The Kaaba (كَعْبَة kaʿbah, “Cube”), also referred to as al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah (ٱلْكَعْبَة ٱلْمُشَرَّفَة, lit. ‘Honorable Ka’bah’), also spelled Ka’bah, is a building at the center of Islam‘s most important mosque, Great Mosque of Mecca (ٱلْمَسْجِد ٱلْحَرَام, lit. ‘The Sacred Mosque’), in the Hejazi city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam. It is considered by Muslims to be the Bayt Allāh (بَيْت ٱللَّٰه, “House of God”). Its location determines the qiblah (قِبْلَة, direction of prayer). Wherever they are in the world, Muslims are expected to face the Kaaba when performing Salah, the five daily Islamic prayers.
One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim who is able to do so to perform the Hajj (حَجّ, Pilgrimage) at least once in their lifetime. Multiple parts of the hajj require pilgrims to make Tawaf (طَوَاف, Circumambulation) seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba, the first three times fast, at the edge of the courtyard, and the last four times slowly, nearer the Kaaba. Tawaf is also performed by pilgrims during the ʿUmrah (عُمْرَة, Lesser Pilgrimage). However, the most significant time is during the hajj, when millions of pilgrims gather to circle the building during a 5-day period. In 2017, the number of pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform hajj was officially reported as 1,752,014 and 600,108 Saudi Arabian residents bringing the total number of pilgrims to 2,352,122. In the 2019 hajj, The Kingdom reported 2,489,406 foreign pilgrims and 634,379 domestic pilgrims (total 3,123,785).
The literal meaning of the Arabic word kaʿbah (كَعْبَة) is ‘cube’. In the Quran, the Kaaba is also mentioned as al-Bayt (ٱلْبَيْت, lit. ‘the house’) and Baytī (بَيْتِي, lit. ‘My House’) [2:125, 22:26], Baytik al-Muḥarram (بَيْتِكَ ٱلْمُحَرَّم, lit. ‘Your Inviolable House’) [14:37], al-Bayt al-Ḥarām (ٱلْبَيْت ٱلْحَرَام, lit. ‘The Sacred House’) [5:97] and al-Bayt al-ʿAtīq (ٱلْبَيْت ٱلْعَتِيق, lit. ‘The Ancient House’) [22:29]. The mosque surrounding the Kaaba is called al-Masjid al-Haram (“The Sacred Mosque”).
Architecture and interior
The Kaaba is a cuboid stone structure made of granite. It is approximately 13.1 m (43 ft 0 in) tall (some claim 12.03 m or 39 ft 5 1⁄2 in), with sides measuring 11.03 by 12.86 m (36 ft 2 1⁄2 in by 42 ft 2 1⁄2 in). Inside the Kaaba, the floor is made of marble and limestone. The interior walls, measuring 13 by 9 m (43 by 30 ft), are clad with tiled, white marble halfway to the roof, with darker trimmings along the floor. The floor of the interior stands about 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in) above the ground area where Tawaf is performed.
The wall directly adjacent to the entrance of the Kaaba has six tablets inlaid with inscriptions, and there are several more tablets along the other walls. Along the top corners of the walls runs a green cloth embroidered with gold Qur’anic verses. Caretakers anoint the marble cladding with the same scented oil used to anoint the Black Stone outside. Three pillars (some erroneously report two) stand inside the Kaaba, with a small altar or table set between one and the other two. (It has been claimed that this table is used for the placement of perfumes or other items. Lamp-like objects (possible lanterns or crucible censers) hang from the ceiling. The ceiling itself is of a darker colour, similar in hue to the lower trimming. A golden door—the bāb al-tawbah (also romanized as Baabut Taubah, and meaning “Door of Repentance”)—on the right wall (right of the entrance) opens to an enclosed staircase that leads to a hatch, which itself opens to the roof. Both the roof and ceiling (collectively dual-layered) are made of stainless steel-capped teak wood.
Each numbered item in the following list corresponds to features noted in the diagram image.
- Al-Ḥajaru al-Aswad, “the Black Stone”, is located on the Kaaba’s eastern corner. Its northern corner is known as the Ruknu l-ˤĪrāqī, “the Iraqi corner”, its western as the Ruknu sh-Shāmī, “the Levantine corner”, and its southern as Ruknu l-Yamanī, “the Yemeni corner” taught by Imam Ali. The four corners of the Kaaba roughly point toward the four cardinal directions of the compass. Its major (long) axis is aligned with the rising of the star Canopus toward which its southern wall is directed, while its minor axis (its east-west facades) roughly align with the sunrise of summer solstice and the sunset of winter solstice.
