Holiest sites in Islam

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Pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba in Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Mecca. Located in Saudi Arabia, this is the holiest site.[1]

There are holy sites, which are mentioned or referred to in the Quran, that are considered sacred to Islam.[2] Mecca[3] and Medina[4][5][6] in Saudi Arabia are the two holiest cities in Islam, unanimous among all sects.[1] In the Islamic tradition, the Kaaba in Mecca is considered the holiest site, followed by the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem are held in high esteem.[2][7] There are sacred sites located in Mecca; Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah.[8]

Many different sites have been labelled as fourth holiest, including the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus,[9][10][11] the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Kairouan,[12][13][14] the Sanctuary of Abraham in Hebron,[15] Bukhara,[16][17] Eyüp district in Istanbul,[18][19] and Harar.[20][21]


The main building of the Great Mosque of Mecca in 2009, before undergoing renovations
A view of the Prophet's Mosque from the south-east in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

The Hejaz is the region in the Arabian Peninsula where Mecca and Medina are located. It is thus where Muhammad was born and raised.[22]


Mecca[2] is considered the holiest city in Islam, as it is home to the Kaaba ('Cube') and Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām (The Sacred Mosque).[1] Only Muslims are allowed to enter this place.[23]

The area of Mecca, which includes Mount Arafah,[24] Mina and Muzdalifah, is important for the Ḥajj ('Pilgrimage'). As one of the Five Pillars of Islam,[25] every adult Muslim who is capable must perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime.[26] Hajj is one of the largest annual Muslim gatherings in the world, second only to pilgrimages to the mosques of Husayn ibn Ali and his half-brother Abbas in Karbala, Iraq, with attendance reaching 3 million in 2012.[27]


The Prophet's Mosque is located in Medina, making the city the second-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca. Medina is the final place-of-residence of Muhammad, and where his qabr (grave) is located.[1] In addition to the Prophet's Mosque, the city has the mosques of Qubā’[28] and al-Qiblatayn ("The Two Qiblahs").[29]

Levant (Ash-Shaam)[edit]

The Haram as-Sharif (Temple Mount) in the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel. Note that the golden dome is the Qubbat as-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock), with Al-Aqsa Mosque located to the left.
The Haram al-Ibrahimi (Sanctuary of Abraham) in the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank

Greater Syria (Ash-Shām)[7] is a region that extends from Syria in the north to Israel in the south.[30][31] It includes the cities of Jerusalem and Hebron.[7]


According to mainstream Sunni and Shi'ite traditions, Al-Masjid Al-Aqṣā ("The Farthest Place-of-Prostration")[32] is located in Jerusalem. The mosque is held in esteem by the entire Muslim community, due to its history as a place of worship that is intertwined with the lives of many Biblical prophets, such as Abraham (who is also linked with the sanctuary of Mecca),[2] Dawud (David), Sulaimon (Solomon), Ilyas (Elijah) and ʿĪsā ibn Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary), as well as for its special status. The mosque comprises 4,600 m2 (50,000 sq ft) in size, with the capacity to accommodate in the region of 5,000 worshipers.[33] The mosque was the first direction of prayer in Muhammad's lifetime, before the Kaaba in Mecca, and Muhammad was believed to have been taken by the miraculous steed, that is the Buraq, to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, where he prayed, and was then taken to the heavens, in a single night in the year 620 CE that is known as Al-Isrāʾ wal-Miʿrāj ("The Night-Journey and the Ascension"). References to it exist in Surah Al-Ma'idah (5),[34] Al-Isra' (17),[32] Al-Anbiya[35] and Saba' (34):[36] in the Qur'an.[7]


Damascus, and particularly the Umayyad Mosque in the Old City, is considered by some Muslims to be the fourth holiest site in Islam.[9][10][11] One of the four authorized copies of the Quran was kept here, and the head of Yahya ibn Zakariyya (John the Baptist, son of Zechariah) is believed to be in the shrine. One of the minarets is dedicated to Jesus, and it is believed he will return to it to judge the world, and assist a figure called Al-Mahdi. It is believed that after the end of the world prayers will continue for forty years in the mosque, and that prayers in the mosque are considered to be equal to those offered in Jerusalem.[9]


