The Construction of al-Masjid al-Nabawi

The Construction of al-Masjid al-Nabawi

Mawlana Muhammad Asif Iqbal ‘Attari Madani

Three masjids in particular hold great significance, hailed as the most sacred places of worship on earth. They were constructed by the noble prophets عَـلَـيْهِمُ السَّلَام, upon the divine command of Allah Almighty. These are Masjid al-Haram, Masjid al-Aqsa, and al-Masjid al-Nabawi. In particular, al-Masjid al-Nabawi has the exclusive merit of being constructed by the final prophet of Allah, Sayyidunā Muhammad صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and his honourable Companions رَضِیَ الـلّٰـهُ عَنْھُم .

The First Construction

On entering Madina, the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم initiated the construction of al-Masjid al-Nabawi before anything else. Land was purchased from two orphans, Sahl and Suhayl. Sayyidunā Abū Bakr al-iddīq رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ paid them 10,000 gold coins. According to one narration, the land belonged to the Najjar tribe, who said in regards to the price, “We will take payment for this from Allah.” The final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم began construction of the masjid in the first year after the Migration. He laid the foundation stone with his own blessed hands and even carried bricks during this process. The following words were upon his blessed tongue:

 اَللّٰھُمَّ لَاخَیْرَ اِلَّا خَیْرُ الآخِرَۃ، فَاغْفِرْ لِلْاَنْصَارِ وَ الْمُہَاجِرَۃ

O Allah! There is indeed no good except that of the Hereafter, so forgive the Ansar and the Muhajirin.”

The foundation of the masjid was built with stone, its walls with adobe bricks, pillars with palm trunks, and the roof with palm branches. The roof was initially five or seven cubits high. Three entrances were fashioned: Bāb al-Rama (Bāb ʿĀtika), Bāb Jibrīl (Bāb Āl ʿUthmān), and a final door which was sealed after the change of the qibla.[1] 

The First Expansion

After initial construction, the masjid was 54 and 63 yards in length and width respectively. The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم set out to expand the masjid in 7 AH, after the conquest of Khaybar. The growing number of attendees meant the current space was not enough. The house of an Ansari was parallel to the masjid, and the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم asked, “Who will purchase this stretch of land and expand the masjid, in return for a house in Jannah?” Sayyidunā ʿUthmān رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ proceeded to purchase it for 10,000 dirhams and hand it to the Prophet  صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم .  This land was then incorporated into the masjid during its expansion. It was now 100 cubits in length and width.[2]

Second construction and expansion

The caliphate of Sayyidunā ʿUmar al-Fārūq رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ was marked by numerous victories and an exponential influx of new Muslims from distant lands. To accommodate the growing numbers, Sayyidunā ʿUmar al-Fārūq رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ had the masjid reconstructed and expanded it.

Imam Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه states that Sayyidunā ʿUmar al-Fārūq رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ had the masjid reconstructed and enlarged and installed a solid stone floor. He also had the previously affixed wooden pillars replaced with brick ones. The masjid was expanded in the direction of qibla. Concerning this, he once said, “If I had not heard the Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم saying, ‘The masjid will need to be expanded,’ I would not have expanded it in the least.”[3]

Third Expansion

During the fourth year of Sayyidunā ʿUthmān’s رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ caliphate, the growing number of believers warranted a further expansion of the masjid. After consulting the senior jurists among the Companions, he ordered the expansion. The work lasted from Rabi al-Awwal 29 AH  until Muharram 30 AH.

Many changes were made under his supervision. Walls were built with engraved stone and cement. The previous adobe brick pillars were replaced with ones fashioned from engraved stone. A teak wood roof was placed overhead, white cement used as plaster, arches affixed on the eastern and western sides and the masjid expanded towards the north. The expansion carried out by Sayyidunā ʿUmar al-Fārūq رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ rendered the masjid 120 or 140 yards in length. After Sayyidunā ʿUthmān’s رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ expansion, it was now 160 yards in length and 150 in width.[4]

Fourth Expansion

The governor of Madina during the caliphate of Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik was Sayyidunā ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, who purchased the surrounding buildings to extend the masjid on the Caliph’s order.

The masjid’s length and width were increased to 200 and 167 yards respectively. Many artisans were hired from Rome and Egypt. The roof, walls, and pillars were engraved with gold. Approximately 448 kg of gold was utilised, or 896 kg in another narration. The practice of building a mihrab in masjids finds it roots in this time. Construction began in 88 AH and was completed in 91 AH.[5]

Fifth Expansion

In 161 AH, the Abbasid Caliph Muhammad b. Manūr al-Mahdī ordered another expansion. Accordingly, the masjid was increased by 55 or 100 yards in the direction of Syria. The high level of decoration and ornamentation in the preceding expansion was echoed. This work was completed in 167 AH.[6]

The Sixth Construction

According to al-Samhūdī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه , no one had expanded the masjid after Caliph al-Mahdī up to his respective era. Others suggested that Caliph al-Maʾmūn al-Rashīd carried out an expansion in 202 AH. This point is mentioned by Ibn Qutaybah رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه in al-Maʿārif. Both views can be reconciled since it is possible that al-Maʾmūn strengthened the foundations of the masjid and carried out renovation work rather than a full-scale expansion.[7]

The Seventh Construction

In Ramadan 654 AH, an accidental fire started in a storeroom of the masjid and spread to the roof, causing extensive damage. News of this reached the Caliph, Muʿtaim Billāh, who ordered the reconstruction during the Hajj season of 655 AH. Artisans, artificers, and architectural experts were enlisted to work on the masjid. New roofing was installed from the eastern wall until Bab Jibril, which also covered the sacred chambers of the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and areas of the masjid facing qibla. The western side also had new roofing over Riyad al-Jannah and the blessed pulpit.

