbay in 888 (1483). This minbar was re-located to the Quba masjid in 998 (1590) when the Ottoman Sultan Murad III sent a marble minbar manufactured and ornamented in Istanbul, to replace it. This last minbar still stands in the Mosque of the Prophet today. (4)

The Mihrab: When the Masjid al-Nabawi was first built, there was no mihrab in it, as the place where the Prophet was leading prayers was already known by the people. In the reign of Omar ibn Abdulaziz, however, s small niche was added to the front wall of the mosque when it was re-constructed. Since then there has been only one mihrab in the Masjid al-Nabawi. Throughout time, however, renovations and reconstructions have been made in mihrab, as in other parts of the mosque. The mihrab that was reconstructed with black-and-white and colored marble, decorated by geometric motifs and medallion- and stripe-shaped calligraphies in the jali-sulus styl, had been in place for centuries until 1984, when it finally got its current form.

In addition to this main mihrab, there are also other niches outside the Masjid al-Nabawi that function as markers/indicators. For instance, among these included are the mihrab al-tahajjud built where the Prophet used to pray the tahajjud prayer at night; the mihrab Othman built where Othman the Companion used to pray; the mihrab Fatima which is similar to that of the Prophet built behind the Hujra al-Saadah. In addition to these, there other mihrabs built for different madhabs in the Masjid al-Nabawi. (5)

The minarets: When the Masjid al-Nabawi was first built, Bilal al-Habeshi used to climb up to a place to the qibla side, which was called ustuvanah, and give adhan (prayer call) there. It can be argued that this place, which was in cylinder shape, may have been an inspiration for minarets built subsequently.

The first Caliph to undertake major reconstruction projects in Madina, Omar ibn Abdulaziz, constructed four minarets when expanding and renovating the mosque. These minarets were 26 m high placed on a base of 8x8 zir’a dimensions. In the year 97 (716) Suleyman ibn Abdulmalik removed the upper portion of the minaret on the south-west corner for it was violating the privacy of someone’s home. The mosque remained with three minarets for centuries until 706 (1306-7) when Muhammad ibn Kalavun added another one called the Bab al-Salam minaret. This minaret was later renovated by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV.

When the Masjid al-Nabawi was completely ruined as a result of a major thunderbolt in 13 Ramadan 886 (5 November 1481), all four minarets were re-built together with other parts of the mosque. The minaret on the south-east corner, which is decorated by subtle and most beautiful examples of the Mamluki art, still stands today. Since the head muadhdhin gives adhan in this minaret, it is called Raisiyya. Other minarets that were built by Sultans Suleyman the Magnificient and Abdulmecid were in the Ottoman architectural style and survived until the first expansion project under the Saudi dynasty. In the first Saudi expansion project, there were six minarets; their number reached ten with the major renovation project in 1994. These new minarets are 104 m. high and have 4 sharafas (balconies) each. The bottom portion of these minarets are square-shaped, the middle part octagonal, and upper portion cylindrical. (6)

Some notes on the Prophet's Mosque

  • At the beginning, the mosque was lightened by burning tree branches –especially of date tree. When a Companion of the Prophet, Tamim al-Dari, brought the oil-lamp to Madina from Syria, it started to be used to lighten the mosque. Al-Dari was praised by the Prophet due to his service to the community. In the reign of Omar al-Khattab large oil-lamps were hung up on walls and thuribles were placed in the mosque. The electricity was firs used in 1908 in the Masjid al-Nabawi.
  • The first epigraph was placed in the mosque by the Umayyad caliph Walid ibn Abdulmalik. This was the start of the recording of every renovation and expansion that came later.
  • The earliest information on the furnishing of the Masjid al-Nabawi dates back to the Mamluk era. While at the beginning Indian carpets were used as prayer rugs, Anatolian carpets dominated later, particularly famous carpets of Usak, Gördes and Hereke. Ottoman carpets had been kept in place until they were replaced by standardized rugs by the Saudi King Abdulaziz.
  • In order to finance the scholarly and educational activities in the Masjid al-Nabawi as well as the renovation and reconstruction projects, several foundations were started to be established in the Umayyad era, and they have been increasing in number since then.
  • The staff of the Masjid al-Nabawi, including the muadhdhins and other service men, has been paid for by the governments since Othman the Companion.

1. Nebî Bozkurt- Mustafa Sabri Küçükasçi, "Mescid-i Nebevî" (Masjid al-Nabawi), DIA, XXX, 281-90.

2. İbrahim Ateş, "Mescid-i Nebevî`nin Yapıldığı Günden Bu Yana Geçirdiği Genişletme Girişimleri" ("Efforts of Expansion that Masjid al-Nabawi has undergone from its Establishment to Today"), Vakıflar Magazine, Ankara 1994, XXIV, 5-50; Oleg Grabar, İslam Sanatının Oluşumu (The Formation of the Islamic Arts), İstanbul 1988.

3. Ahmet Önkal, "Hücre-i Saâdet" ("The Prophet's Chamber"), DIA, XVIII, Istanbul 1998, 456-58; İbrahim Ateş, "Mescid-i Nebevî`nin Yapıldığı Günden Bu Yana Geçirdiği Genişletme Girişimleri" ("Efforts of Expansion that Masjid al-Nabawi has undergone from its Establishment to Today"), Vakıflar Magazine, Ankara 1994, XXIV, 5-50; Oleg Grabar, İslam Sanatının Oluşumu (The Formation of the Islamic Arts), İstanbul 1988.

4. Nebî Bozkurt- Mustafa Sabri Küçükasçi, "Mescid-i Nebevî" (Masjid al-Nabawi), DIA, 30, 281-90; İbrahim Ateş, Mescid-i Nebevî`nin Yapıldığı Günden Bu Yana Geçirdiği Genişletme Girişimleri" ("Efforts of Expansion that Masjid al-Nabawi has undergone from its Establishment to Today"), Vakiflar Magazine, Ankara 1994, XXIV, 5-50; Oleg Grabar, İslam Sanatının Oluşumu (The Formation of the Islamic Arts), İstanbul 1988.

5. Nebî Bozkurt- Mustafa Sabri Küçükasçi, "Mescid-i Nebevî", DIA, 30, 281-90; Ibrahim Ates, İbrahim Ateş, "Mescid-i Nebevî`nin Yapıldığı Günden Bu Yana Geçirdiği Genişletme Girişimleri" ("Efforts of Expansion that Masjid al-Nabawi has undergone from its Establishment to Today"), Vakiflar Magazine, Ankara 1994, XXIV, 5-50; Oleg Grabar, İslam Sanatının Oluşumu (The Formation of the Islamic Arts), İstanbul 1988.

6. Nebî Bozkurt- Mustafa Sabri Küçükasçi, ¨¨Mescid-i Nebev, DIA, 30, 281-90; İbrahim Ateş, Mescid-i Nebevî`nin Yapıldığı Günden Bu Yana Geçirdiği Genişletme Girişimleri" ("Efforts of Expansion that Masjid al-Nabawi has undergone from its Establishment to Today"), Vakiflar Magazine, Ankara 1994, XXIV, 5-50; Oleg Grabar, İslam Sanatının Oluşumu (The Formation of the Islamic Arts), İstanbul 1988.



Muneeb Ahmed
Muneeb Ahmed11.11.2014

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Masjid Al-Nabawi الْمَسْجِد النَّبَوي