Hebron is a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank, 30 km (19 mi) south of Jerusalem, considered by many Muslims to be the fifth holiest city in Islam. Its Arabic names, Khalil Ar-Rahman ("Friend of the Gracious") and Al-Khalil ("The Friend (of God)"), stems from the belief that it was the city Abraham settled in. Within the city lies the Sanctuary of Abraham, the traditional burial site of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and the Ibrahimi Mosque built on top of the tomb to honor the prophet.[15][37][38][39]

Muslims believe that Muhammad visited Hebron on his nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to stop by the tomb and pay his respects.[15] In the mosque in a small niche there is a left footprint, believed to be from Muhammad.[39][40]

Sinai peninsula[edit]

A mosque on top of Mount Sinai, in the Asian part of present-day Egypt

The Sinai peninsula is associated with Aaron and Moses, who are also regarded as Prophets.[41] In particular, numerous references to Mount Sinai exist in the Quran,[42][43] where it is called Ṭūr Sīnāʾ,[44] Ṭūr Sīnīn,[45] and aṭ-Ṭūr[46][47] and al-Jabal (both meaning "the Mount").[48] As for the adjacent Wād Ṭuwā (Valley of Tuwa), it is considered as being muqaddas[49][50] (sacred),[51][52] and a part of it is called Al-Buqʿah Al-Mubārakah ("The Blessed Place").[47]


The Eyüp Sultan Mosque, which contains the grave of Eyüp (Abu Ayyub al-Ansari the Companion of Muhammad), in Eyüp District, in the European section of Istanbul City, Turkey

The Eyüp district in the Turkish city of Istanbul is considered the fourth holiest site by some sources.[53][54] Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp Ensari), the friend and standard-bearer of Muhammad, is said to be buried in the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. Ottoman believers considered this site to be third holiest in the world, after Mecca and Medina.[55] Ottoman Sultan/Caliphs acceded to their title in a ceremony in the Eyüp mosque, as this location was more sacred than any location in the capital, being the tomb of a companion of the prophet provided a "blessing bestowal" from the closest circle of Muhammad. Eyüp, who died at the unsuccessful siege on Constantinople, provided a reminder that the Ottomans succeeded where earlier Islamic armies, led by a companion of the prophet, failed.[56]



According to UNESCO, Harar in eastern Ethiopia is "considered 'the fourth holy city' of Islam" with 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century and 102 shrines.[57][58]