- The entrance is a door set 2.13 m (7 ft 0 in) above the ground on the north-eastern wall of the Kaaba, which acts as the façade. In 1979 the 300 kg (660 lb) gold doors made by chief artist Ahmad bin Ibrahim Badr, replaced the old silver doors made by his father, Ibrahim Badr in 1942. There is a wooden staircase on wheels, usually stored in the mosque between the arch-shaped gate of Banū Shaybah and the Zamzam Well. The oldest surviving door dates back to 1045 CE.
- Mīzāb al-Raḥmah, rainwater spout made of gold. Added in the rebuilding of 1627 after the previous year’s rain caused three of the four walls to collapse.
- Gutter, added in 1627 to protect the foundation from groundwater.
- Hatīm (also romanized as hateem), a low wall originally part of the Kaaba. It is a semi-circular wall opposite, but not connected to, the north-west wall of the Kaaba. This is 1.31 m (4 ft 3 1⁄2 in) in height and 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) in width, and is composed of white marble. At one time the space lying between the hatīm and the Kaaba belonged to the Kaaba itself, and for this reason it is not entered during the tawaf.
- Al-Multazam, the roughly 2 m (6 1⁄2 ft) space along the wall between the Black Stone and the entry door. It is sometimes considered pious or desirable for a hajji to touch this area of the Kaaba, or perform dua here.
- The Station of Ibrahim (Maqam Ibrahim), a glass and metal enclosure with what is said to be an imprint of Abraham’s feet. Ibrahim is said to have stood on this stone during the construction of the upper parts of the Kaaba, raising Ismail on his shoulders for the uppermost parts.
- Corner of the Black Stone (East).
- Corner of Yemen (South-West), Rukan e Yamani. Pilgrims traditionally acknowledge a large vertical stone that forms this corner.
- Corner of Syria (North-West), Arabic Rukn e Shaami.
- Corner of Iraq (North-East). This inside corner, behind a curtain, contains the Babut Taubah, Door of Repentance, which leads to a staircase to the roof.
- Kiswah, the embroidered covering. Kiswa is a black silk and gold curtain which is replaced annually during the Hajj pilgrimage. Two-thirds of the way up is a band of gold-embroidered Quranic text, including the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.
- Marble stripe marking the beginning and end of each circumambulation.
The Kaaba is the holiest site in Islam, and is often called by names such as the House of God.
Main article: Qibla
The Qibla is the direction faced during prayer.[Quran 2:143–144] It is the focal point for prayer. The direction faced during prayer is the direction of where the Kaaba is.
The Sacred Mosque is the focal point of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages that occur in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar and at any time of the year, respectively. The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the Pillars of Islam, required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford the trip. In recent times, about 1.8 million Muslims perform the Hajj every year.
Some of the rituals performed by pilgrims are symbolic of historical incidents. For example, the incident of Hagar’s search for water is emulated by Muslims as they run between the two hills of Safa and Marwah.
The Hajj is associated with the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Prophet Ibrahim.
Islamic views on origin
The Quran contains several verses regarding the origin of the Kaaba. It states that the Kaaba was the first House of Worship, and that it was built by Ibrahim and Ismail on Allah’s instructions.
Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for mankind.— Quran, Surah Al Imran (3), Ayah 96
Behold! We gave the site, to Ibrahim, of the (Sacred) House, (saying): “Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).— Quran, Surah Al-Hajj (22), Ayah 26
And remember Ibrahim and Ismail raised the foundations of the House (With this prayer): “Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing.”— Quran, Al-Baqarah (2), Ayah 127
Ibn Kathir, the famous commentator on the Quran, mentions two interpretations among the Muslims on the origin of the Kaaba. One is that the shrine was a place of worship for Angels before the creation of man. Later, a house of worship was built on the location which was lost during the flood in Noah’s time and was finally rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael as mentioned later in the Quran. Ibn Kathir regarded this tradition as weak and preferred instead the narration by Ali ibn Abi Talib that although several other temples might have preceded the Kaaba, it was the first “House of God”, dedicated solely to Him, built by His instruction and sanctified and blessed by Him as stated in Quran 22:26–29. A Hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari states that the Kaaba was the First Mosque on Earth, and the Second Mosque was the Temple in Jerusalem.
