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The Kaaba (Arabic: الكعبة al-Ka‘bah /'kæʕbæ/) , also known as al-Kaʿbatu l-Mušarrafah (الكعبة المشرًّفة), al-Baytu l-ʿAtīq ( البيت العتيق‎ "The Primordial House"), or al-Baytu l-Ḥarām (البيت الحرام "The Sacred House"), is a large cuboidal building located inside the mosque known as al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The mosque was built around the original Kaaba.

Muslim pilgrims around the Kaaba performing Umrah (lesser pilgrimage)
Muslim pilgrims around the Kaaba performing Umrah (lesser pilgrimage)

The Kaaba is the holiest place in Islam. [1] The qibla, the direction Muslims face during prayer, is the direction from their location on Earth towards the Kaaba. It is around the Kaaba that ritual circumambulation is performed by Muslims during the Hajj (pilgrimage) season as well as during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage).[1]


[edit] Physical attributes and location of the Kaaba

The Kaaba is a large masonry structure roughly the shape of a cube. (The name Kaaba comes from the Arabic word "muka'ab" meaning "cube"). It is made of granite from the hills near Makkah, and stands upon a ten inch (25 cm) marble base, which projects outwards about 0.3 metres (1 foot).[1] The most reliable approximations for the structural dimensions are: 15 metres (49') high, with sides measuring 10.5 metres (34') by 12 metres (39').[2][3] The four corners of the Kaaba roughly face the four points of the compass.[1] In the eastern corner of the Kaaba is the "Rukn-al-Aswad" (the Black Stone or al-Ħajaru l-Aswad), generally thought to be a meteorite remnant; at the northern corner is the "Rukn-al-Iraqi" ('The Iraqi corner'); at the west lies "Rukn-al-Shami" ('The Levantine corner') and at the south "Rukn-al-Yamani" ('The Yemeni corner').[1][3]

Changing the cover (kiswah) of the Kaaba
Changing the cover (kiswah) of the Kaaba

It is covered by a black silk curtain decorated with gold-embroidered calligraphy. This cloth is known as the kiswah; it is replaced yearly.[4][5] The Shahada is outlined in the weave of the fabric. About two-thirds of the way up runs a gold embroidered band covered with Qur'anic text.

Entrance to the inside of the Kaaba is gained through a door set 7 feet (2 m) above the ground on the north-eastern wall of the Kaaba, which acts as the façade.[1] It is accessed by a wooden staircase on wheels, usually stored between the arch-shaped gate of Banu Shaybah and the well of Zamzam. Inside the Kaaba, there is a marble floor. The interior walls are clad with marble half-way to the roof; tablets with Qur'anic inscriptions are inset in the marble. The top part of the walls are covered with a green cloth decorated with gold embroidered Qur'anic verses. The building is believed to be otherwise empty. Caretakers perfume the marble cladding with scented oil, the same oil used to anoint the Black Stone outside.

Although not directly connected to it, there is a semi-circular wall opposite the north-west wall of the Kaaba, known as the hatīm. It is 3 ft (0.9 m) in height and 5 ft (1.5 m) in length, and is composed of white marble. The space between the hatīm and the Kaaba was for a time belonging to the Kaaba itself, and so is generally not entered during the tawaf (ritual circumambulation). It is also thought by some that this space bears the graves of prophet Ishmael and his mother Hagar.[1]

Muslims throughout the world face the Kaaba during prayers, which are five times a day. For most places around the world, coordinates for Mecca suffice. In the Sacred Mosque, worshippers pray in concentric circles radiating outwards around the Kaaba. Therefore, the focus point is in the middle of the Kaaba.

[edit] History of the Kaaba

[edit] The Kaaba before Islam

Little is known of the pre-Islamic history of the Kaaba.

  • Wensinck, writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, identifies it with a place called Macoraba mentioned by the Roman geographer Ptolemy mention of Mecca. Ptolemy's text is believed to date from the second century CE., before the rise of Islam.[6] Patricia Crone, in Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, believes that this identification is false, and that Macoraba was a town in southern Arabia, in what was then known as Arabia Felix [7]
  • According to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, "before the rise of Islam it was revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage."[8]
  • According to the German historian Eduard Glaser, the name "Kaaba" may have been related to the southern Arabian or Ethiopian word "mikrab", signifying a temple.[6] Again, Crone disputes this etymology.

Muslim accounts, and some accounts written by 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, and the Syrian church chroniclers writing in Syriac. However, the town is conspicuously absent from any geographies or histories written in the last three centuries before the rise of Islam. [9]

[edit] The Muslim view of the Kaaba's early history

Picture of the Kaaba taken in 1880
Picture of the Kaaba taken in 1880

According to the Qur'an, the Kaaba was built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael [1]). Later Muslim traditions assert that the Kaaba "reflects" a house in heaven called al-Baytu l-Maˤmur [10] (Arabic: البيت المعمور) and that it was first built by the first man, Adam. Ibrahim and Ismail rebuilt the Kaaba on the old foundations. [11]

[edit] The Kaaba at the time of Muhammad

At the time of Muhammad, his tribe, the Quraysh, was in charge of the Kaaba, which was at that time a shrine to numerous Arabian tribal gods. Muhammad earned the enmity of his tribe by claiming their shrine for the religion of Islam that he preached. He wanted the Kaaba to be dedicated to the worship of God (Allah) alone, and all the other statues evicted. The Quraysh persecuted and harassed him continuously, and he and his followers eventually migrated to Medina in 622 CE. After this pivotal migration, or Hijra, the Muslim community became a political and military force. In 630 CE, Muhammad and his followers returned to Mecca as conquerors and the Kaaba was re-dedicated as an Islamic house of worship. Henceforth, the annual pilgrimage was to be a Muslim rite, the Hajj.

