• Mataf

    The Mataf (Arabic: المطاف) is the open, flat area surrounding the Kaaba within Masjid al-Haram, where pilgrims perform the Tawaf, the act of circumambulating the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction.

    Meaning

    The term “Mataf” is derived from the Arabic word “taafa,” meaning “to circle,” which reflects the act of Tawaf. The ritual of Tawaf around the Kaaba is essential to Hajj and Umrah.

    Historical Development

    Historically, the Mataf has undergone significant changes to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims.

    Prophetic Era

    During the time of the Prophet ﷺ, Masjid al-Haram was not surrounded by walls. Instead, it was surrounded by houses on all sides, with alleys between them serving as entrances to the Kaaba. The space between the houses and the Kaaba was called the Mataf.

    In the early years of Islam, the area around the Kaaba was quite small, sufficient for the limited number of worshippers of that era. As Islam spread and the number of pilgrims increased, the need for expansion became evident.

    Umar ibn al-Khattab

    After Umar ibn al-Khattab I travelled to Makkah to perform Umrah in 17 AH (639 CE), he encountered significant damage to the Kaaba caused by floods. As a result, he issued orders for their repair. Umar’s actions included enlarging the Mataf area and enclosing the Zamzam well. This required the demolition of some surrounding houses, for which the owners were duly compensated.

    Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr

    The first person to pave the Mataf was Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr I in 64 AH (684 CE). After completing the reconstruction of the Kaaba, he had some stones left over, which he used to pave an area of about ten cubits around it.

    Al-Walid ibn Abdul Malik

    In the year 119 AH (737 CE), the Umayyad caliph, Al-Walid ibn Abdul Malik, had the ground of the Mataf repaved with marble.

    Abbasid Era

    In the year 284 AH (897 CE), Abbasid Caliph Al-Mu’tadid repaved the floor of the Mataf with marble.

    Additionally, one of the Abbasid caliphs, al-Musta’sim, undertook improvements in 631 AH (1234 CE). To commemorate this work, his name was inscribed in a niche at the door of the Kaaba.

    Mamluk Era

    Al-Fasi mentioned in “Shifa’ Al-Gharam” that the Mataf was furnished with carved stones, a process carried out in batches until it reached completion. This development occurred in 766 AH (1365 CE) and was significantly developed under the reign of Mamluk Sultan al-Ashraf Sha’ban of Egypt.

    The Mataf area was improved by Sultan Al-Mansur Lajin Al-Mansuri. His name was inscribed in marble between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone in recognition of his contributions.

    Ibn Battuta, the famous traveller, said the following about the Mataf area in his Rihla in the year 725 AH (1324 CE):

    The Mataf, the area around the Kaaba where Tawaf is performed, was paved with black stones. These stones would become extremely hot under the sun, resembling hot plates. Water carriers were often seen pouring water onto the stones to cool them down, but the stones would quickly heat up again, retaining the intense heat. As a result, most of the pilgrims performing Tawaf during that time wore socks to protect their feet from the scorching surface.

    Ottoman Era

    During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, significant renovations were undertaken in and around Masjid al-Haram in 961 AH (1553 CE). These included alterations to the ceiling of the Kaaba, refurbishment of the roof, reconstruction of the paving in the Mataf area, the provision of a crafted marble minbar to the mosque and the reconstruction of the Bab Ali minaret following its collapse.

    In 972 AH (1564 CE), Sultan Suleiman ordered the laying of the Mataf, utilizing tiles sealed with lead and nailed with iron nails. This method of laying the Mataf continued until the entirety of Masjid al-Haram was covered with plaster. Additionally, during this restoration phase, a new minaret was erected, famously known as The Minaret of Suleiman the Magnificent, previously recognized as the Minaret of Wisdom.

    Saudi Era

    During the Saudi era, King Abdul Aziz decided to expand the Mataf. In 1377 AH (1957 CE), the marble for the Mataf was quarried, and the land surrounding it was excavated to make it level in elevation. Columns within the boundaries of the old Mataf were removed, and the ground was spread with cement and covered with marble to create the new Mataf, maintaining its shape. The area of the new Mataf was approximately the same as the old one.

    In the second phase of the project, starting from Jumada al-Thani 1381 AH (1961 CE) and continuing until 1388 AH (1968 CE), the Mataf was further expanded. The building above the Zamzam Well was demolished, and the mouth of the well was lowered. Changes were made to the pulpit, and the structure housing the Maqam Ibrahim was removed. Other structures present in the Mataf area were also demolished.