While Abraham was building the Kaaba, an angel brought to him the Black Stone which he placed in the eastern corner of the structure. Another stone was the Maqam-e-Ibrahim (literally the Station of Abraham) where Abraham stood for elevation while building the structure. The Black Stone and the Maqam-e-Ibrahim are believed by Muslims to be the only remnant of the original structure made by Abraham as naturally the remaining structure had to be demolished and rebuilt several times over history for maintenance purposes. After the construction was complete, God enjoined the descendants of Ishmael to perform an annual pilgrimage: the Hajj and the Qurbani, sacrifice of cattle. The vicinity of the shrine was also made a sanctuary where bloodshed and war were forbidden.[Quran 22:26–33]
According to Islamic tradition, over the millennia after Ishmael’s death, his progeny and the local tribes who settled around the oasis of Zam-Zam gradually turned to polytheism and idolatry. Several idols were placed within the Kaaba representing deities of different aspects of nature and different tribes. Several rituals were adopted in the Pilgrimage (Hajj) including doing naked circumambulation. A king named Tubba is considered the first one to have a door be built for the Kaaba according to sayings recorded in Al-Azraqi’s Kitab Akhbar Makka.
Other views on origin
In her book Islam: A Short History, Karen Armstrong asserts that the Kaaba was officially dedicated to Hubal, a Nabatean deity, and contained 360 idols which probably represented the days of the year. However, by the time of Muhammad‘s era, it seems that the Kaaba was venerated as the shrine of Allah, the High God. Once a year, tribes from all around the Arabian peninsula, whether Christian or pagan, would converge on Mecca to perform the Hajj, marking the widespread conviction that Allah was the same deity worshiped by monotheists. Alfred Guillaume, in his translation of the sira of Ibn Ishaq, an early biographer of Muhammad, says that the Kaaba itself might be referred to in the feminine form. Circumambulation was often performed naked by men and almost naked by women. It is disputed whether Allah and Hubal were the same deity or different. Per a hypothesis by Uri Rubin and Christian Robin, Hubal was only venerated by Quraysh and the Kaaba was first dedicated to Allah, a supreme god of individuals belonging to different tribes, while the pantheon of the gods of Quraysh was installed in Kaaba after they conquered Mecca a century before Muhammad‘s time.
Writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Wensinck identifies Mecca with a place called Macoraba mentioned by Ptolemy. G. E. von Grunebaum states: “Mecca is mentioned by Ptolemy. The name he gives it allows us to identify it as a South Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary. In Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Patricia Crone argues that the identification of Macoraba with Mecca is false and that Macoraba was a town in southern Arabia in what was then known as Arabia Felix. A recent study has revisited the arguments for Macoraba and found them unsatisfactory.
Based on an earlier report by Agatharchides of Cnidus, Diodorus Siculus mentions a temple along the Red Sea coast, “which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians”. Edward Gibbon believed that this was the Kaaba. However, Gibbon had misread the source: Diodorus puts the temple too far north for it to have been Mecca.
Imoti contends that there were numerous such Kaaba sanctuaries in Arabia at one time, but this was the only one built of stone. The others also allegedly had counterparts of the Black Stone. There was a “red stone”, the deity of the south Arabian city of Ghaiman, and the “white stone” in the Kaaba of al-Abalat (near the city of Tabala, south of Mecca). Grunebaum in Classical Islam points out that the experience of divinity of that period was often associated with stone fetishes, mountains, special rock formations, or “trees of strange growth.”
The Kaaba was thought to be at the center of the world, with the Gate of Heaven directly above it. The Kaaba marked the location where the sacred world intersected with the profane; the embedded Black Stone was a further symbol of this as a meteorite that had fallen from the sky and linked heaven and earth.
According to Sarwar, about 400 years before the birth of Muhammad, a man named “Amr bin Lahyo bin Harath bin Amr ul-Qais bin Thalaba bin Azd bin Khalan bin Babalyun bin Saba”, who was descended from Qahtan and was the king of Hijaz had placed a Hubal idol onto the roof of the Kaaba. This idol was one of the chief deities of the ruling tribe Quraysh. The idol was made of red agate and shaped like a human, but with the right hand broken off and replaced with a golden hand. When the idol was moved inside the Kaaba, it had seven arrows in front of it, which were used for divination.
