Holiest sites in Islam

Sites of great importance in Islam
Pilgrims circulating the Kaaba within al-Masjid al-Haram (the holiest Islamic site) during Hajj in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.[1]

The holiest sites in Islam are predominantly located in Western Asia. While the significance of most places typically varies depending on the Islamic sect, there is a consensus across all mainstream branches of the religion that affirms three cities as having the highest degree of holiness, in descending order: Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Mecca's al-Masjid al-Haram (including the Kaaba), Medina's al-Masjid an-Nabawi, and Jerusalem's Temple Mount (including al-Aqsa Mosque) are all revered by Muslims as sites of great importance.[1][2][3][4][5]

Both the Umayyad Mosque in the city of Damascus and the Ibrahimi Mosque in the city of Hebron have held interchangeable significance as the fourth-holiest Islamic sites.[6]

After the consensus on the first four sites as well as further sites associated with the family of Muhammad, there is a divergence between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims on the designation of additional holy sites. For Sunnis, sites associated with the companions of Muhammad, the Rashidun, and Biblical prophets hold a high level of significance (see holiest sites in Sunni Islam). For Shias, sites associated with the Imamah hold a high level of significance (see holiest sites in Shia Islam).[7] As part of Hajj, the majority of Muslims also visit the sites of Mina, Mount Arafat, and Muzdalifah in addition to the Kaaba.[8]


Hejaz is the region in the Arabian Peninsula where Mecca and Medina are located. It is thus where Muhammad was born and raised.[9]

The two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, are traditionally known as the Haramayn, also spelled Haramain, which is the dual form of haram, thus meaning "The Two Sancuaries".[10] They shouldn't be confused with Jerusalem and Hebron, two holy cities also called Haramayn during the Mamluk period.[10] Another appellation of the Two Noble Sanctuaries is Haramayn Tayyibayn.


The Sacred Mosque in Mecca

Mecca is considered the holiest city in Islam, as it is home to Islam's holiest site Kaaba ('Cube') in the Masjid Al-Ḥaram (The Sacred Mosque).[1][3] Only Muslims are allowed to enter this place.[11]

The area of Mecca, which includes Mount Arafah,[12] Mina and Muzdalifah, is important for the Ḥajj ('Pilgrimage'). As one of the Five Pillars of Islam,[13] every adult Muslim who is capable must perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime.[14] 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 three million in 2012.[15]


The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi 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’[16] and al-Qiblatayn ("The Two Qiblahs").[17]


Shaam (Arabic: شَّـام) [18] is a historical region that includes the cities of Jerusalem and Damascus.[18][19][20]


The Masjid Al-Aqsa (also known as the Haram Al-Sharif or Temple Mount) includes the Dome of the Rock (left) and Al-Aqsa Mosque / Jami'a Al-Aqsa (right)

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (Masjid Al-Aqsa) in Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam. The compound is held in esteem by the entire Muslim community, due to its history as a place of worship by many Islamic prophets such as Ibrahim,[3] Dawud, Sulaimaan, Ilyas and Isa. The mosque has the capacity to accommodate in the region of 400,000 worshippers.[21] According to Islamic tradition, the Temple Mount served as the first direction of prayer (qibla) for Muslims, before the Kaaba in Mecca. Muslims believe that Muhammad was taken from Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca, to visit Masjid al-Aqsa, where he led the prayer among prophets, and was then taken to the heavens from the Foundation Stone[citation needed] (today part of the Dome of the Rock) in a single night in the year 620.[22] References to the Al-Aqsa Mosque exist in the following verses of the Qur'an:

  1. Verse 12 of Chapter no. 5[23] (Surah Al-Ma'idah),[24]
  2. Verse 1 of Chapter no. 17[25] (Surah Al-Isra'),[26]
  3. Verse 51 of Chapter no. 21[27] (Surah Al-Anbiya),[28] and
  4. Verse 10 of Chapter no. 34[29] (Surah Saba').[30][18]


Umayyad Mosque (left) and its Minaret of Isa (right)

The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus is often considered the fourth holiest site in Islam.[6][31] The head of John the Baptist, revered in Islam as prophet Yahya, is believed to be in a shrine inside the mosque, which also houses one of only four authorized original copies of the Quran. The Umayyad Mosque is also the place where Muslims believe Jesus (Isa, in Arabic) will return at the end of times, atop the "Minaret of Isa" of the mosque, during the time of a Fajr prayer. It is believed that prayers in the Umayyad mosque are considered to be equal to those offered in Jerusalem.[32]

The mosque also holds special importance to Shia Muslims since it contains shrines commemorating Husayn ibn Ali and the Ahl al-Bayt, made to walk there from Iraq, after the Battle of Karbala.[33] Furthermore, it was the place where they were imprisoned for 60 days.[34]


Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron

In Islamic beliefs, Hebron was where Prophet Abraham (Ibrāhīm) settled. 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, is also often considered to be the fourth holiest in Islam.[35][36][37] Muslims believe that Muhammad visited Hebron on his nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to stop by the tomb and pay his respects.[35] In the mosque in a small niche there is a left footprint, believed to be from Muhammad.[38][39]