    Historical Structures

    The Mataf area has historically contained a number of structures, most of which are no longer present. These include:

    1. Bab Bani Shaybah
    2. Hijr Ismail (still present)
    3. Zamzam well building and Shafi’i Maqam
    4. Kaaba staircase
    5. Another Kaaba staircase
    6. Maqam Ibrahim (still present but reduced in size)
    7. Ottoman pulpit
    8. Hanafi Maqam
    9. Maliki Maqam
    10. Hanbali Maqam

    Bab Bani Shaybah

    The Bab Bani Shaybah (Bani Shaybah Gate), one of the original entrances to the Masjid al-Haram, dates back to the time of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. It was considered mustahhab for pilgrims to enter Masjid al-Haram through this gate, following the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ.

    Historical accounts by al-Maqdisi mention 19 gates of Masjid al-Haram, with Bab Bani Shaybah being the most significant.

    The Prophet ﷺ handed the keys of the Kaaba to the people of Bani Shaybah during the conquest of Makkah, entrusting them with the responsibility eternally until the Day of Resurrection.

    The architectural structure of Bab Bani Shaybah has historically been a free-standing arch and has never been enclosed. Before it was demolished, it remained a free-standing arch supported by two square columns. The arch measured about 8 meters at its highest point. Inscriptions of verses from the Quran adorned the outer and inner sides of the arch’s crown. These verses were:

    ٱدْخُلُوهَا بِسَلَـٰمٍ ءَامِنِينَ
    “Enter them in peace and safety!”
    [Surah al-Hijr,15:46]

    وَقُل رَّبِّ أَدْخِلْنِى مُدْخَلَ صِدْقٍۢ وَأَخْرِجْنِى مُخْرَجَ صِدْقٍۢ وَٱجْعَل لِّى مِن لَّدُنكَ سُلْطَـٰنًۭا نَّصِيرًۭا
    Say, ‘My Lord, make me go in truthfully, and come out truthfully, and grant me supporting authority from You.’
    [Sura al-Isra, 17:80]

    Thie historian Muhammad Ṭahir al-Kurdi described the gate:

    Behind the Maqam of Ibrahim, peace be upon him, marks the place where a semi-circular arch stands, supported by two solid marble columns adorned with intricate engravings. This arch occupies the path that once led from between the houses of the Quraysh to the Sacred Mosque. When the Quraysh built their homes around the Kaaba, they left narrow paths between each house leading to the Sacred House of God, and this arch marked the entrance to one such path.

    Adjacent to the arch was the house of Shaybah Ibn Uthman Al-Hajabi, the custodian of the Great Kaaba, which was later included in Al-Mahdi’s expansion of the mosque. As a result, the gate was attributed to him, hence its name: Bani Shaybah Gate. It is also known as the Gate of Peace (Bab al-Salam), reflecting its antiquity from pre-Islamic times, with its location preserved to this day.

    Hadith and historical texts mention that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to enter and exit the Sacred Mosque through this door. It is speculated that this choice was influenced by the Prophet’s residence, which was in the house of Khadija, may God be pleased with her, in Al-Hijr Alley, or in the house of Aqeel, or in Al-Abtah, in the direction of Al-Mualla. Those coming from these places would naturally enter the mosque through the Bani Shaybah door. Moreover, this door is positioned opposite the door of the Sacred House of God.

    This arch was demolished on 22 October 1967 CE (18 Rajab 1387 AH) as part of the first Saudi expansion of Masjid al-Haram.

    Maqamat of the Four Imams

    The Kaaba surrounded by the Maqamat in 1952

    The Maqamat of the Four Imams (مقامات الأئمة الأربعة), also known as the Maqsurat (المقصورات), were a group of four small structures situated on all four sides of the Kaaba within the old Mataf area. These structures served as designated spots where the Imams leading prayers for the four major schools (Madhhabs) of Islamic jurisprudence would stand and lead the prayer.

    They featured distinctive architectural elements, including pavilions supported by four stone columns, topped with domes, and mihrabs (praying niches) positioned between two columns facing the congregation. In other cases, the areas were marked simply by a mihrab flanked by two posts.

    Before their removal, these structures played a significant role in accommodating multiple congregational prayers simultaneously. Historical records trace the tradition of these multiple prayer congregations back to as early as the 4th and 5th centuries AH (10th and 11th centuries CE).