To maintain peace among the perpetually warring tribes, Mecca was declared a sanctuary where no violence was allowed within 30 kilometres (20 mi) of the Kaaba. This combat-free zone allowed Mecca to thrive not only as a place of pilgrimage, but also as a trading center.
Many Muslim and academic historians stress the power and importance of the pre-Islamic Mecca. They depict it as a city grown rich on the proceeds of the spice trade. Crone believes that this is an exaggeration and that Mecca may only have been an outpost trading with nomads for leather, cloth, and camel butter. Crone argues that if Mecca had been a well-known center of trade, it would have been mentioned by later authors such as Procopius, Nonnosus, or the Syrian church chroniclers writing in Syriac. The town is absent, however, from any known geographies or histories written in the three centuries before the rise of Islam.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “before the rise of Islam it was revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage.” According to German historian Eduard Glaser, the name “Kaaba” may have been related to the southern Arabian or Ethiopian word “mikrab“, signifying a temple. Again, Crone disputes this etymology.
In Samaritan literature, the Samaritan Book of the Secrets of Moses (Asatir) claims that Ishmael and his eldest son Nebaioth built the Kaaba as well as the city of Mecca. “The Secrets of Moses” or Asatir book was suggested by some opinion to have been compiled in the 10th century, while another opinion in 1927 suggested that it was written no later than the second half of the 3rd century BCE.
Further information: Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia
Prior to the spread of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula, the Kaaba was a holy site for the various Bedouin tribes of the area. Once every lunar year, the Bedouin tribes would make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Setting aside any tribal feuds, they would worship their gods in the Kaaba and trade with each other in the city. Various sculptures and paintings were held inside the Kaaba. A statue of Hubal, the principal idol of Mecca, and other pagan deities were in or around the Kaaba. There were paintings of idols decorating the walls. A picture of the Prophet Isa and his mother, Maryam, was situated inside the Kaaba and later found by the Prophet Muhammad after his conquest of Mecca. The iconography portrayed a seated Maryam with her child on her lap. This description, which would later become a universal iconography in later times, is similar to Christian art and its portrayal of the seated Virgin Mary holding a young Jesus in her lap. The iconography in the Kaaba also included paintings of other prophets and angels. It is possible the paintings of the prophets and angels were figures associated with the Prophet Isa and Maryam. Inside the Kaaba, undefined decorations, money and a pair of ram’s horns were recorded to be there. The pair of ram’s horns were said to have belonged to the ram sacrificed by the Prophet Ibrahim in place of his son, the Prophet ismaeel.
Al-Azraqi provides the following narrative on the authority of his grandfather, whose own source was Da’ud b.’Abd al-Rahman, who said that Ibn Jurayj had said that Sulayman b.Musa al-Shami asked ‘Ata’ b. Abi Rabah the following:
I have heard that there was set up in al-Bayt (the Ka’ba) a picture (timthal) of Maryam and Isa. [‘Ata’] said: “Yes, there was set in it a picture of Maryam adorned (muzawwaqan); in her lap, her son Isa sat adorned.”
-al-Azraqi, Akhbar Mecca: History of Mecca
Muhammad’s eraDuring Muhammad‘s lifetime (570–632 CE), the Kaaba was considered a holy site by the local Arabs. Muhammad took part in the reconstruction of the Kaaba after its structure was damaged due to floods around 600 CE. Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasūl Allāh, one of the biographies of Muhammad (as reconstructed and translated by Guillaume), describes Muhammad settling a quarrel between Meccan clans as to which clan should set the Black Stone cornerstone in place.
According to Ishaq’s biography, Muhammad’s solution was to have all the clan elders raise the cornerstone on a cloak, after which Muhammad set the stone into its final place with his own hands. Ibn Ishaq says that the timber for the reconstruction of the Kaaba came from a Greek ship that had been wrecked on the Red Sea coast at Shu’ayba and that the work was undertaken by a Coptic carpenter called Baqum. Muhammad’s night journey is said to have taken him from the Kaaba to the Al-Aqsa Masjid and heavenwards from there.
Muslims initially considered Jerusalem as their qibla, or prayer direction, and faced toward it while offering prayers; however, pilgrimage to the Kaaba was considered a religious duty though its rites were not yet finalized. During the first half of Muhammad’s time as a prophet while he was at Mecca, he and his followers were severely persecuted which eventually led to their migration to Medina in 622 CE. In 624 CE, the direction of the qiblah was changed from Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Mecca. In 628 CE, Muhammad led a group of Muslims towards Mecca with the intention of performing the minor pilgrimage (Umrah) at the Kaaba, although he wasn’t allowed by the people of Mecca. He secured a peace treaty with them, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, which allowed the Muslims to freely perform pilgrimage at the Kaaba from the following year.
