Although most associate Islam with the Middle East, many of the world's most visited mosques are found outside of the region in countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, and Malaysia. Muslims and non-Muslims alike will enjoy connecting with the culture, soaking up religious history, and reveling at the architecture when they head to the world's most visited mosques. In some cases, non-Muslims might be forbidden from entering. In other cases, non-Muslims can visit as long as they enter between prayer times. Muslims can always enter and enjoy the experience of praying in one of the world's most visited mosques. These are four of the most visited mosques across the globe.
Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel
Narratives about control and rightful ownership vary between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as among Jews, Muslims, and Christians. One thing all three groups agree upon is the significance of the Temple Mount as a holy site for each of the Abrahamic faiths. The Temple Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. For Jews and Christians, the Temple Mount is the area where Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God. Muslims revere this part of Jerusalem as the third holiest site in Islam because they believe the Dome of the Rock is the location where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven to meet Adam, John, Jesus, Joseph, and other prophets.
Since the Six-Day War of 1967, Muslims, through a religious trust, have controlled the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Any visitor, regardless of religion, may enter the Temple Mount and tour the entire compound except the Dome of the Rock. Only Muslims may enter the Dome of the Rock. Non-Muslims must enter the Temple Mount near the Western Wall through the Mughrabi Gate.
Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is one of the most-visited cities in Europe. A trip to Istanbul isn't complete without a visit to the Blue Mosque, formally the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, and nearby Hagia Sophia. Nearly 3.5 million people visited the Blue Mosque in 2015, and it's Istanbul's top tourist attraction. Named for its blue tiles, the Blue Mosque sits across from the famous Hagia Sophia, another former mosque and Catholic church. Built in A.D. 360, Hagia Sophia remained a church for more than 1,000 years while Istanbul was known as Constantinople. When Sultan Mehmed invaded in 1463, he declared the building a mosque. Almost two hundred years later, 19-year-old Sultan Ahmet wanted to build a mosque bigger and more ornate than Hagia Sophia. Construction was completed in 1616.
After 1,500 years of history, Hagia Sophia is now a museum where visitors can learn about the structure's rich history of refugees, emperors, and hidden treasures. The Blue Mosque continues to welcome Muslims for prayer each day. Unlike some of the other most visited mosques, non-Muslims can enter the Blue Mosque and tour the expansive, ornate, and impressive structure as long as they don't enter during prayer times. Both buildings are located in Istanbul's historic Sultanhamet district, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. This is just one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that should be on your travel list. Those who visit Istanbul can not only visit both mosques in the old city, but they can also visit a wide array of other historic sites, such as Topkapi Palace. You can also enjoy views of the Bosporus, the waterway which runs through the city and forms part of the continental divide between Asia and Europe.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Completed in 2007, Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the world's newest and largest mosques. It also houses the world's largest carpet and chandelier. Over 5,790,000 visitors came to Sheikh Zayed Mosque in 2017. Although the United Arab Emirates is rooted in Bedouin culture similar to other countries on the Arabian Peninsula, it's famous for its international flair. The vast majority of those who live in the UAE are foreign workers and expatriates from other countries of the world. This diversity was the cornerstone for the design of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. According to the UAE's Department of Culture and Tourism, the mosque's designers were British, Italian, and Emirati. They borrowed architectural elements of the mosque from Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, and other Islamic countries.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque welcomes non-Muslim visitors outside of the five prayer sessions each day. However, the mosque is closed to non-Muslims for Friday prayers. Visitors can take a 45-minute guided tour in Arabic and English, or a comprehensive audio tour in 11 different languages, to learn the impressive details about the construction of the mosque.
Al-Haram Mosque, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
With eight million visitors each year, Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, remains the most visited mosque in the world. This mosque is also called the Great Mosque of Mecca or Masjid al-Haram in Arabic. Al-Haram Mosque is the world's largest mosque, capable of welcoming 1.5 million visitors at a time. If you are a non-Muslim, you can't enter the city of Mecca, let alone Al-Haram Mosque. But it is one of Islam's three holiest places, and it draws millions of Muslim visitors each year. In the next decade, a planned expansion will more than double the number of visitors who can come and pray. Muhammad, the celebrated and revered Prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca, and he lived there until he was 52 years old. When Muhammad was about 40 years old, the Angel Gabriel appeared before him in a cave outside of Mecca and shared revelations from God. This first set of revelations were the beginning of what later became the Quran.