Historical records on the clocks of Makkah (Mecca) are scarce. This paper brings together various scattered information from descriptions found in primary sources and from sketches found in old pilgrimage certificates, guides, and prayer books and from tiles. Also, from paintings and photographs made by Muslim and non-Muslim visitors. The author identifies a domed room that housed timing devices, referred to as Qubbat al-Farasheen and sometimes as Qubbat al-Sa’at (clocks room). Unfortunately, little information is yet to be found about the contents of this room and the type of devices it would have housed. A hypothesis is given that previous Abbasid Caliphs and Ottoman Sultans wouldn’t have left the Holy Mosque of Ka’aba (Kaaba/Kabah/Kaba/Caba/Caaba) without a Muwaqqit and a clock when such clocks were popular in various parts of their domain. Historians are invited to comment. Extended information is also given on the modern gigantic tower clock that overlooks the Ka’aba.
Before considering the clocks of Makkah, one should look at the development of time measuring devices in the Muslim world and appreciate the impact of the faith on public life throughout Muslim civilisation.
One area of social and religious need for accurate time measurement in Islam is related to the performance of the five daily prayers (ṣalāt). These prayers are required of Muslims within the prescribed times (waqt) which are determined using the position of the sun. The time of the first dawn-prayer (Fajr) begins when the morning light appears and lasts until just before sunrise. The second prayer or Ẓuhr at mid-day begins when the sun appears the highest in the sky and begins to decline. The beginning of the third-afternoon prayer (‘Aṣr) occurs when the shadow of an object reaches a certain length ratio in the afternoon. ‘Aṣr lasts until before local sunset which corresponds to the beginning of the fourth prayer, Magrib, that after-sunset, which begins when the sun is fully set and lasts until the beginning of the fifth and final prayer, ‘Ishā’ when the western sky begins to darken. ‘Ishā’ lasts until the beginning of the first dawn prayer.
Nowadays Muslims do not seek to observe the sky or sun to determine the time of prayers. They rely on pre-determined prayer tables prepared with the help of computer programs simply requiring the coordinates (latitude and longitude) of a location. The times computed by these programs are considered accurate to ±2 minutes in most cases, relative to various acceptable criteria.
The two important prayers, dawn Fajr and night ‘Isha’, require the measuring of a certain amount (illumination) twilight (Shafaq) in the sky. When the Sun’s angle is below the horizon, the sunlight is scattered by the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere causing the twilight. Nowadays, according to many experienced observers, this phenomenon (i.e. nautical twilight) is difficult to identify/quantify and may fluctuate through the seasons, latitudes and atmospheric conditions. According to U.S. Naval Observatory when the centre of the Sun is geometrically approximately 18° (astronomical twilight, at sea level, which corresponds to the negative altitude of the sun (-18°)), at this point, the sun does not contribute any illumination to the sky, and twilight is so weak that it is hardly noticeable. Under a clear sky, at 18° or higher generally, the sky is completely dark, conversely, at 18° or less, (i.e., 15°) there is some amount of light in the sky. Therefore, the leading Islamic organisations endorse the beginning and end of the night (‘Isha’) prayer at 18° or higher.
In summer, at latitudes higher than 48.5° (extreme northern regions), the sun does not go 18° below the horizon and at the latitudes higher than 51.5°, the sun does not go 15° below the horizon, for example in Manchester, England and Edmonton, Canada, in summer, the sun hardly goes beyond 13.5° below the horizon thus full darkness does not occur. In such cases, several alternative methods are suggested by the leading scholars such as the start of ‘Isha time 90 minutes after the sunset and the beginning of Fajr 90 minutes before the sunrise or other acceptable methods.
Astronomy and astrology remained inter-connected for centuries. Many Muslim scholars regarded astrological predictions as superstition, quackery, or fraud. Astronomy, however, like other sciences such as mathematics and chemistry were useful. It was important for establishing the times for prayer and the definition of the direction of Makkah. The need for accurate tables provided an impetus for observations and for preserving data from older cultures, which provided day jobs for astronomers.
