Makkah Khana Kaba
The Islamic religion's holiest city of Mecca (also known as Mekka or Makkah) is located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its importance as a holy city for Muslims harks back to it being the birthplace of the founder of Islam, Mohammed.
The prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca, located approximated 50 miles from the Red Sea port city of Jidda, in the year 571 CE. Mohammed fled to Medina, now also a holy city, in the year 622 (ten years prior to his death).
Muslims face Mecca during their daily prayers and one of the key tenets of Islam is a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a Muslim's life (known as Hajj). Approximately two million Muslims arrive in Mecca during the last month of the Islamic calendar for the Hajj. This influx of visitors requires a great deal of logistical planning by the Saudi government. Hotels and other services in the city are stretched to the limit during the pilgrimage.
The most holy site within this holy city is the Great Mosque. Within the Great Mosque sits the Black Stone, a large black monolith that is central to worship during the Hajj. In the Mecca area are several additional sites where Muslims worship.
Saudi Arabia is closed to tourists and Mecca itself is off limits to all non-Muslims. Road blocks are stationed along roads leading to the city. The most celebrated incident of a non-Muslim visiting Mecca was the visit by the British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton (who translated the 100 stories of the Arabian Knights and discovered the Kama Sutra) in 1853. Burton disguised himself as an Afghani Muslim to visit and write Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Mecca.
Mecca sits in a valley surrounded by low hills; its population is approximately 1.3 million. Although Mecca is definitely the religious capital of Saudi Arabia, remember that the Saudi political capital is Riyadh.The Kaaba (or Qaaba; Arabic: الكعبة al-Kaʿbah IPA: English: The Cube) is a cuboid-shaped building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and is the most sacred site in Islam. The Quran states that the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), and his son Ishmael (Ismaeel in Arabic), after the latter had settled in Arabia. The building has a mosque built around it, the Masjid al-Haram. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. This is called facing the Qiblah.
One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so. Multiple parts of the Hajj require pilgrims to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction (as viewed from above). This circumambulation, the Tawaf, is also performed by pilgrims during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). However, the most dramatic times are during the Hajj, when about 6 million pilgrims gather to circle the building on the same day.
In the Quran
The Kaaba is inside the Masjid al Haram in Mecca
The Quran states that Abraham, together with Ishmael, raised the foundations of the holy house.[Quran 2:127] God had shown Abraham the exact site, very near to the Well of Zamzam, where Abraham and Ishmael began work on the Kaaba's construction. After Abraham had built the Kaaba, an angel brought to him the Black Stone, a celestial stone that, according to tradition, had fallen from Heaven on the nearby hill Abu Qubays. According to a saying attributed to Muhammad, the Black Stone had "descended from Paradise whiter than milk but the sins of the sons of Adam had made it black".
After the placing of the Black Stone (in Arabic, الحجر الا سود — "alhajar alaswad") in the Eastern corner of the Kaaba, Abraham received a revelation, in which God told the aged prophet that he should now go and proclaim the pilgrimage to mankind, so that men may come both from Arabia and from lands far away, on camel and on foot.[Quran 22:27] Going by the dates attributed to the patriarchs, Abraham is believed to have been born in roughly 2150 BCE, with Isaac being born a hundred years later. Therefore, Islamic scholars have generally assumed that the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham around 2130 BCE. The Kaaba is, therefore, believed by Muslims to be more than a millennium older than Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, which is believed to have been finished in 1007 BCE. These dates remain consistent with the Muslim belief that the Kaaba is the first and thus oldest mosque in history.
After Abraham and Ishmael
Left: Conceptual representation of the Kaaba, as built by Abraham according to Arabian tradition; Right: Representation of the Kaaba as it stands todayThe pilgrimage, as established by Abraham, is believed to have been uncorrupted in its early years. Then the faith of Abraham failed to grip very many devoted followers. It was because "it presupposed too much initial spirituality in its adherents to grip a large community". Although there were always a few people who continued to maintain Abraham's teachings, this minority gradually came to have less power in Mecca, and soon the Kaaba became a shrine devoted to idols.
Qibla and prayer
Main article: QiblaThe Qibla is the Muslim name for 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.
See also: Pre-Islamic Arabia and Jahiliyyah
The early Arabian population consisted primarily of warring nomadic tribes. When they did converge peacefully, it was usually under the protection of religious practices. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Wensinck identifies Mecca with a place called Macoraba mentioned by Ptolemy. His text is believed to date from the second century AD, about 500 years before the coming of Muhammad, and described it as a foundation in southern Arabia, built around a sanctuary. It probably did not become an area of religious pilgrimage until around 500 A.D. It was then that the Quraysh tribe (into which Muhammad was later born) took control of Macoraba, and made an agreement with the local kinanah Bedouins for possession. The sanctuary itself, located in a barren valley surrounded by mountains, was probably built at the location of the water source today known as the Zamzam Well, an area of considerable religious significance to Muslims.
In her book, Islam: A Short History, Karen Armstrong asserts that the Kaaba was dedicated to Hubal, a Nabatean deity, and contained 360 idols that either represented the days of the year, or were effigies of the Arabian pantheon. Once a year, tribes from all around the Arabian peninsula, whether Christian or pagan, would converge on Mecca to perform the Hajj.
Imoti contends that there were multiple 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, and 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 king of Hijaz (the northwestern section of Saudi Arabia, which encompassed the cities of Mecca and Medina), had placed a Hubal idol onto the roof of the Kaaba, and this idol was one of the chief deities of the ruling 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 20 miles (32 km) of the Kaaba. This combat-free zone allowed Mecca to thrive not only as a place of pilgrimage, but also as a trading center.