    Ibn Jubayr, a traveller from Muslim Spain, documented this tradition during his visit to Makkah in 579 AH (1184 CE). He observed five simultaneous congregations inside Masjid al-Haram: Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and even a Zaydi congregation, a Shi’a school of jurisprudence. Ibn Jubayr detailed the specific locations belonging to each congregation:

    The Haram has four Sunnite [orthodox] imams, and a fifth for the sect called the Zaydis. The nobles among the inhabitants of this town follow the Zaydi rites. In the call to prayer they add, ‘Come to the best of works’ after the muezzin’s words, ‘Come to Salvation.’ They are blaspheming Rafidites, and God in the life to come will take them to account and give them their deserts. On Fridays they do not attend congregational prayers but repeat the midday prayers four times, and at sunset pray after the other imams have ended. The first of the Sunni imams is the Shafi’i – God’s mercy upon him and we have mentioned him first for he is the surrogate of the ‘Abbaside Caliph. He is the first to offer prayer, which he does behind the Maqam of Abraham – may God bless and preserve him and our noble Prophet. But at the evening prayers, all four imams pray together concurrently because of the shortness of time. The Shafi’i muezzin begins with the iqamah [requiring the congregation to stand in line and introducing the prayers], and then the muezzins of the other imams follow. Sometimes into these prayers there enters an oversight or inadvertence by the worshippers, and then from all sides comes the cry, ‘God is Great.’ At times a Maliki will recite the rak’ah of the Shafi’i or of the Hanafi, or salute an imam that is not his. You will observe every ear listening to the voice of its imam or muezzin, fearing an oversight, yet still many occur. Then comes the Maliki – God’s mercy upon him – who prays opposite the Yemen corner. He has a stone mihrab resembling the mihrabs placed on the high road. The Hanafi – God’s mercy upon him – follows, and he prays opposite the waterspout and under a hatim made for him. He is the most splendid of the imams, having more candles and such like, for the whole of the Persian Empire is of his rite and his congregation is very large. He comes last, for the Hanbali – God’s mercy upon him- prays with the Maliki at one time. His place of prayer is opposite the side between the Black Stone and the Yemen corner.

    The Maqamat in the Ottoman Era

    The Shaf’i Maqam, or Maqam Imam Shaf’i, was situated atop the Ottoman-era Zamzam well building, approximately 15 meters east of the Kaaba. This Maqam, the largest structure within the Mataf area, spanned approximately 4×6 meters and was accessible via an 11-step staircase. It accommodated up to 50 people at a time and featured a makeshift roof and a small green-painted dome. Additionally, it served as a Mukabbariyya, from which the chief muezzin issued the call to prayer.

    The Hanafi Maqam, or Maqam Imam Abu Hanifa, was located north of the Kaaba, beyond the paved area of the Mataf at the time. Positioned directly opposite the Hijr Ismael, it bordered the old courtyard of the Mataf. It was a large, two-story, free-standing structure within the Mataf area.

    The Maliki Maqam, also known as the Maqam Imam Malik, was a small, roofed structure elevated on four columns. Positioned to the west of the Kaaba, between the Yemeni and Black Stone corners, it faced the direction of Bab al-Umrah. This Maqam was situated outside the paved circular Mataf area and was covered with fine gravel.

    The Hanbali Maqam was originally located on the south side of the Kaaba within Masjid al-Haram. Removed in 1300 AH (1882 CE), it was subsequently rebuilt as a single-floor structure supported by four columns. Positioned opposite the Black Stone on the Mataf courtyard’s surface, the area surrounding the Maqam was covered with gravel.

    Demolition of the Maqamat

    In 1925 CE, the Maqamat were demolished to consolidate prayer times and create more space for pilgrims. Historian Muhammad Ṭahir al-Kurdi documented this demolition:

    When royal approval was granted to expand the Mataf and demolish the four shrines, the process began. Firstly, they demolished the Hanbali shrine, situated near the Zamzam Well, on the night of Tuesday, the twenty-first of Shaban in the year 1377 AH (corresponding to 1958 CE). Following this, they proceeded to demolish the Maliki Maqam, positioned between the Hanbali Maqam and the Hanafi Maqam, facing the rear of the Kaaba on the night of Wednesday, the twenty-second of Shaban of the same year.

    Subsequently, the Hanafi Maqam, located on the northern side and facing the Mizab of the Kaaba, was demolished after Eid al-Fitr, specifically on the eighth Saturday of the month of Shawwal of the same year, 1377 AH (1958 CE). This structure housed microphones to amplify the voice of the prayer leader, enabling worshippers to hear the takbirs synchronized with the movements of the Imam. Following its demolition, the microphones were relocated to the Shafi’i Maqam, situated on the roof of the Zamzam Well building.

    Regarding the Shafi’i Maqam, its demolition was postponed beyond the aforementioned year, 1377 AH (1958 CE), due to its integration with the Zamzam Well building. Removal of the Shafi’i Maqam necessitated the dismantling of the entire Zamzam Well structure. As the Hajj season approached and pilgrims arrived, the decision to remove the building was deferred. Eventually, the Shafi’i Maqam, along with the Zamzam Well building, was demolished in the year 1383 AH (1963 CE).