A new profession of the muwaqqit (timekeeper, derived from waqt, the Arabic word for a definite time) emerged. The muwaqqits were attached to mosques and madrasas found mainly in Syria, Egypt, the Maghrib, Al-Andalus and under the Ottomans, including in the Balkans.
The establishment of the muwaqqit’s office is an important development in the social settings of science in the Islamic world. The first mention of the institution of Muwaqqits is found in Egypt in the 13th century. In the western part of the Islamic world, the first mention of Muwaqqit occurs at the great mosque of Granada by the end of that century. Around the same time, it occurred in Fez. There were two groups of people who specialised in regulating the times of prayers. One of them was not necessarily associated with any religious institution and was called Mīqātī, and another group comprised astronomers who were employed and supported by mosques and subsequently named Muwaqqits.
The muwaqqit oversaw the production of tables for the determination of the times of the five daily prayers for his locality. Since these times had come to be defined by reference to astronomical phenomena, such as the morning and evening twilights, sunrise and sunset, and the length of gnomon shadows, the job could be done only by someone with knowledge of astronomy. In a few instances, distinguished mathematicians filled the position of muwaqqit. One muwaqqit, Ibn al-Shatir, made a considerable contribution to refining the Ptolemaic model of the heavens.
A representative case of muwaqqit is the Syrian astronomer Al-Khalīlī (fl. Damascus, Syria, ca.1365), who compiled extensive tables for astronomical use. He worked for most of his life as a religious timekeeper (muwaqqit) at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Al-Khalīlī’s major work, which represents the culmination of the medieval Islamic achievement in the mathematical solution of the problems of spherical astronomy, was a set of these tables for astronomical timekeeping. Some of these tables were used in Damascus until the 19th century and were also used in Cairo and Istanbul for a few centuries. The main sets of tables survive in many manuscripts, and they have been subjected to scholarly studies since the 1970s. The eventual legitimisation of astronomy contributed to significant advances in this field.
Because of the need to determine the time during the night, watercocks and later mechanical clocks had to be used in addition to sundials.
The poet, social commentator, and zoologist al-Jahiz (d. 896). mentions in his Kitab al-hayawan (‘The Book of Animals’) that ‘in the palaces of the caliphs and scholars were clepsydrae (water clocks) for the telling of the time.’ The popularity of water clocks can be witnessed from the example given by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali’s description of a water clock in his book “Arba’in fi usul al-din”, whilst trying to explain the Islamic concept of divine decree and destiny (al-qaḍa wa’l–qadar), which he saw mirrored in the mechanical workings of water clocks. He gives a detailed description of how the water clock works and uses the progressive movements of the parts as an example of causality and these events we see do not occur by chance but are caused by other events. This description appears on page 13 of the edition of (al-Matba’a al-Tijariyya, Cairo, n.d.).
Obviously, Imam Al-Ghazali (c.1058 –1111) would not have used such an example had the water clock and its mechanism not been so well known publicly at his time. These clocks had to be protected from adverse weather conditions by keeping them indoors. In some cases where the clock face had to be visible to the passing public, the mechanism was constructed behind an exterior wall of a building.
An example of such a clock is Ridhwan al-Saati’s clock. This clock was installed at Bab Jirun (Jayrûn Gate) of the Umayyad Mosque in the 12th century during the reign of Nur ad-Din Zangi. Imam Al-Ghazali had spent many years living in a room adjacent to this gate. For details of this clock, see When Ridhwan al-Sa’ati Anteceded Big Ben by More than Six Centuries and Study of the treatise of Radwan al-Sa’ati.
Another example is the Bou-Inania clock (built-in 1357) in Fez. Although the clock mechanism had perished, the clock’s wall can still be seen opposite the Bou-Inania school, see Figure 1.
There is, however, an extant water clock room that can be seen today at Al-Qarawiyyin mosque, Fez, see Figure 2:
Visible in the room is part of a fascinating water clock and its Astrolabe. The clock mechanism is behind the wall. The time is told by the sound and number of falling pebbles onto the 24 brass cups, seen at the top corner of the wall. In this clock, the mechanism drives an astrolabe with zodiac constellations inscribed on its disc. It was originally commissioned by the Marinid Sultan Abu Salim and installed on the 21st of Muharram in the year 763 of the Hijri calendar (20 November 1361). The clock room is sometimes referred to as the Muwaiqqit room. The mattress bed on the floor is where the Muwaqit rests.