At the culmination of his mission, in 630 CE, Muhammad conquered Mecca. His first action was to remove statues and images from the Kaaba. According to reports collected by Ibn Ishaq and al-Azraqi, Muhammad spared a painting of Mary and Jesus, and a fresco of Abraham; but according to Ibn Hisham, all pictures were erased.
Narrated Abdullah: When the Prophet entered Mecca on the day of the Conquest, there were 360 idols around the Ka’bah. The Prophet started striking them with a stick he had in his hand and was saying, “Truth has come and Falsehood has Vanished.. (Qur’an 17:81)”— Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 59, Hadith 583
al-Azraqi further conveys how Muhammad, after he entered the Kaaba on the day on the conquest, ordered all the pictures erased except that of Maryam.
…Shihab (said) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) entered the Ka’ba the day of the conquest, and in it was a picture of the angels (mala’ika) and others, and he saw a picture of Ibrahim and he said: “May Allah kill those representing him as a venerable old man casting arrows in divination (shaykhan yastaqsim bi ‘l-azlam).” Then he saw the picture of Maryam, so he put his hands on it and he said: “Erase what is in it [the Ka’ba] in the way of pictures except the picture of Maryam.”
–al-Azraqi, Akhbar Mecca: History of Mecca
After the conquest Muhammad restated the sanctity and holiness of Mecca, including its Great Mosque, in Islam. He performed a lesser Pilgrimage (Umrah) in 629 CE, followed by the Greater Pilgrimage (Hajj) in 632 CE called the Farewell Pilgrimage since Muhammad prophesied his impending death on this event.
The Kaaba has been repaired and reconstructed many times since Muhammad‘s day. The structure was severely damaged by fire on 3 Rabi I (Sunday, 31 October 683 CE), during the first siege of Mecca in the war between the Umayyads and Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who ruled Mecca for many years between the death of ʿAli and the consolidation of Umayyad power. Ibn al-Zubayr rebuilt it to include the hatīm. He did so on the basis of a tradition (found in several hadith collections that the hatīm was a remnant of the foundations of the Abrahamic Kaaba, and that Muhammad himself had wished to rebuild so as to include it.
The Kaaba was bombarded with stones in the second siege of Mecca in 692, in which the Umayyad army was led by al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. The fall of the city and the death of Ibn al-Zubayr allowed the Umayyads under ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan to finally reunite all the Islamic possessions and end the long civil war. In 693 CE, ʿAbdu l-Malik had the remnants of al-Zubayr’s Kaaba razed, and rebuilt on the foundations set by the Quraysh. The Kaaba returned to the cube shape it had taken during Muhammad’s time.
During the Hajj of 930 CE, the Qarmatians attacked Mecca, defiled the Zamzam Well with the bodies of pilgrims and stole the Black Stone, taking it to the oasis region of Eastern Arabia known as al-Aḥsāʾ, where it remained until the Abbasids ransomed it in 952 CE. The basic shape and structure of the Kaaba have not changed since then.
After heavy rains and flooding in 1629, the walls of the Kaaba collapsed and the Mosque was damaged. The same year, during the reign of Ottoman Emperor Murad IV, the Kaab was rebuilt with granite stones from Mecca, and the Mosque was renovated. The Kaaba’s appearance has not changed since then.
The Kaaba is depicted on the reverse of 500 Saudi Riyal, and the 2000 Iranian rial banknotes.
The building is opened twice a year for a ceremony known as “the cleaning of the Kaaba.” This ceremony takes place in the first of Sha’ban, approximately thirty days before the start of the month of Ramadan and in the 15th of Muharram and approximately 15 days before the start of Hajj. The keys to the Kaaba are held by the Banī Shaybah (بني شيبة) tribe. Members of the tribe greet visitors to the inside of the Kaaba on the occasion of the cleaning ceremony. A small number of dignitaries and foreign diplomats are invited to participate in the ceremony. The governor of Mecca leads the guests who ritually clean the structure, using a broom.
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-  The Book of History, a History of All Nations From the Earliest Times to the Present, Viscount Bryce (Introduction), The Grolier Society.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia