KA’BAH

Ka’bah, also spelled Kaaba , small shrine located near the centre of the Great Mosque in Mecca and considered by Muslims everywhere to be the most sacred spot on Earth. Muslims orient themselves toward this shrine during the five daily prayers, bury their dead facing its meridian, and cherish the ambition of visiting it on pilgrimage, or hajj, in accord with the command set out in the Qurʾān.

The cube-shaped structure is roughly 50 feet (15 metres) high, and it is about 35 by 40 feet (10 by 14 metres) at its base. Constructed of gray stone and marble, it is oriented so that its corners roughly correspond to the points of the compass. The interior contains nothing but the three pillars supporting the roof and a number of suspended silver and gold lamps. During most of the year the Kaʿbah is covered with an enormous cloth of black brocade, the kiswah.

Located in the eastern corner of the Kaʿbah is the Black Stone of Mecca, whose now-broken pieces are surrounded by a ring of stone and held together by a heavy silver band. According to tradition, this stone was given to Adam on his expulsion from paradise in order to obtain forgiveness of his sins. Legend has it that the stone was originally white but has become black by absorbing the sins of the countless thousands of pilgrims who have kissed and touched it.

Every Muslim who makes the pilgrimage is required to walk around the Kaʿbah seven times, during which he kisses and touches the Black Stone. When the month of pilgrimages (Dhuʾl-Hijja) is over, a ceremonial washing of the Kaʿbah takes place; religious officials as well as pilgrims take part.

The Ka’bah is also referred to in the Koran as the “first house established for mankind,” meaning, according to the foremost medieval commentator on the Koran, al-Tabari, that it is the first building ever consecrated to the worship of God.

In medieval times popular legend held that the Ka’bah was created before the earth and floated for 1,000 years upon the surface of the waters covering the earth, coming to rest in Mecca only when the waters receded and the earth emerged. Thus the Ka’bah was already in place when Adam and Eve, after their expulsion from Paradise, made the first Pilgrimage as atonement for their sins. Such traditions, however, are rarely given much attention by Muslim historians anymore, and even less credence. To them what occurred before Abraham is of doubtful historicity. As Ismail Nawwab says (see p.12), “It all begins with Abraham.”

There are also varying traditions about the Black Stone, which Muslims on the Pilgrimage either kiss or touch. One legend, widely diffused, states that the Black Stone was a precious jewel taken out of Paradise by Adam and put into the corner of the Ka’bah when he made the first Pilgrimage. Another, noted by al-Azraqi, the oldest historian of Mecca, says that the stone was given to Ishmael by the Angel Gabriel.

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~ by ferry1984 on July 22, 2011.

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