The Ka’aba complex of Makkah enjoyed timekeeping devices for a substantial duration. In ancient times people used to tell time by reference to sundials. There are numerous references mentioning sundials (Mizawalah) in Makkah. As advances were made in the technology of other forms of time telling, Makkah would have received such developments through pilgrims who came from around the world.
In the light of the popularity and spread of water clocks throughout the Muslim world, it is inconceivable that the Holy Makkah Mosque would not have had a clock to tell time during daylight and night-time. One cannot imagine, the caliph Harun al-Rashid, who sent a water clock to Charlamagne and who as well as his wife Zubaida frequented Hajj (pilgrimage). not to have installed a clock in the Makkah Mosque. Research is required to investigate historical documents with information on time telling in Makkah. Hence the reason for this paper, which is by no means a completed work, is hoped to trigger the interest of historians.
It is difficult to find detailed historical accounts of timekeeping devices in Makkah. One needs to look at old sketches found in old pilgrimage certificates, guides and prayer books and from tiles, paintings and photographs of the Masjid Al-Haram (Ka’aba and its surroundings).
Surviving examples of old depictions of Makkah can be traced back to the twelfth century. The most important of these are pilgrimage certificates, pilgrimage guides such as Futūḥ al-Ḥaramayn, prayer books such as Dalāʾil al-Khayrāt of Muhammad b. al-Jazuli’s and ceramic Ottoman tiles.
Most of these reveal the presence of two domed low-rise buildings situated close to the Zamzam water well, behind the Maqam of Prophet Ibrahim. One of them is thought to be for the Mawaqit (Timekeeper).
The earliest photograph, Figure 3, shows the two domed buildings, at the extreme right. The one on the left (labelled 2) is the Mawaqit dome and is referred to in the Arabic caption of the original photo as (Qubbat al Sa’ah); the clock dome or Timekeeper office or Dar al-Muwaqit. We are not able to establish what type or how many clocks were housed in that building.
This photograph (Figure 3) is found in the book: Bayhan, N. et al. (2008). The World From The Archive of Sultan Abdulhamid II. Istanbul: Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Culture Co. Publications, p. 289. It is also found in Mecca’s First Photographers (1880-1890): Lives, Activities and Work. Jan Just Witkam (Leiden University, the Netherlands). It is also available on Wikipedia as Kaba image.
The photographer is believed to have been Muhammad Sadiq Bey. Egyptian-born army engineer. He had travelled to the Hijaz region as treasurer of the pilgrims’ caravan. He used a camera device known as wet-plate collodion, a technique invented in the 1850s, which used glass-plate negatives.
There is another photograph from the opposite direction to the above, hence the two domes are overshadowed by the building with the minaret, see Figure 4:
These two domed buildings appear in some of the oldest sketches and paintings of the Ka’aba, as shown herein.
The earliest sketch appears on a marble slab dated 498 AH (1104 CE) exhibited at the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad, see Figure 5.
This archaeological piece was originally found in the city of Mosul, thoroughly discussed by Vincenzo Strika. He reproduced it in his paper revealing the text and depiction of the three-domed structures, see Figure 6.
Strika identifies the three-domed structures, on the left of the Ka’aba, as the Maqam Ibrahim, the Qubbat Zamzam and the Qubbat Ash-Sharab (Siqaiah Abbas). In the Atlas, Mirza disputes this and suggests that the three domes are Qubbat Zamzam, Qubbat Al-Abbas and Qubbat al-Farasheen respectively. He gives the reason that the last Qubbat was constructed by the Abbasid caliph Al-Nassir (1179-1225 CE)
Whilst discussing the three domes on the lower left of the picture, Mirza refers to the middle one, Qubbat al-Farrasheen (Dome of the caretakers), as Qubbat al-Sa’ah (The Clock dome), page 77. He also informs that these domes were removed in 1882. It is interesting to note that the rectangular structure on the lower right seems to have a writing that Mirza interprets as Mizwalah, meaning sun dial timer.
