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The Arabic term has a meaning of "sanctuary" or "holy site" in Islam.


The Arabic language has two separate words, and , both derived from the same triliteral Semitic root . 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, , most directly corresponds to English "harem". This article covers the word (with short vowels in the singular form).

Protected zone

As used in Islamic urban planning, the word ( ) 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, usually underground, unlike most cities in Europe in medieval times). 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 watershed 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.

Holy site

can also mean an Islamic holy site of very high sanctity. The two sites whose Islamic sanctity is unchallengeably the highest of all are Meccamarker and Medinamarker in Arabia, so that the Arabic dual form الحرمان or الحرمين or 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 is commonly used to refer to certain other holy sites, such as the Haram ash-Sharifmarker in Jerusalem — though over the protests of some, such as Ibn Taymiya, who declared that the only places which could be legitimately called " " were Mecca, Medina, and probably also the valley of Wajj in Ta'ifmarker (but definitely not either Jerusalemmarker or Hebronmarker). One of the Islamic names of Jerusalem (literally "the third of the two holy places") resolves the tension between the unchallengeable preeminence of Mecca and Medina vs. the desire to recognize Jerusalem as having a special status Islam in a somewhat paradoxical manner.

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