Edward Gibbon suggested that the Ka'bah was mentioned by ancient Greek writer Diodorus Siculus before the Christian era:
The genuine antiquity of Caaba ascends beyond the Christian era: in describing the coast of the Red sea the Greek historian Diodorus has remarked, between the Thamudites and the Sabeans, a famous temple, whose superior sanctity was revered by all the Arabians; the linen of silken veil, which is annually renewed by the Turkish emperor, was first offered by the Homerites, who reigned seven hundred years before the time of Mohammad.
—Edward Gibbon, Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Volume V, pp. 223–224
However, Gibbon had misinterpreted Siculus's text. Siculus described the location of this temple to be on a bay that extends deep in land to a distance of about 500 stades (about 80 km) and that the entrance of this bay is obstructed by a rock extending into the sea. Here is the description from Diodorus Siculus:
Next after these plains as one skirts the coast comes a gulf of extraordinary nature. It runs, namely, to a point deep into the land, extends in length a distance of some five hundred stades, and shut in as it is by crags which are of wondrous size, its mouth is winding and hard to get out of; for a rock which extends into the sea obstructs its entrance and so it is impossible for a ship either to sail into or out of the gulf. Furthermore, at times when the current rushes in and there are frequent shiftings of the winds, the surf, beating upon the rocky beach, roars and rages all about the projecting rock. The inhabitants of the land about the gulf, who are known as Banizomenes, find their food by hunting the land animals and eating their meat. And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.
—Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica volume iii.44, p. 217
There is no bay that matches this description along the coast near Mecca. Furthermore, Siculus describes this area as lying between the Thamudites and the Nabataeans, not the Thamudites and the Sabeans as Gibbon erroneously stated, which would put it much farther to the north, around the area of Tabuk. It is widely believed that this bay and temple described by Diodorus is in fact the bay adjacent to Ash-Sharmah in Tabuk Province.
In Makkan 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.
Crone was responded to by Dr. Amaal Muhammad Al-Roubi in his book "A Response to Patrica Crone's book".
G. E. von Grunebaum says,
Mecca is mentioned by Ptolemy, and the name he gives it allows us to identify it as a South Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary.
—G. E. Von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600-1258, p. 19
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, and the Syrian church chroniclers writing in Syriac. However, the town is absent from any 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.
A 1315 illustration from the Persian Jami al-Tawarikh, inspired by the story of Muhammad and the Meccan clan elders lifting the Black Stone into place when the Kaaba was rebuilt in the early 600s
At the time of Muhammad (CE 570–632 A.D), his tribe, the Quraysh, was in charge of the Kaaba, which was at that time a shrine containing hundreds of idols representing Arabian tribal gods and other religious figures. Muhammad earned the enmity of his tribe by claiming the Kaaba to be dedicated to the worship of the one God alone, and all the idols evicted. The Quraysh persecuted and harassed him continuously, and he and his followers eventually migrated to Medina in 622.
Islamic histories also mention a reconstruction of the Kaaba around 600 A.D. A story found in 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, and then 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 the work was undertaken by a Coptic carpenter called Baqum.
After this migration, or Hijra, the Muslim community became a political and military force, continuously repelling Meccan attacks. In 630 A.D, two years after signing the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the Meccan Quraysh attacked the Bedouin Khuza'a, thereby breaking the peace treaty. The Muslims emerged as victors in the battle that followed this incident and Muhammad entered Mecca with his followers; they proceeded to the Kaaba. However, he refused to enter the Kaaba while there were idols in it, and sent Abu Sufyan ibn Harb and Mughira ibn Shu'ba to remove them.
Narrated Ibn Abbas: When Allah's Apostle arrived in Mecca, he refused to enter the Ka'ba while there were idols in it. So he ordered that they be taken out. The pictures of the (Prophets) Abraham and Ishmael, holding arrows of divination in their hands, were carried out. The Prophet said, "May Allah ruin them (i.e. the infidels) for they knew very well that they (i.e. Abraham and Ishmael) never drew lots by these (divination arrows). Then the Prophet entered the Ka'ba and said. "Allahu Akbar" in all its directions and came out and not offer any prayer therein.
—Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 59, Hadith 584
The Kaaba was re-dedicated as an Islamic house of worship, and henceforth, the annual pilgrimage was to be a Muslim rite, the Hajj, with visits to the Kaaba and other sacred sites around Mecca.
It is also the birth place of ʿAlī ibn Abī Tālib, the fourth caliph and cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
In Islamic history
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 ʿAli and the consolidation of Ummayad power, is said to have demolished the old Kaaba and 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.
This structure was destroyed (or partially destroyed) in 683 A.D, during the war between Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and Umayyad forces commanded by Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. Al-Hajjaj used stone-throwing catapults against the Meccans.
The Ummayads under ʿAbdu l-Malik ibn Marwan finally reunited all the former Islamic possessions and ended the long civil war. In 693 A.D he 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 A.D, 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 A.D.
Apart from repair work, the basic shape and structure of the Kaaba have not changed since then.
The Kaaba is depicted on the reverse of 500 Saudi Riyal, and the 2000 Iranian rial banknotes.
CleaningThe building is opened twice a year for a ceremony known as "the cleaning of the Ka'ba." This ceremony takes place roughly thirty days before the start of the month of Ramadan and thirty days before the start of Hajj.
The keys to the Ka'ba are held by the Banī Shayba (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 honoured guests who ritually clean the structure, using simple brooms. Washing of the Ka'ba is done with a mixture of water from the Zamzam Well and Persian rosewater.