Lit.. “A cube.” The cube-like building in the centre of the mosque at Makkah, which contains the Hajaru ‘l-Aswad, or black stone.
I. A Description of the Ka‘bah – It is, according to Burckhardt and Burton, an oblong massive structure, 18 paces in length, 14 in breadth, and about 35 feet in height. It is constructed of grey Makkan stone, in large blocks of different sizes, joined together in a very rough manner, with cement. (Burton says it is excellent mortar, like Roman cement.) The Ka’bah stands upon a base two feet in height, which presents a sharp inclined plane; its roof being flat, it has, at a distance, the appearance of a perfect cube. The only door which affords entrance, and which is opened but two or three times in the year (Burton says it can be entered by pilgrims, by paying the guardian a liberal fee), is on the east side, and about seven feet above the ground. At the south-east corner of the Ka’bah, near the door, is the famous black stone [HAJARU 'L-ASWAD], which forms a part of the sharp angle of the building, at four or five feet above the ground. The black stone is an irregular oval, about seven inches in diameter, with an undulating surface, composed of about a dozen smaller stones of different shapes and sizes. It is surrounded on all sides by a border of reddish brown cement, both the stone and the border being encircled by a band of a massive arch of gold or silver gilt, the aperture of the stone being one span and three fingers broad. In the corner facing the south, there is another stone about five feet from the ground. It is one foot and a half in length, and two inches in breadth, placed upright, and of common Makkan stone. According to the rites of the pilgrimage, this stone, which is called ar-Ruknu ‘l-Yamani, or Yaman pillar, should only be touched with the right hand as the pilgrim passes it, but Captain Burton says he frequently saw it kissed by the pilgrims. Just by the door of the Ka’bah, and close to the wall, is a slight hollow in the ground, lined with marble and sufficiently large to admit of three persons sitting, which is called al-Mi’jan, and supposed to be the place where Abraham and his son Ishmael kneaded the
chalk and mud which they used to build the Ka’bah. Here it is thought meritorious to pray. On the basis of the Ka’bah, just above the Mi’jan, is an ancient Kufic inscription, which neither Burckhardt nor Burton were able to decipher or to copy. On the north-west side of the Ka’bah, about two feet below its summit, is the water-spout, which is called the Mi’zabu’ r-Rahmah, or the water-spout of mercy. The spout is of gold and was sent hither from Constantinople in A.H. 981. It carries rain from the roof, and discharges it upon Ishmael’s grave. There are two large green marble slabs, which are said to have been presents from Cairo, A.H. 241, which are supposed to mark the graves of Hagar and Ishmael. The pavement round the Ka’bah consists of a very handsome mosaic of various colored stones, and is said to have been laid down A.H. 826. On one side of the Ka’bah is a semicircular wall, the extremities of which are in a line with the sides of the Ka’bah, and distant about six feet leaving an opening which leads to the grave of Ishmael. The wall is called al-Hatim, “the broken,” and the enclosed area al Hijr, “the enclosure.” The Ka’bah is covered with a coarse tissue of mixed silk and cotton, being of a brilliant black color, and with a gold band round it, upon which is inscribed the ninetieth verse of the third chapter of the Qur’an: “Verily the first home founded for mankind was surely that at Bakkah, for a blessing and guidance to mankind.” The inscription being in large Kufic characters. For a further account of this cover, see KISWAH.
II. The History of the Ka’bah, is embraced in the history of the Baitu ‘llah or MASJIDU ‘L-HARAM.
According to the Traditions and the inventive genius of Muslim writers, the Ka’bah was first constructed in heaven (where a model of it still remains, called Baitu ‘l-Ma’mur) two thousand years before the creation of the world. Adam erected the Ka’bah on earth exactly below the spot its perfect model occupies in heaven, and selected the stones from the five sacred mountains, Sinai, al-Judi, Hira, Olivet, and Lebanon. Ten thousand angels were appointed to guard the structure, but, as Burckhardt remarks, they appear to have been often most remiss in their duty! At the Deluge the Sacred House was destroyed. But the Almighty is said to have instructed Abraham to rebuild it. In its reconstruction Abraham was assisted by his son Ishmael, who with his mother Hagar were at the time residents of Makkah, Abraham having journeyed from Syria in order to obey the commands on God.