Due to the Tatar invasion of Baghdad in 656 AH, work was temporarily suspended and restarted the following year. The governor of Yemen, Malik al-Muaffar, offered his services and had work completed up until Bab al-Salam. The ruler of Egypt, Sultan Rukn al-Dīn, sent iron, metal, wood, and other building materials for further work in 658 AH. Commissioning 53 artisans alongside this, the remaining work up to Bab al-Nisa and Bab al-Rahma was then completed.[8]

The Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Construction

Sultan Muhammad b. Qalawūn al-aliī renewed the eastern and western roofs from 705 AH to the following year. In 729 AH, he attached two verandas to the roof towards the qibla. These verandas developed structural problems, which were addressed by King Ashraf Bārsbay in 831 AH. He also extended the roof towards Syria. In 853 AH, Sultan Sayf al-Dīn Jaqmaq reconstructed the entire roof over the blessed chambers and part of the masjid roof.[9]

The Eleventh and Twelfth Construction

During the reign of Egypt’s sultan Ashraf Qaytbay, need arose to adjust the roof of the masjid. Work began in 879 AH. Much of the roofing and pillars on the eastern side were removed and reconstructed. This project was completed in 881 AH.

In 886 AH, a lightning strike nearly set the whole masjid on fire, causing most of its pillars to collapse. Sultan Qaytbay gradually sent a total 400 artisans and 372 load animals for the reconstruction.  He also sent materials via land and sea. A dome and further verandas were added, and marble was widely used. Copper trellises were installed in the direction of qibla. New structures, storage spaces, a madrassa, a rest house for travellers, bathing facilities, a kitchen, a mill, and a library were added. All roof work was completed in 888 AH.[10]

The Thirteenth Construction and Expansion

In 1265 AH, the Ottoman sultan, ʿAbd al-Majīd I, decided to expand the masjid. The love of the Turkish people for the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم is remarkable. They showed a truly exemplary display of love and respect during this endeavour. Skilled artisans from across the Muslim world were gathered in a new settlement outside Istanbul. They were told to transfer their knowledge and skills to their children or students. Alongside this, they were instructed to make their children memorisers of the Quran. On the other side, rock was extracted from new quarries, wood from new forests, and the best quality materials were imported from a multitude of countries specialising in their production. Over 25 years, these materials were brought together in a hamlet outside Al-Masjid al-Nabawi. 

When these experts were commissioned to begin work, they were instructed to: 

1. To stay in ablution during their work

2. To maintain the recital of the Quran during their work. 

The roof of the masjid during the Prophetic era was fashioned into domes, and skylights were placed in them. Large, door-sized windows were installed in some walls. The top and bottom of the pillars were embellished with gold. The inner sides of the dome were engraved and decorated. ʿAbd Allah Zuhdi Effendi was a calligrapher who worked on the domes, walls, pillars, and mihrabs with incomparable expertise. He inscribed three lines of Quranic verses on the furthermost wall to the qibla, along with over 200 names and qualities of the final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم on the fourth. The masjid was expanded westward by 1293 metres. Approximately 500 artisans and workers took part in this project, and a total of 700,000 gold Majidi coins were spent.[11]    

The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Construction and Expansion

Between 1372 AH and 1375 AH, a large expansion took place. Buildings were removed in the eastern, western and northern directions. Pathways were made in this area adjoining the masjid, which now allowed access from all four directions. The masjid’s total circumference now amounted to 16326 square meters. The expanded area was covered in stone that did not heat up under the sun. An attempt was made to keep the new construction in line with the earlier Ottoman expansion. Great lengths were undertaken during this expansion, and over 30,000 tonnes of material was brought in on 30 ships. In 1393 AH, land measuring 35,000 square meters was acquired in the western direction of the masjid, with canopies to shade the worshippers.

The Sixteenth Expansion

Following this expansion, the ground floor is 82,000 square meters, and the new roof is 67,000. At 28 open areas across the expanse of the roof, movable domes were added weighing 80 tonnes each. The number of doors became 85. 6 additional minarets were built, towering at 104 meters. New systems of lighting, electricity, cold water, fire safety, escalators, parking, air conditioning, and security were put into effect. After this expansion, the masjid and adjacent areas accommodate 698,000 worshippers. This project cost 30 billion riyals.

[1] aī al-Bukhāri, vol. 2, p. 595, Hadith 3906, aī al-Bukhāri, vol. 1, p. 165 Hadith 428, Imta al-Asma, vol. 10, p. 88, Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 1, pp. 323,334,337

[2] Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhi, vol. 5, p. 392, Hadith 3723, Jazb Al-Quloob, p. 125, Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 1, pp. 334 -336

[3] Tareekh al-Khulafa, p. 10, Musnad Ahmad, vol. 1, p. 414, no. 330, Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, p. 481

[4] aī al-Bukhāri, vol. 2, p. 170, Hadith 446, Musnad Ahmad, vol. 10, p. 287, no. 6139, Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, pp. 505,507, Tareekh al-Khulafa, p. 124

[5] Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, pp. 513 – 526, Jazb al-Quloob, pp. 155 – 157, Al-Durrat al-Thamina Fi Akhbar al-Madina, pp. 113,115

[6] Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, pp.537 -  540,  Akhbar Madinat al-Rasul, p. 104, Jazb al-Qulub, p. 157

[7] Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, p. 540, Jazb al-Quloob, p. 157

[8] Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, pp. 598 - 604

[9] Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, p. 605

[10] Wafa al-Wafa, vol. 2, pp. 605, 633 - 644

[11] Tazkirah al-Madinat al-munawwarah, p. 121, Tareekh Najd o Hijaz, pp. 9 - 13




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