The most important mosque in Kairouan (Tunisia) is the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba (Uqba ibn Nafi'). It has been said that seven pilgrimages to this mosque is considered the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Mecca.[59] After its establishment, Kairouan became an Islamic and Qur'anic learning centre in North Africa. An article by Professor Kwesi Prah[60] describes how during the medieval period, Kairouan was considered the fourth holiest city in Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.[61] Today, many consider the city as the fourth holiest in Islam.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Trofimov, Yaroslav (2008), The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam's Holiest Shrine, New York, p. 79, ISBN 978-0-307-47290-8
  2. ^ a b c d Michigan Consortium for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (1986). Goss, V. P.; Bornstein, C. V. (eds.). The Meeting of Two Worlds: Cultural Exchange Between East and West During the Period of the Crusades. 21. Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. p. 208. ISBN 0918720583.
  3. ^ Quran 48:22–29
  4. ^ Quran 9:25–129
  5. ^ Quran 33:09–73
  6. ^ Quran 63:1–11
  7. ^ a b c d Mustafa Abu Sway. "The Holy Land, Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Qur'an, Sunnah and other Islamic Literary Source" (PDF). Central Conference of American Rabbis. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-28.
  8. ^ Geomatika Advanced Solutions (6 June 2016). Atlas of MAKKAH, Dr. Osama bin Fadl Al-Bahar: Makkah City. Bukupedia. pp. 104–. GGKEY:YLPLD6B31C2.
  9. ^ a b c Janet L. Abu-Lughod (contributor) (2007). "Damascus". In Dumper, Michael R. T.; Stanley, Bruce E. (eds.). Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 119–126. ISBN 978-1-5760-7919-5.
  10. ^ a b Sarah Birke (2013-08-02), Damascus: What’s Left, New York Review of Books
  11. ^ a b Totah, Faedah M. (2009). "Return to the origin: negotiating the modern and unmodern in the old city of Damascus". 21 (1). City & Society: 58–81. doi:10.1111/j.1548-744X.2009.01015.x. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Berger, Roni. "Impressions and thoughts of an incidental tourist in Tunisia in January 2011." Journal of International Women's Studies 12.1 (2011): 177-178.
  13. ^ Nagel, Ronald L. "Jews of the Sahara." Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine 21.1 (2016): 25-32.
  14. ^ Harris, Ray, and Khalid Koser. "Islam in the Sahel." Continuity and Change in the Tunisian Sahel. Routledge, 2018. 107-120.
  15. ^ a b c Vitullo, Anita (2003). "People Tied to Place: Strengthening Cultural Identity in Hebron's Old City". Journal of Palestine Studies. 33: 68–83. doi:10.1525/jps.2003.33.1.68. quote: From earliest Islam, the sanctuaries of Hebron and Jerusalem [al-Haram al-Ibrahimi and al-Haram al-Sharif] were holy places outranked only by Mecca and Medina; the Ibrahimi Mosque was regarded by many as Islam’s fourth holiest site. Muslims believe that the Hebron sanctuary was visited by the Prophet Muhammad on his mystical nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.
  16. ^ Jones, Kevin. "Slavs and Tatars: Language arts." ArtAsiaPacific 91 (2014): 141.
  17. ^ Sultanova, Razia. From Shamanism to Sufism: Women, Islam and Culture in Central Asia. Vol. 3. IB Tauris, 2011.
  18. ^ Okonkwo, Emeka E., and C. A. Nzeh. "Faith–Based Activities and their Tourism Potentials in Nigeria." International Journal of Research in Arts and Social Sciences 1 (2009): 286-298.
  19. ^ Mir, Altaf Hussain. Impact of tourism on the development in Kashmir valley. Diss. Aligarh Muslim University, 2008.
  20. ^ Desplat, Patrick. "The Making of a ‘Harari’ City in Ethiopia: Constructing and Contesting Saintly Places in Harar." Dimensions of Locality: Muslim Saints, Their Place and Space 8 (2008): 149.
  21. ^ Harar - the Ethiopian city known as 'Africa's Mecca', BBC, 21 July 2017
  22. ^ Hopkins, Daniel J.; 편집부 (2001). Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary. p. 479. ISBN 0-87779-546-0. Retrieved 2013-03-17.
  23. ^ Tucker & Roberts 2008, p. 673.
  24. ^ Quran 2:124–217
  25. ^ Musharraf 2012, p. 195.
  26. ^ Peters 1994, p. 22.
  27. ^ Blatt 2015, p. 27.
  28. ^ Description of the new mosque and architectural documents at archnet.org Archived January 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ "CRCC: Center For Muslim-Jewish Engagement: Resources: Religious Texts". Usc.edu. Archived from the original on 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2011-01-12.
  30. ^ Bosworth, C. E. (1997). "AL-SHĀM". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 9. p. 261.