Upon digging they found the original foundations of the building. But wanting a stone to mark the corner of the building, Ishmael started to search for one, and as he was going in the direction of Jabal Qubais, the angel Gabriel met him, and gave him the famous black stone. Ibn ‘Abbas relates that the Prophet said, the black stone when it came down from Paradise was whiter than milk, but that it has become black from the sins of those who have touched it. (Mishkat, book xi. ch. iv. pt. 2.)
Upon the death of Ishmael, the Ka’bah fell into the possession of the Banu Jurhum, and remained in their hands for a thousand years. It then became the property of the Banu Khuza’ah, who held it for three hundred years. But being constantly exposed to torrents, it was destroyed, and was rebuilt by Qusaiy ibn Kilab, who put a top to it, up to this time it is said to have been open at the roof.
It is said, by Muslim historians, that ‘Amr ibn Luhaiy was the first who introduced idolatry into Arabia, and that he brought the great idol Hubal from Hait in Mesopotamia and placed it in the sacred house. It then became a Pantheon common to all the tribes. [IDOLS.] The tribe of Qusaiy were the first who built dwelling-houses round the Ka’bah. The successors of the Banu Qusaiy were the Quraish. Soon after they came into possession, the Ka’bah was destroyed by fire, and they rebuilt it of wood and of a smaller size than it had been in the time of the Banu Qusaiy. The roof was supported within by six pillars, and the statue of Hubal was placed over a wall then existing withing the Ka’bah. This took place during the youth of Muhammad. Al-Azraqi, quoted by Burckhardt, says that the figure of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus was sculptured as deity upon one of the six pillars nearest the gate.
The grandfather of Muhammad, ‘Abdu ‘l-Muttalib, the son of Hashim, became the custodian of the Sacred House; and during his time, the Ka’bah being considered too low in its structure, the Quraish wished to raise it; so they demolished it and then they rebuilt till the work reached the place of the black stone. Each tribe wishing to have the honor of raising the black stone into its place, they quarreled amongst themselves. But they at last agreed that the first man who should enter the gate of the enclosure should be umpire. Muhammad was the first to enter, and he was appointed umpire. He thereupon ordered them to place the stone upon a cloth and each tribe by its representative to take hold of the cloth and lift it into its place. The dispute was thus ended, and when the stone had reached its proper place, Muhammad fixed it in its situation with his own hand.
At the commencement of Muhammad’s mission, it is remarkable that there is scarcely an allusion to the Ka’bah, and this fact, taken with the circumstances that the earliest Qiblah, or direction of prayer, was Jerusalem, and not the Ka’bah, seems to imply that Muhammad’s strong iconoclastic tendencies did not incline his sympathies to this ancient idol temple with its superstitious ceremonies. Had the Jews favorably received the new prophet as one who taught the religion of Abraham, to the abrogation of that of Moses and Jesus, Jerusalem and not Makkah would have been the sacred city, and the ancient Rock [SAKHRAH.] and not the Ka’bah would have been the object of superstitious reverence.
Taking the Surahs chronologically, the earliest reference in the Qur’an to the Ka’bah occurs in Surah lii 4, where the Prophet swears by the frequented house (al-Baitu ‘l-Ma’mur), but commentators are not agreed whether it refers to the Ka’bah in Makkah or its heavenly model above, which is said to be frequented by the angels. We then come to Surah xvii, i, where Muhammad refers to his celebrated night dream of his journey from the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjidu ‘l-Haram) at Makkah to the Remote Mosque (al-Masjidu ‘l-Aqsa) at Jerusalem. And in this verse we find the Rock at Jerusalem spoken of as “the precinct of which We (God) have blessed, to show him (Muhammad) of our signs,” proving that even then the Prophet of Arabiz had his heart fixed on Mount Zion, and not on the Ka’bah.