One can clearly see two adjacent domed structures on the lower left between the two minarets. One of them is marked as the Farrasheen dome.
This painting is discussed in a paper by Mehmet Tutuncu (of the Centre for Turkish and Arabic World, Haarlem, Netherland), he commented:
“The theologian and orientalist Michael Eneman (1676–1714), probably in Istanbul, where he was sent by the Swedish King Charles XII (1682–1718) as his envoy in 1709, acquired the painting. Eneman on his return to Sweden in 1714. It is assumed that the painting is a contemporary work because representations of Mecca and Medina were common at that time.”
A more detailed analysis of this Uppsala painting is given more recently by Denİz Beyazit, The paper also contains an excellent review and discussion of numerous other depictions of Makkah.
This depiction also appears in German with a detailed caption identifying the buildings in around the Ka’abah. See Figure 11:The caption in the original picture refers to structures identified by numbers. The dome marked 14 is mentioned as the structure above Zamzam well. The dome marked 15 is mentioned as the chamber of the treasure, whilst the dome marked by 16 as the dome of Al-Abbas watering station.
The naming of the Dome of Farasheen as the chamber of treasures is interesting. Unfortunately, the author does not give details on the contents of the chamber nor what is the nature of the treasure.
This picture, Fig.12, must have given inspiration to an engraving whose painting is exhibited at the British Museum, Museum number 1871,0513.28, see Figure 13.
The curator at the Museum gives the following comment:
“This panorama was drawn by the Austrian orientalist Hunglinger, who also issued a separate brochure to accompany the present view (“Mekka, die Mutter der Städte der mohammedanischen Religion”. Vienna, 1804). It is not the earliest view of Mecca. That title belongs to Ignace Mouradja d’Ohsson in 1791, but the great Pera fire ravaged the entire press run of the engraving in that same year. That view is therefore known only through the engraving in d’Ohsson’s “Tableau general de l’empire othoman” (Paris 1787-1820), which in Hunglinger’s view was ‘a reduced copy, lacking many details’. Hunglinger refers to the lost 1791 engraving, claiming that his own image is larger, drawn from a different perspective, and is “more accomplished in the proportions, light, shading, and general perfection”. The detailed captions below the image which identify the city’s sixty principal buildings and monuments in Arabic, are Hunglinger’s work”
Al-Sharif Al-Harithi gives detailed information on the domed structure in a paper dedicated to the descendants of the family of Bani Hashim with a special focus on the guardianship of Bani Abbas to the water distribution to the pilgrims. Amongst the various references, he refers to the Salnameh Al-Hijaziyeh (The Hijazi Journal) in which there is mention of the clocks’ dome in a speech given by the Shaafi’I Mufti of Makkah Shk Ahmad bin Zaini Dahlan:
“In 1259 H (1843) Sultan Abdul Majid the First ordered sent a large consignment of books to be placed in the Abbas Watering Dome to act as a resource library for scholars and their students. They appointed a librarian with assistants, endowed with handsome salaries and a stipend to cover the librarian’s accommodation. Another order was issued for the other domed room, called the Farrashin (Assistants) Dome, to have a Muwaqqit. There was great benefit from the books and the clock”
Ahmad Dahlan further mentions that:
“In the year 1300 H, two domes were demolished, the Books dome and the Clocks dome, because they were obstructing the pilgrims and also for fear of floods (e.g flood of in year 1278 H that destroyed many books. The clocks were relocated to a special place constructed between Bab Ali and Bab Bazan and the books were transferred to the dome adjacent to the Sulaimaniyeh school next to Bab Duraibah. That happened during term of A’own Pasha and minister Othman Nuri Pasha”.
So these two domed structures were removed in 1300 H (1883 CE) and the clocks were relocated to a specially constructed room between the gates of Ali and Bazan. The timing devices must have remained until the erection of an electric clock on a tower on top of the Al-Hamidi governorate building overlooking the Ka’aba.
