In the city of Makkah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, enclosed within the central courtyard of Masjid al-Haram (The Grand Mosque) looms a simple, yet impressive, cubical stone structure called the Ka’aba.
The Ka’aba, also known as the “Beitullah,” meaning “House of Allah,” is the most sacrosanct site in Islam. The Holy Qur’an declares that the Ka’aba is the first blessed house of worship established for mankind and proffers guidance to the people. (Surat Ali Imran: 96)
The Ka’aba plays a significant role in the life of Muslims. Around the world, Muslims turn in unison toward the Ka’aba during their prayers five times a day, every day, as ordained by Allah in the Holy Qur’an (Surat Al-Baqarah). Moreover, they perform the ritual of “Tawaf” by circumambulating around the Holy Ka’aba seven times in a counterclockwise direction during the annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam and Umrah (lesser optional pilgrimage).
The facts about the Holy Ka’aba in Makkah are as follows:
The Holy Qur’an reveals Prophet Ibrahim (AS) together with his son Prophet Ismail (AS) raised the foundations of the Holy Ka’aba. Back then, it was a simple rectangular structure without any roof and roughly measuring the height of a man.
The people of Makkah indulged in idol worship and lodged idols within and around the Ka’aba.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) relentlessly preached oneness of Allah and accentuated that the Ka’aba was built for worshipping Allah. As a result, the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) earned the wrath of the native tribes and was persecuted. Ultimately, in 622 A.D. the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), along with his followers, left Makkah and transmigrated to Medina.
In AD 629 , the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) conquered Makkah and eliminated as many as 360 idols housed in and around Ka’aba. Then, Hazrat Bilal (RA) mounted on top of the Ka’aba and pronounced the first adhan (call to prayer) within the Holy city of Makkah and called out the fellow Muslims for prayer. Since then, the Ka’aba has remained the inviolable place of worship of the Muslims.
For myriad generations, Muslims as well as the pilgrims of other faith, such as the Jews and early Christians, visited the Ka’aba and also participated in the annual Hajj ceremony; but this practice culminated, and for the past more than 1400 years, entry into the Ka’aba is sanctioned to Muslims only. Non-Muslims are barred from entering the Holy city of Makkah.
Structure of the Ka’aba
The cubical Ka’aba rests on a marble base. The Ka’aba measures about 60 feet high and the sides are approximately 60 feet in length. It is constructed using granite mined in the nearby hills of Makkah.
It constitutes a single room with marble flooring and about three-quarters of the inner wall is also made of marble. The details of the numerous repairs done to the Ka’aba are inscribed on the inner wall. It has a solitary door, but there are no windows.
Inside the Ka’aba, there are three pillars sustaining the roof made with 25 kilograms of 24-carat gold, several gold and silver lamps hanging from the roof and a table.
On the roof of the Ka’aba is the renovated Meezab, the spout for carrying the rain water, made of gold.
Hajar al-Aswad (Black Stone)
The Hajar al-Aswad is the stone believed to have been sent from paradise. It measures approximately 30 centimeters in diameter and is built into the eastern corner of the Ka’aba. The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have averted a dispute and placed the Black Stone in its present position. The pieces of the Black Stone are held intact by a silver frame. The pilgrims performing Tawaf around the Ka’aba either touch and kiss the Hajar al-Aswad or show their right hand toward it and go around the Ka’aba. It marks the beginning and ending of each circuit.
Door of Ka’aba
The golden door is located on the northeastern wall of the Ka’aba. It is 2.40 meters high and 1.70 meters wide. It was made by Sheikh Ahmad bin Ibrahim Badr using 300 kilograms of pure gold in October 1979. The golden door of Ka’aba bears the inscription of the expressions “Allah,” “Muhammad,” texts from the Qur’an, as well as the verse “Ya Hayy Ya Qayyum” (Oh the Living, Oh the Lasting).
The four outer walls of the Ka’aba are shrouded in a deep black cloth with golden embroidery called the Kiswa. It is exclusively manufactured in a factory set up in Makkah in 1926.
The Kiswa is 658 square meters long and is made using 47 pieces of cloth. The cloth is made out of 670 kilograms of pure silk, and the Quranic texts are intricately embroidered on the Kiswa using 15 kilos of gold threads. Thus, the total cost of making a kiswa is about SR 17 million (U.S. $ 4.5 million).
Every year, on the 10th of the Islamic month of Dul Hajj, the old Kiswa is removed from the Ka’aba and draped in a newly woven Kiswa. The old Kiswa is shredded into pieces and distributed among certain individuals, dignitaries and pilgrims.
Maqam Ibrahim (The Station of Ibrahim)
Maqam Ibrahim is positioned right in front of the golden door of Ka’aba. It is the spot where, standing on a rock, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) overlooked the construction of the higher part of the walls of the Holy Ka’aba. The rock bears the impression of the footprints of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). This rock measures 2 by 3 feet and stands mounted on a marble base. It is bounded by an octagonal enclosure made of glass and steel.
It is believed to be the place where Prophets Ibrahim (AS) and Ismail (AS) offered their prayers after the construction of the Ka’aba. Even today, after performing Tawaf, pilgrims offer prayer standing behind Maqam Ibrahim.
Hateem is the semi-circular wall situated opposite to the northwest wall of the Ka’aba. Originally, the Ka’aba extended up to the Hateem. Presently, the low statured wall made of white marble is 90 centimeters in height and 1.5 meters in width, and not connected to the Ka’aba. It is believed that the graves of Prophet Ismail (AS) and his mother are located within this area. Anyhow, while performing Tawaf the pilgrims do not walk between the Ka’aba and Hateem but go around the Hateem, too.
Key keepers of Ka’aba
The key to the door of the Holy Ka’aba is under the custody of the Al-Sheibi family of Makkah for the last 15 centuries. Since the pre-Islamic era, this particular family has been holding the prestigious position as the keepers of the key of Ka’aba. The custodian of the key opens the door of the Holy Ka’aba twice every year and invites the King and other dignitaries for cleaning the Ka’aba.
Cleaning of Ka’aba
Every year, in the middle of the Islamic months of Shaaban and Dul Qaada, the Holy Ka’aba is opened by the Al-Sheibi family of Makkah for cleaning. The Governor of Makkah, on behalf of the Custodian of the two holy mosques, the King of Saudi Arabia, cleans the Ka’aba along with other dignitaries. The Ka’aba is cleaned using Zamzam and rose water perfumed with oudh.
The Holy Ka’aba was damaged in the past on several occasions by war, flash flood, inadvertent fire and rebuilt several times.
The Muslims turn toward the Ka’aba in prayer every day. Moreover, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, millions of Muslims from around the world, irrespective of nationality, gender, color, social stature and culture humbly stand before the sacred Ka’aba and worship the oneness of Allah. The Ka’aba is the pride of the Muslims.