The largest and oldest mosque in the world, as well as the holiest site in Islam. Muslims pray facing Mecca, but specifically they are facing this mosque, in particular the Kaaba, a cubed building at the center of the site and the most sacred spot in Islam. In low light it could be mistaken for the Tardis. During the Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the largest gatherings in the world – up to two million worshipers can be accommodated here. Anyone using the Gregorian calendar, which is pretty much everyone in the west, will have difficulty pinning the dates of this event down, since it’s held from the 8th to the 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian. Hence, so far as Gregorian calendars are concerned, the date changes from one year to the next.
AL NABAWI MOSQUE, MEDINA, SAUDI ARABIA
The prophet Muhammad used to live here, and also had the mosque built on the grounds, sharing in much of the construction himself. For these reasons, plus the fact that he’s also buried under the green dome at the center of the mosque – the Dome of the Prophet – the Al Nabawi Mosque is the second holiest site in Islam.
AL AQSA MOSQUE, JERUSALEM
The third holiest site in Islam, Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported here from the Al Haram Mosque in Mecca during the Night Journey, and then on to heaven. However, according to the new Garmin we just picked up from Best Buy, this is a journey of around thirty two hours, and that’s without traffic. There’s always traffic. So there’s no way Muhammed made the trip in one night, unless he went via another dimension, which is entirely possible.
DOME OF THE ROCK MOSQUE, JERUSALEM
We’ve put these two together – Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa – because there’s often some confusion between them, to the point where they’re sometimes considered one and the same. But they are two distinctly separate buildings that happen to be very close to each other. They’re located in an area of Old Jerusalem called the Temple Mount. The Dome covers a rock believed by some Muslims and scholars to be the spot from where Muhammed ascended to heaven. Others believe that place to be the Al Aqsa Mosque. In Jewish tradition, the rock is understood to be where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son.
THE BLUE MOSQUE, ISTANBUL
Its official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it is known more popularly as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that decorate the inside walls. There are some 20,000 or so of them, handmade ceramic tiles that decreased in quality over time due to the sultan fixing the price in advance, and not taking inflation into account. In the upper levels of the interior chandeliers have been added. Ostrich eggs are sometimes placed on the chandeliers in the belief that they repel spiders, and so help to minimize cobwebs.
SHAH FAISAL MOSQUE, ISLAMABAD
An Islamic house of worship that looks like it might also double as a launch pad for space exploration, the Faisal Mosque is actually designed in the shape of a Bedouin’s tent, and is the largest mosque in Pakistan. Completed in 1986 it is located at the most northern part of the city of Islamabad, at the foot of the Margalla Hills, the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas.
HASSAN II MOSQUE, CASABLANCA
Opened in 1993, at the top is a laser pointing across the sea towards Mecca and extending some twenty miles. At almost 700 feet tall the minaret makes this the tallest religious structure in the world. Or so we’ve heard.
SULEYMANIYE MOSQUE, ISTANBUL
One of the perks of being the longest-reigning sultan in the Ottoman Empire is that you get to build mosques with your name on them. Suleiman The Magnificent, as he became known, must have skipped over the parts of the Quran that call for loving thy neighbor, as he spent the majority of the forty four years of his sultancy trying to wipe them off the map. He led the Ottoman expansion across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, presided over the “golden age” of his empire’s cultural development, and is buried here in the mosque that bears his name, the largest in Istanbul, and alongside his wife, Hurrem Haseki Sultan, who started out, incredibly, as a Christian called Roxelana, and later one of his harem.
SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE, ABU DHABI
It’s not every day you find out where the world’s largest carpet is located. It’s here, in one of the largest mosques in the world that can accommodate more than 40,000 people. Unique lighting on the outside walls projects clouds and gets lighter and darker in relation to the phases of the moons. Why? Because the Islamic calendar is the lunar calendar.