When Muhammad found himself established in al-Madinah, with a very good prospect of his obtaining possession of Makkah, and it historic associations, he seems to have withdrawn his thoughts from Jerusalem, and its Sacred Rock and to fix them on the house at Bakkah as the home founded for mankind, – Blessed, and a guidance to all creatures (Surah iii. 90). The Jews proving obdurate, and there being little chance of his succeeding in establishing his claim as their prophet spoken of by Moses, he changes the Qiblah, or direction for prayer, from Jerusalem to Makkah. The house at Makkah is made “a place of resort unto men and a sanctuary” (Surah ii, 119).
The Qiblah is changed by an express command of the Almighty, and the whole passage is remarkable as exhibiting a decided concession of the part of Muhammad to the claims of the Ka’bah as a central object of adoration (Surah iii, 138-145).
“We appointed the Qiblah which thou for merly hast, only that we might know him who followeth the apostle, from him who turneth on his heels: The change is a difficulty, but not to those whom God hath guided. But God will not let your faith be fruitless; for unto man is God Merciful, Gracious. We have seen thee turning thy fact towards every part of Heaven; but we will have thee turn to a Qiblah which shall please thee. Turn then thy face towards the sacred Mosque, and wherever ye be, turn your faces towards that part. They, verily, to whom ‘the Book’ hath been given, know this to be the truth from their Lord; and God is not regardless of what ye do. Even though thou shouldest bring every kind of sign to those who have received the Scriptures, yet thy Qiblah they will not adopt; nor shalt thou adopt their Qiblah; nor will one part of them adopt the Qiblah of the other. And if, after the knowledge which hath come to thee, thou follow their wishes, verily then wilt thou become of the unrighteous. They to whom we have given the Scriptures know him – the Apostle – even as they know their own children: but truly a part of them do conceal the truth, though acquainted with it. The truth is from thy Lord. Be not then of those who doubt. All have a quarter of the Heavens to which they turn them; but wherever ye be, hasten emulously after good: God will one day bring you all together; verily, God is all-powerful. And from whatever place thou comest forth, turn thy face toward the sacred Mosque; for this is the truth from thy Lord; and God is not inattentive to your doings. And from whatever place thou comest forth, turn thy face toward the sacred Mosque; and wherever ye be, to that part turn your faces, lest men have cause of dispute against you; but as for the impious among them, fear them not; but fear me, that I may perfect my favors on you, and that ye may be guided aright.”
The verses of the second Surah of the Qur’an are, according to Jalalu ‘d-din and other commentators, not in their chronological order. It is therefore difficult to fix the precise date of the following verse:-
Surah 108 ii: “Who is more unjust than he who prohibits God’s mosques, that His name should not be worshiped there, and who strives to ruin them.”
According to al-Baizawi, the verse either refers to the sacking of Jerusalem by Titus, or to the Quraish who, at al-Hudaibiyah, had prevented the Prophet from entering Makkah until the following year.
In the seventh years of the Hijrah, Muhammad was, according to the treaty with the Quraish at al-Hudaibiyah in the previous year, allowed to enter Makkah, and perform the circuit of the Ka’bah. Hubal and the other idols of the Arabian pantheon were still within the sacred building, but as Muhammad’s visit was limited to three days, he confined himself to the ordinary rites of the ‘Umrah, or visitation, without interfering with the idolatrous arrangement of the Ka’bah itself. Before he left, at the hour of midday prayer, Bilal ascended the holy house, and from its summit gave the first call to Muslim prayers, which were afterwards led by the Prophet in the usual form.
The following year, Muhammad occupied Makkah by force of arms. The idols in the Ka’bah were destroyed, and the rites of the pilgrimage were established as by divine enactment. From this time the history of the Ka’bah becomes part of the history of Islam.
The Khalifah ‘Umar first built a mosque round the Ka’bah, A.H. 17.
For a history of the sacred mosque at Makkah, see MASJIDU ‘L-HARAM.
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam