Kaʿba (Arabic: الکعبة) is a cube-shaped building inside al-Masjid al-Haram, Mecca. It is the most important place of worship in Islam and the qibla of Muslims. Muslims turn their face to it from any part of the world when they say their prayers. Doing tawaf (circumambulation) around it is a part of hajj rituals.
The word "Ka'ba" literally means a cube-shaped construction, and this is why the building has been called "Ka'ba".
Ka'ba is also known as "Bayt Allah" (Arabic:بیت الله, the house of God). In the Qur'an, the Ka'ba has been also mentioned as "al-Bayt"[Note 1] (Arabic: البیت, the house), "al-Bayt al-Haram"[Note 2] (Arabic: البیت الحرام, the sacred house), "al-Bayt al-'Atiq"[Note 3] (Arabic: البیت العتیق, the old house), and "al-Bayt al-Muharram"[Note 4] (Arabic: البیت المحرم, the respected house). The mosque encompassing the Ka'ba is called al-Masjid al-Haram. According to some reports, in ancient times, the Ka'ba was also called "al-Qadis" (Arabic: القادس, the Holy), and "al-Nadhir" (Arabic: الناذر, the Warner).
Place in Islam
The Ka'ba is the most important and the most sacred worship place in Islam—it is "the first house built for the worship of God". It is obligatory for every Muslim to visit the Ka'ba once in their lifetime if they have istita'a (financial, bodily and other sorts of capacity) and meet other conditions. According to the Quran (4:97), hajj is obligatory for Muslims who can afford it and have abilities required for it. The Ka'ba became Muslims' qibla from the second year of hijra/623. That is, from then it has been obligatory for Muslims to direct themselves to the Ka'ba when they say their prayers.
In the Qur'an
|“|| جَعَلَ اللَّهُ الكَعبَةَ البَيتَ الحَرامَ قِيامًا لِلنّاسِ وَالشَّهرَ الحَرامَ وَالهَديَ وَالقَلائِدَ
Allah made the Ka'ba, the sacred house, an asylum of security for men, as also the sacred months, the animals for offerings, and the garlands that mark them.
|— Qur'an, 5:97|
The prophet Ibrahim (a), built the Ka'ba by God's command with the assistance of his son, Isma'il (a). This is stated in Qur'anic verses. However, there are different accounts of when the Ka'ba was built for the first time. According to some accounts, the Ka'ba was built even before the creation of Adam. But some historians have doubted the credentials of such claims. After the residence of Isma'il's children around the Ka'ba, the first residents of Mecca and the custodians of Ka'ba were people of the Jurhum tribe, and then people of the Khuza'a tribe, followed by Quraysh. During centuries, the Ka'ba turned from a monotheistic place of worship into an idol house.
According to historical sources, the Ka'ba was repaired, reconstructed, and renovated many times. Ibrahim's (a) construction of the Ka'ba had no ceiling; it was roofed in the period of Qusayy b. Kilab, the head of Quraysh and the fourth ancestor of the Prophet (s). It has been said that the Ka'ba was reconstructed two more times before Qusayy and after Ibrahim.
The history of the construction of the Ka'ba after the birth of the Prophet (s) is more organized and more reliable. 5 years before the first revelation of the Prophet (s), the people of Quraysh tried to renovate the construction of the Ka'ba. According to some accounts, this was because of a firing or floods which had damaged the building.
Early historiographers talk about changes in some features of the Ka'ba in this reconstruction in comparison with the one built by Ibrahim (a). The changes that occurred in the reconstruction of the Ka'ba consist in the increase in its height, closing the western gate of the building, and increase in the height of its eastern gate.
After this reconstruction, following the attack of Yazid's army under the command of al-Husayn b. Numayr and the firing in the Ka'ba, 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr reconstructed the Ka'ba. In this event, firings and stones thrown by catapults undermined the foundation of the Ka'ba. It is said that in this reconstruction, Ibn al-Zubayr destroyed the Ka'ba in order to build it upon the same pillars on which Ibrahim (a) had built the house. However, after a while al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf destroyed the Ka'ba. His aim was to rebuild the Ka'ba on the same point on which it was built by Quraysh. A part of the Ka'ba, called Hatim, had remained out of the building because of the lack of materials when it was being reconstructed by the Quraysh 5 years before the first revelation of the prophet Muhammad (s). This had led to a decrease in the length of the building. After several decades, Ibn al-Zubayr tried to return the Ka'ba to its historical dimensions. But 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan ordered al-Hajjaj to decrease the part added by Ibn al-Zubayr. By redestroying the part of Hatim (which is now a part of Hijr Isma'il), al-Hajjaj decreased the height of the Ka'ba. It has been said that in the reconstruction of the Ka'ba, al-Hajjaj encountered some problems which were solved by Imam al-Sajjad (a).
After the tenth reconstruction of the Ka'ba by al-Hajjaj, the building did not undergo any reconstructions until 1039/1630 when there was a flood in Mecca that took about 4,000 casualties (from the residents and visitors), and it leaked inside al-Masjid al-Haram destroying the walls of the Ka'ba. The only wall that remained intact was the southern one, which nonetheless had a lot of cracks and needed major repairing. This occurred during the monarchy of Sultan Murad Khan, the Ottoman king. The governor of Mecca reported the event to the Ottoman king, and he sent two representatives to Mecca to supervise the reconstruction of the Ka'ba. By the king's command, the remaining walls were completely destroyed, and the Ka'ba was completely reconstructed. The reconstruction is reported in detail by Zayn al-'Abidin b. Nur al-Din al-Kashani —a Shiite scholar who was in Mecca at that time— in his book Mafrahat al-anam fi ta'sis bayt Allah al-haram. After that the Ka'ba was never reconstructed until in 1377/1957 and then 1417/1996 when it was repaired by the command of Sa'ud b. Abd al-Aziz and Fahd b. 'Abd al-Aziz.
The Ka'ba has external features of its own. Each part of the Ka'ba has a name as follows:
- Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad): it is a black, sacred stone which has a special position in Islamic tradition. It is located in the south-eastern part of the Ka'ba inside a silver frame. Tawaf begins from the Black Stone and ends there.
- Multazam: it is a place between the Black Stone and the gate of the Ka'ba.
- Gate of the Ka'ba: it is located in the eastern side of the Ka'ba. It is not clear who made the gate of the Ka'ba for the first time, but it was probably the third Tubba' (a king of Yemen before the first revelation (Bi'tha) of the Prophet (s)) who made a gate and a key for the Ka'ba.
- Maqam Ibrahim: a stone in front of the gate of the Ka'ba where Ibrahim stood on when he was building the Ka'ba.
- Hijr Isma'il: an area enclosed between Ka'ba and a semicircular wall in the north of the Ka'ba.
- Mizab (gutter): a gutter on the roof of the Ka'ba flowing towards Hijr. It was first made by Quraysh.
- Shadharwan: part of the Ka'ba subtracted by Quraysh. It is a riser below the Ka'ba's wall made of marble, covering the lower part of its wall, in addition to a part made in front of Hijr Isma'il. There is no Shadharwan below the gate of the Ka'ba.
- Three pillars with the approximate height of 9 meters, holding the roof of the Ka'ba.
- A dark marble inside on which the Prophet (s) prostrated. Also in Multazam there is a sign showing the place where the Prophet (s) put his stomach and the right cheek on the wall, raised his hands to the sky and cried.
- The middle part is covered by white marbles.
The Ka'ba has four corners or rukns:
- The eastern corner (the black corner): it is near the gate of the Ka'ba, almost opposite to the Zamzam well. It is almost located on the eastern side of the Ka'ba. The Black Stone is located in this corner, and this is why it is also called "the black corner". Tawaf begins from this rukn or corner.
- The northern or al-Iraqi corner: this corner or rukn is the direction of tawaf after the eastern corner. It is almost located in the north. It is called "al-Iraqi" since it is located in the direction of Iraq. It is on the eastern side of Hijr Isma'il.
- Western or al-Shami corner: this is a corner or rukn that is located after the northern corner in the direction of tawaf. It is almost located on the western side, and it is called al-Shami because it is located towards al-Sham (Syria). It is located on the western side of the Hijr Isma'il.
- Southern or al-Yamani corner: this corner or rukn is located after the western corner in the direction of tawaf. It is also called Mustajar. It is parallel to the Black corner. It is almost located in the south, and it is called al-Yamani since Arabs used to call everything which was located in the south as such (that is, towards Yemen).
The Ka'ba's kiswa is a silk black piece on which some Quranic verses are inscribed, covering the Ka'ba. According to Tafsir al-Qurtubi, the first person who covered the Ka'ba with a cloth was As'ad al-Himyari, known as Tubba'. It is also attributed to Isma'il (a).
In 1346/1926, the king Abd al-Aziz al-Saudi ordered the construction of Umm al-Qura Workshop for weaving the Ka'ba's kiswa. It was the place where the kiswa was weaved until 1977, when the Saudi government constructed another workshop in Umm al-Jud where the kiswa is still weaved.
Before Islam, the kiswa of the Ka'ba has been replaced annually on Ashura (the tenth of Muharram), but after Islam, it was replaced twice or three times a year (on Ashura, the end of the Ramadan month, and Eid al-Adha). Today it is replaced once a year on Eid al-Adha.
- See also: 'Am al-Fil
One important event is Abraha's attack to Ka'ba. Abraha was the governor of Yemen. He attacked Mecca in 571 in order to destroy the Ka'ba with an army of elephants. When he arrived there, they were attacked by many birds throwing stones on them. The stones killed most of his army.
It has been said that Abraha attacked the Ka'ba because he built a big, glorious church in Yemen for the propagation of Christianity and economic interests. When he failed in attracting people to his church, he decided to destroy the Ka'ba.
Birth of Imam Ali (a)
- Main article: Birth of Imam 'Ali (a)
Imam Ali (a) was born in the Ka'ba on Friday, Rajab 13, 30 years after Am al-Fil. He is the only person who was born in the Ka'ba. The event has been mentioned in some Sunni sources as well. According to al-Mustadrak 'ala l-sahihayn, there are mutawatir hadiths of Imam Ali (a) being born inside the Ka'ba from Fatima bt. Asad.
Installation of the Black Stone by the Prophet (s)
One event that occurred before the Bi'tha of the Prophet (s) when he was 35 years old is the reconstruction of the Ka'ba. The building was destroyed by floods, and the Quraysh tribe undertook its reconstruction. Each of the heads of Quraysh were seeking to have the pride and privilege of installing the Black Stone for himself, and it led to a serious quarrel between them, and it would probably lead to a war. Finally, after a lot of negotiations, they decided to accept the proposal of the first person who arrives. Muhammad (s) arrived there at that time. When they saw him, they said he is honest and trustworthy, and he is appropriate for adjudicating this case. When the Prophet (s) learned about the issue, he put the Black Stone on a robe, asking all the heads of Quraysh to take a part of the robe and carry it to where it was supposed to be installed. When they arrived there, he took the Black Stone and installed it.
One important event in the history of Islam is the attack and desecration of Yazid b. Mu'awiyya's army to Mecca. When Abd Alla b. al-Zubayr refused to give allegiance to Yazid, an army led by al-Husayn b. Numayr departed to Mecca in order to fight with Ibn al-Zubayr. The army arrived in Mecca in the Muharram, 64/April, 683, and in Rabi' I, they attacked the Ka'ba with catapults. They also set the Ka'ba's walls to fire.
In the Dhu l-Hijja, 317/March, 929, Qarmatis attacked Mecca. They plundered Mecca within several successive days, killed its residents and visitors, desecrated and sabotaged the great mosque and other sacred places, took away the Black Stone from the Ka'ba to their new capital. In 339/950 they gave back the Black Stone in exchange with a lot of money.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from کعبه in Farsi Wikishia.
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- Qur'an 3:96