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The Arabic term ḥaram has a meaning of "sanctuary" or "holy site" in Islam.
The Arabic language has two separate words, حرم ḥaram and حرام ḥarām, both derived from the same triliteral Semitic root Ḥ-R-M. Both of these words can mean "forbidden" and/or "sacred" in a general way, but each has also developed some specialized meanings. A third related word derived from the same root, حريم ḥarīm, most directly corresponds to English "harem". This article covers the word ḥaram (with short vowels in the singular form).
As used in Islamic urban planning, the word ḥaram (حرم) means "inviolate zone", an important aspect of urban planning in Muslim civilization. Such protected areas were sanctuaries, or places where contending parties could settle disputes peacefully. Towns were usually built near a river which provided drinking and domestic water (upstream) and carried away waste and sewage (downstream). Muslims claim to have introduced the idea of carrying capacity, and clearly sometimes did limit the number of families in any given town. The harams were typically positioned to ensure access to parkland and nature (which were given another name, hima), to restrict urban sprawl, protect water-courses and watersheds and oases. In this respect the rules strongly resembled modern zoning laws, with the same purposes.
The distinction between haram and hima is thought by some modern scholars to have been necessary due to a different means of deciding which regions were to have restrictions - the selection of haram was considered to be more up to the community while the selection of hima had more to do with natural characteristics of the region, which were considered to be best respected by jurists. This idea probably arises from two different obligations of the Muslim to respect ijma (consensus of neighbors within Islam) and practice khalifa (stewardship of nature under Allah). It may or may not reflect actual means of decision making historically.
As a protected and inviolate zone, haram is also employed referring to the consecrated space in a mosque where rituals and prayer take place: it is the prayer hall.
Ḥaram can also mean an Islamic holy site of very high sanctity. The two sites whose Islamic sanctity is unchallengeably the highest of all are Mecca and Medina in Arabia, so that the Arabic dual form الحرمان al-ḥaramān or الحرمين al-ḥaramayn refers to these two places. Since 1986, the Saudi monarchy has disclaimed all royal titles except "Custodian of the Two Holy Sanctuaries" or "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques".
In addition, the term ḥaram is commonly used to refer to certain other holy sites, such as the Haram ash-Sharif in Jerusalem — though over the protests of some, such as Ibn Taymiya, who declared that the only places which could be legitimately called "ḥaram" were Mecca, Medina, and probably also the valley of Wajj in Ta'if (but definitely not either Jerusalem or Hebron). One of the Islamic names of Jerusalem ثالث الحرمين thālith al-ḥaramayn (literally "the third of the two holy places") resolves the tension between the unchallengeable pre-eminence of Mecca and Medina vs. the desire to recognize Jerusalem as having a special status in Islam in a somewhat paradoxical manner.
- Masjid al-Haram - The Sacred Mosque in Makkah
- Masjid al-Nabawi - The Sacred Mosque in Medina
- Taboo, from tapu in Polynesian culture, also means both "sacred" and "forbidden".
- Henri Stierlin and Anne Stierlin, Islam: Early architecture from Baghdad to Córdoba, Taschen, 1996, p. 235
- "A Muslim Iconoclast (Ibn Taymiyyeh) on the 'Merits' of Jerusalem and Palestine", by Charles D. Matthews, Journal of the American Oriental Society, volume 56 (1935), pp. 1–21. [Includes Arabic text of manuscript of Ibn Taymiyya's short work Qa'ida fi Ziyarat Bayt-il-Maqdis قاعدة في زيارة بيت المقدس]