Sinai peninsula

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

The Sinai peninsula is associated with the Islamic prophets Haroon and Musa.[40] In particular, numerous references to Mount Sinai exist in the Quran,[41][42] where it is called Ṭūr Sīnāʾ,[43] Ṭūr Sīnīn,[44] and aṭ-Ṭūr[45][46] and al-Jabal (both meaning "the Mount").[47] As for the adjacent Wād Ṭuwā (Valley of Tuwa), it is considered as being muqaddas[48][49] (sacred),[50][51] and a part of it is called Al-Buqʿah Al-Mubārakah ("The Blessed Place").[46]


The city Bukhara in Uzbekistan (which is associated with Imam Al-Bukhari) is considered as a holy city in Islam.[52][53]



According to UNESCO, Harar in eastern Ethiopia has 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century and 102 shrines.[54][55]


The most important mosque in Kairouan in 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.[56] After its establishment, Kairouan became an Islamic and Qur'anic learning centre in North Africa. An article by Professor Kwesi Prah[57] describes how during the medieval period Kairouan was considered the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina by its citizens.[58][59]

Sunni Islam

In Sunni Islam, all sites which have been mentioned in the Hadith are holy to Sunni Muslims. The Kaaba is the holiest site, followed by the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet's Mosque), Al-Aqsa Mosque, and other sites mentioned in the Hadith, as well Umayyad Mosque, Ibrahimi Mosque.


The Kaaba or Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, is the most sacred holy place of Islam and a Qibla of the Muslims, contains al-Bayt ul-Ma'mur spiritually above the Kaaba, contains the Maqam Ibrahim, Hateem, and the Al-Hajar-ul-Aswad which belonged in Jannah to Adam and Eve (Adam and Hawa), According to the Islamic tradition it was first built by the first Islamic prophet Adam, after Noah's Flood (Flood of the Islamic prophet Nūḥ), it was rebuilt by Islamic prophet Abraham (ʾIbrāhīm) and his son the Islamic prophet Ishmael (Ismā‘īl), it has been rebuilt several times.

al-Masjid an-Nabawi

The Al-Masjid an-Nabawi or the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, contains the grave of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

The two companions Abu Bakr and Umar are also buried with Muhammad, the grave of Uthman in located in the Al-Baqi' cemetery located to the southeast of the Prophet's Mosque, while the grave of Ali and is in Kufa. The grave of al-Hasan is also in al-Baqi' while al-Husayn is buried in Kufa.

al-Aqsa Mosque

The al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, was the first qibla of the Muslims, According to the tradition, prophet Muhammad was Imam of all the prophets in the mosque, the mosque was ordered to built by the Islamic prophet Solomon (Sulaymān), son of the Islamic prophet David (Dāwūd), who was sent to the Israelites, prophet Solomon ordered the Jinns to build the mosque.


  • The Damascus Mosque, is also considered the sacred mosque for the Muslims, and it is believed that the Islamic prophet Jesus (ʿĪsā ibn Maryam) will return in this mosque.
  • The Ibrahimi Mosque in Palestine, contains the burial of the prophet Ibrahim and few of his family members.

Shia Islam

Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq
Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala, Iraq

After the four mosques accepted by all Muslims as holy sites, the Shia Muslims consider Imam Ali Masjid in Najaf as the holiest site of only Shia Muslims, followed by Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala and then the Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom, Iran.

Imam Ali Mosque

Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq is the holiest site for Shia Muslims as the first Shia Imam Ali was buried here. The site is visited annually by at least 8 million pilgrims on average, which is estimated to increase to 20 million in years to come.

Imam Husayn Shrine

Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala, Iraq is the second most holiest site for Shia Muslims. It contains the tomb of Husayn ibn Ali. The mosque stands on the site of the grave of Hussein ibn Ali, where he was martyred during the Battle of Karbala in 680.[60][61] Up to a million pilgrims visit the city for the anniversary of Hussein ibn Ali's death.[62] There are many Shia traditions which narrate the status of Karbala.

Fatima Masumeh Shrine

Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom, Iran contains the tomb of Fātimah bint Mūsā, sister of the eighth Shia Imam, Ali al-Rida. Located in Qom, Iran, it has been considered the Fatima Masumeh Shrine to be the third holiest shrine in Shia Islam.[7] The shrine has attracted to itself dozens of seminaries and religious schools.

Sufi Islam

Mazar Ghous

Mazar Ghous in Baghdad, Iraq is the holiest site in Sufi Islam. It is dedicated to the founder of Qadiryya Sufi order, Abdul Qadir Gilani. The complex was built near the Bab al-Sheikh (ash-Sheikh Gate) in al-Rusafa.[63][64][65]

Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam

The Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam in Multan is considered the third most holiest site in Sufi Islam. It is the mausoleum of Multan's Sufi saint Sheikh Rukn-ud-Din Abul Fateh. It is one of the most impressive shrines in the world.[66] The shrine attracts over 100,000 pilgrims to the annual Urs festival that commemorates his death.

See also

  • Islam portal
  • iconGeography portal


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  2. ^ Quran 48:22–29
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  5. ^ Quran 33:09–73
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  24. ^ Quran 5:12–86
  25. ^ "Surah Al-Isra - 1". quran.com. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  26. ^ Quran 17:1–7
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  28. ^ Quran 21:51–82
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  30. ^ Quran 34:10–18
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  36. ^ 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.'
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  • Aksan, Virginia H.; Goffman, Daniel (2007). The early modern Ottomans: remapping the Empire. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81764-6. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  • Peters, Francis (1994). The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691026190.
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