Islamic histories also mention a reconstruction of the Kaaba in the late 500s, when Muhammad was a young man. A story found in Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah (as reconstructed and translated by Guillaume) shows the Muhammad as settling a quarrel between Meccan clans as to which clan should set the cornerstone in place. Muhammad had all the clan elders raise the cornerstone on a cloak; he then the stone into place. [12] 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.

It is also claimed by the Shi'a that the Kaaba is the birth place of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph and the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

[edit] The Kaaba from Muhammad's time to the present day

The Kaaba has been repaired and reconstructed many times since Muhammad's day.

  • Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who ruled Mecca for many years between the death of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the consolidation of Ummayad power, is said to have demolished the old Kaaba and rebuilt it to include the hatīm, a semi-circular wall now outside the Kaaba. He did so on the basis of a tradition (found in several hadith collections [13]) 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.
  • This structure was destroyed (or partially destroyed) in 683, during the war between al-Zubayr and Umayyad forces commanded by Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. Al-Hajjaj used stone-throwing catapults against the Meccans. This episode has been depicted by many Muslim chroniclers as a black mark against the Ummayad caliph Yazid I, who ordered the campaign against Mecca. Yazid died in 683, the year his forces attacked the Hijaz.
  • The Ummayads under Abdul Malik bin Marwan finally reunited all the former Islamic possessions and ended the long civil war (see First Islamic civil war). In 693 he had the remnants of al-Zubayr's Kaaba razed, and rebuilt on the foundations set by the Quraysh.[14] The Kaaba returned to the cube shape it had taken during Muhammad's lifetime.

The basic shape and structure of the Kaaba have not changed since then.[15] However, many repairs and partial reconstructions have been made, under many rulers.

[edit] The cleaning of the Kaaba

The building is opened twice a year for a ceremony known as "the cleaning of the Kaaba." This ceremony takes place roughly fifteen days before the start of the month of Ramadan and the same period of time before the start of the annual pilgrimage.

The keys to the Kaaba are held by the Banī Shaybat (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 honored guests who ritually clean the structure, using simple brooms. Washing of the Kaaba is done with a mixture of Zamzam and rosewater.[16]

[edit] Qibla and prayer

Supplicating pilgrim at Masjid al Haram
Supplicating pilgrim at Masjid al Haram

For any reference point on the Earth, the Qibla is the direction to the Kaaba. Muslims are ordered to face this direction during prayer (Qur'an 2:143-144). While it may appear to some non-Muslims that Muslims worship the Kaaba, the Kaaba is simply a focal point for prayer, in a similar fashion to the cross for some Christian denominations or the Temple Mount for Jews.

The earliest Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem. According to Islamic tradition, when Muhammad was praying in the Al-Qiblatain mosque (in Medina), he was ordered by God to change the qibla direction from Jerusalem to Mecca and the Kaaba. Various theories are advanced as to the reason for the change,[2] and most historians find it was the reluctance of the Jews of Medina to convert to his religion that prompted the move.[3]

Muslim groups in the United States differ as to how the qibla should be oriented - some believe that the direction should be calculated as a straight line drawn on a flat map, like the familiar Mercator projection of the globe; others say that the direction is determined by the shortest line on the globe of the earth, or a great circle. At times this controversy has lead to heated disputes. Flat-map Muslims in the United States pray east and slightly south; great-circle Muslims face in a north-easterly direction. In both cases, the exact orientation will vary from city to city. [4]

Some Muslims carry qibla compasses that tell them which direction to face no matter where they are. This method requires one to align the north arrow with a particular point on the compass corresponding to one's location. Once so aligned, one simply turns toward the direction indicated by the compass's Qibla pointer, which is often in the shape of a minaret. "Qibla numbers" for various locations are listed in an accompanying booklet and also indexed online.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Wensinck, A. J; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of Islam IV p. 317
  2. ^ Peterson, Andrew (1996). Dictionary of Islamic Architecture.. London: Routledge. 
  3. ^ a b Hawting, G.R; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an p. 76
  4. ^ 'House of God' Kaaba gets new cloth. The Age Company Ltd. (2003). Retrieved on 2006-08-17.
  5. ^ The Kiswa - (Kaaba Covering). Al-Islaah Publications. Retrieved on 2006-08-17.
  6. ^ a b Wensinck, A. J; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of Islam IV p. 318
  7. ^ Crone, Patricia (2004). Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias.  pp. 134-137
  8. ^ Britannica 2002 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM, "Ka'bah."
  9. ^ Crone, Patricia (2004). Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias.  p. 137
  10. ^ Hajj-e-Baytullah. Baytullah - The House of Allah. Retrieved on August 13, 2006.
  11. ^ Azraqi, Akhbar Makkah, vol. 1, pp. 58-66
  12. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  pp. 84-87
  13. ^ Sahih Bukhari 1506, 1508;Sahih Muslim 1333
  14. ^ Sahih Bukhari 1509; Sahih Muslim 1333
  15. ^ Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. The Rituals of Hajj and ‘Umrah, Mizan, Al-Mawrid
  16. ^ Islam Online.net - Saudi Arabia Readies for Hajj Emergencies (December 29 2005), Retrieved November 30 2006.
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[edit] External links

[edit] Muslim articles on the Kaaba

[edit] Pictures, models and Maps

[edit] Qibla

Coordinates: 21°25′21″N, 39°49′34″E