    Pulpit

    Initially, sermon delivery in Masjid al-Haram was a humble affair, with imams standing on the ground facing the Kaaba or on a stone platform. It wasn’t until the year 44 AH (664 CE) that Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan I introduced a wooden pulpit with three steps for sermon delivery. This modest pulpit served its purpose until Harun al-Rashid V, during his caliphate, commissioned a grander pulpit with nine steps and exquisite engravings.

    Over time, various rulers and leaders commissioned new pulpits or renovated them. Notable among these is the marble pulpit sent by Suleiman the Magnificent in 966 AH (1558 CE). This pulpit, adorned with silver panels coated with gold, stood in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque, providing an elevated platform for sermon delivery.

    However, during the tumultuous events of the Juhayman seizure of Masjid al-Haram in the year 1400 AH (1979 CE), the pulpit was damaged beyond repair. Parts of it were preserved and transferred to the exhibition of the Two Holy Mosques in Umm al-Joud.

    In its place, a new wooden pulpit was crafted during King Khalid’s reign. Later advancements led to the design of a new pulpit equipped with remote control technology, combining Islamic decorations with modern functionality. This pulpit was put into use on the first Friday of Ramadan in the year 1423 AH (2002 CE).

    Maqam Ibrahim

    The old enclosure of Maqam Ibrahim

    Originally, the Maqam Ibrahim was left open without any protective barrier. As time progressed, the need for a more permanent structure became evident. During the Ottoman period, a dedicated enclosure was constructed, featuring a canopy at its rear that extended towards the Maqam Ibrahim itself, providing space underneath for people to perform prayer. This initial structure was erected in the year 810 AH (1408 CE). Over time, it underwent restoration and renovation by various sultans and other benefactors.

    In Rajab 1387 AH (November 1967 CE), the Saudis removed this structure and replaced it with a smaller enclosure, which is what we see today.

    Zamzam Well

    The history of the well of Zamzam is marked by numerous constructions and renovations funded by different rulers and dynasties over the centuries.

    During the Mamluk period, Sultan Qaitbay invested in improving the well’s water quality and funded the construction of a new dome covering it. In 1096-1097 (1489 CE), during the reign of Sultan Malik an-Nasir, the Dome of Abbas, one of the two Domes of Drinking, was reconstructed. This new structure featured a large painted gate made from yellow stone, a fountain in the middle, iron windows, and metal fountains for pilgrims, all housed under a large dome.

    After the Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate, Suleiman the Magnificent initiated construction and renovation works in Makkah. In 947 AH (1540 CE), the roof covering the well, which had remained intact since Qaitbay’s rule, was destroyed, and a new roof was completed in January 949 AH (1542 CE). In 1030 AH (1621 CE), Sultan Ahmed I constructed an iron cage around the well. Later, in 1070 AH (1660 CE), Ottoman authorities built a new building over Zamzam.

    During the Wahhabi conquest of Makkah in 1218 AH (1803 CE), the dome covering the well was destroyed. The Ottomans later rebuilt the structure, and incorporated the Shafi’i Maqam within the building.  However, the Saudi authorities later demolished it in 1383 AH (1963 CE). In its place, the opening of the well was moved to a basement, 2.5 meters deep, to provide more space for pilgrims above ground. In the year 1424 AH (2003 CE), the Zamzam basement was closed and sealed.

    Kaaba Staircase

    The entry door into the Kaaba is approximately three meters above ground level, requiring a removable staircase for access during cleaning and visits.

    Historically, a wheeled wooden staircase was stored between the Banu Shaybah gate and the Zamzam Well.

    Modern Era

    The Ottoman era saw some of the earliest major renovations, but it was in the 20th and 21st centuries that the most extensive transformations occurred.

    The expansion of Masjid al-Haram was initiated by King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims. Construction began during the reign of King Saud in 1955 CE and continued through subsequent reigns, including those of King Faisal and King Khalid, with ongoing work under the reigns of King Fahd, King Abdullah, and King Salman.

    Today, the Mataf area comprises four floors – the ground floor, first floor, second-floor mezzanine, and the roof, which can accommodate 287,000 worshippers. In 1437 AH (2016 CE), work commenced to remove the temporary Mataf Bridge. This removal increased the capacity of the Mataf courtyard from 19,000 performers of Tawaf per hour to 30,000 per hour, totalling 107,000 performers of Tawaf per hour across all floors of Masjid al-Haram. The renovated Mataf courtyard now offers worshippers an unobstructed view of the Kaaba.

    One of the major components of this expansion is the addition of multiple floors to the Mataf area. These new floors are connected by ramps and escalators, facilitating smoother and more efficient movement of pilgrims.

    Map

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