A photograph of the Ka’aba taken in the year 1910 CE shows this clock tower, see figure 16. It is worth noting that there is a large electric clock in the Makkah Museum believed to have been purchased on behalf of King Abdul Aziz in 1933. We are not sure whether it was meant to replace the one shown in Figure 16.
In 2012 a spectacular electronic clock was commissioned on top of one of the seven Royal Towers (Abraj Al-Bait Towers), Abraj Al Bait Clock, built overlooking the Ka’aba Grand Mosque. Tower No.5 on top of which where the clock is placed, is the second tallest tower in the world, see Figure 17.
The clock was designed by SL Rasch GmbH The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, manufactured by Perrot GmbH as part of King Abdullah’s Endowment Abraj Towers project, developed and contracted by the SBG construction company,
This work identified a scarcity of sources on the history of timekeeping in Makkah, Masjid Al-Haram (Holy Shrine). Much effort was expended by the author in search of information. Unfortunately, even historians of Makkah, religious scholars and the Makkah Museum seem to lack such information. The author identified two domed low-rise buildings adjacent to the Zamzam water well that appear in numerous sketches found in old pilgrimage certificates, guides and prayer books and from tiles. Also from old paintings and photographs. One of these was frequently referred to as Qubbat al Farrashin (Assistants/Caretakers) but also named as Qubbat al-Sa’ah (Dome of the Clock). In a caption of the oldest photograph of the Ka’aba, the dome is clearly marked Clock room. This conforms with the tradition of Mosques in most of the Muslim world where there is usually a special room for the Muwaqqit (Timekeeper), that houses clocks and other astronomical devices, such as astrolabes.
In the author’s view, it is inconceivable that caliphs like Harun Al-Rashid (9thcentury), who gifted a sophisticated watercock to Charlemagne, would not have commissioned one in Makkah.
We hope this article will invite interest in this subject and researchers would find information on the contents of this dome and the kind of clocks and other timing devices it housed over the centuries.
The author would like to express gratitude to: Dr Usama Al-Bar (ex-Mayor of Makkah District) for their generous welcome and for arranging meetings with historians of Makkah such as Dr Miraj Mirza and for visits of historical locations, Dr Abbas Tashkandy (Director of the Makkah and Medina Encyclopaedia) for providing information on the history Makkah, Dr Wijdan Fareeq of Baghdad university for obtaining photograph and information on the earliest marble stone depicting Masjid Al-Haram shown in Figure 5, and Hugo Chapman has been appointed as the new Keeper of the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawing for providing information on the painting of Makkah shown in Figure 12.
The information on the present Makkah tower clock was collected from various sources, but the chief amongst them are Perrot The Makkah Royal Clock Tower articles and an illustrated Royal edition book entitled Makkah Al-Mukarramah Clock, specially prepared by the SBG construction company in English, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and French, published by Desert Publisher 2011, in which a special chapter on the History of Clockmaking, pp34-45, was written by the present author.
 For more details on the historical context of the calculation of the times of prayers in Muslim heritage, see Edward S. Kennedy, “Al-Biruni on the Muslim Times of Prayer.” The Scholar and the Saint: Studies in Commemoration of Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni and Jalal al-Din al-Rumi. New York University Press, 1975, pp. 83-94; David A. King, “A survey of tables for regulating the times of prayer,” in D. A. King, 2004. In Synchrony with the Heavens. Studies in Astronomical Timekeeping and Instrumentation in Medieval Islamic Civilisation. Vol. I: The Call of the Muezzin (Studies I-IX); vol. II: Instruments of Mass Calculation (Studies X-XVIII). Brill: Leiden.
 See David A. King, “On the role of the muezzin and muwaqqit in medieval Islamic society”, In Synchrony with the Heavens. Studies in Astronomical Timekeeping and Instrumentation in Medieval Islamic Civilisation. Vol. I: The Call of the Muezzin (Studies I-IX); vol. II: Instruments of Mass Calculation (Studies X-XVIII). Brill: Leiden, 2004.
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