  31. ^ Salibi, K. S. (2003). A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered. I. B. Tauris. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-86064-912-7. To the Arabs, this same territory, which the Romans considered Arabian, formed part of what they called Bilad al-Sham, which was their own name for Syria. From the classical perspective however Syria, including Palestine, formed no more than the western fringes of what was reckoned to be Arabia between the first line of cities and the coast. Since there is no clear dividing line between what are called today the Syrian and Arabian deserts, which actually form one stretch of arid tableland, the classical concept of what actually constituted Syria had more to its credit geographically than the vaguer Arab concept of Syria as Bilad al-Sham. Under the Romans, there was actually a province of Syria, with its capital at Antioch, which carried the name of the territory. Otherwise, down the centuries, Syria like Arabia and Mesopotamia was no more than a geographic expression. In Islamic times, the Arab geographers used the name arabicized as Suriyah, to denote one special region of Bilad al-Sham, which was the middle section of the valley of the Orontes river, in the vicinity of the towns of Homs and Hama. They also noted that it was an old name for the whole of Bilad al-Sham which had gone out of use. As a geographic expression, however, the name Syria survived in its original classical sense in Byzantine and Western European usage, and also in the Syriac literature of some of the Eastern Christian churches, from which it occasionally found its way into Christian Arabic usage. It was only in the nineteenth century that the use of the name was revived in its modern Arabic form, frequently as Suriyya rather than the older Suriyah, to denote the whole of Bilad al-Sham: first of all in the Christian Arabic literature of the period, and under the influence of Western Europe. By the end of that century it had already replaced the name of Bilad al-Sham even in Muslim Arabic usage.
  32. ^ a b Quran 17:1–7
  33. ^ "al-Aqṣā mosque". doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_com_22686. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  34. ^ Quran 5:12–86
  35. ^ Quran 21:51–82
  36. ^ Quran 34:10–18
  37. ^ Aksan & Goffman 2007, p. 97: 'Suleyman considered himself the ruler of the four holy cities of Islam, and, along with Mecca and Medina, included Hebron and Jerusalem in his rather lengthy list of official titles.'
  38. ^ Honigmann 1993, p. 886
  39. ^ a b Janet L. Abu-Lughod (contributor) (2007). "Damascus". In Dumper, Michael R. T.; Stanley, Bruce E. (eds.). Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-1-5760-7919-5.
  40. ^ "Hebron: The city of Abraham, the Beloved". 2005-04-26.
  41. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
  42. ^ Sharīf, J.; Herklots, G. A. (1832). Qanoon-e-Islam: Or, The Customs of the Moosulmans of India; Comprising a Full and Exact Account of Their Various Rites and Ceremonies, from the Moment of Birth Till the Hour of Death. Parbury, Allen, and Company. koh-e-toor.
  43. ^ Abbas, K. A. (1984). The World is My Village: A Novel with an Index. Ajanta Publications.
  44. ^ Quran 23:20 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
  45. ^ Quran 95:2 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
  46. ^ Quran 2:63–93
  47. ^ a b Quran 28:3–86
  48. ^ Quran 7:103–156
  49. ^ Quran 20:9–99
  50. ^ Quran 79:15–25
  51. ^ Ibn Kathir (2013-01-01). Dr Mohammad Hilmi Al-Ahmad (ed.). Stories of the Prophets: [قصص الأنبياء [انكليزي. Dar Al Kotob Al Ilmiyah (Arabic: دَار الْـكُـتُـب الْـعِـلْـمِـيَّـة‎). ISBN 978-2745151360.
  52. ^ Elhadary, Osman (2016-02-08). "11, 15". Moses in the Holy Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam: A Call for Peace. BookBaby. ISBN 978-1483563039.
  53. ^ Okonkwo, Emeka E., and C. A. Nzeh. "Faith–Based Activities and their Tourism Potentials in Nigeria." International Journal of Research in Arts and Social Sciences 1 (2009): 286-298.
  54. ^ Mir, Altaf Hussain. Impact of tourism on the development in Kashmir valley. Diss. Aligarh Muslim University, 2008.
  55. ^ Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, Jason Goodwin, Picador
  56. ^ Brookes, Douglas S. (1993), Of Swords and Tombs: Symbolism in the Ottoman Accession Ritual, 17.2, Turkish Studies Association Bulletin, pp. 1–22
  57. ^ "Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town". World Heritage List. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 6 August 2009. It is considered 'the fourth holy city' of Islam, having been founded by a holy missionary from the Arabic Peninsula.
  58. ^ "Five new heritage sites in Africa". BBC. July 13, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18. Harar Jugol, seen as the fourth holiest city of Islam, includes 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th Century, and 102 shrines.
  59. ^ Europa Publications Limited (30 October 2003). The Middle East and North Africa. Europa Publications. p. 150. ISBN 978-1-85743-184-1. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  60. ^ Director, Centre for Advanced Study of African Societies, Cape Town, South Africa.
  61. ^ This was originally a paper submitted to the African Union (AU) Experts’ Meeting on a Strategic Geopolitic Vision of Afro-Arab Relations. AU Headquarters, Addis Ababa, 11–12 May 2004 Towards a Strategic Geopolitic Vision of Afro-Arab Relations. "By 670, the Arabs had taken Tunisia, and by 675, they had completed construction of Kairouan, the city that would become the premier Arab base in North Africa. Kairouan was later to become the third holiest city in Islam in the medieval period, after Mecca and Medina, because of its importance as the centre of the Islamic faith in the Maghrib".
  62. ^ Dr. Ray Harris; Khalid Koser (30 August 2004). Continuity and change in the Tunisian sahel. Ashgate. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7546-3373-0. Retrieved 17 October 2010.


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