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The Kaaba (Arabic: , : "Cube") is a cuboidal building in Meccamarker, Saudi Arabiamarker, and is the most sacred site in Islam. The building predates Islam, and, according to Islamic tradition, the first building at the site was built by Abraham. The building has a mosque built around it, the Masjid al-Harammarker. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayer, no matter where they are.

One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires every capable Muslim to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. Multiple parts of the Hajj require pilgrims to walk several 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 two million pilgrims simultaneously gather to circle the building on the same day.

Location and physical attributes

Technical drawing of the Kaaba showing dimensions and elements
Left: Conceptual representation of the Kaaba, as built by Abraham; Right: Representation of the Kaaba as it stands today
The Kaaba is a large masonry structure roughly the shape of a cube. It is made of granite from the hills near Meccamarker, and stands upon a marble base, which projects outwards about . It is approximately high, with sides measuring by . The four corners of the Kaaba roughly face the four cardinal directions of the compass. In the eastern corner of the Kaaba is the Ruknu l-Aswad "the Black Corner"" or al-Ħajaru l-Aswad "the Black Stonemarker", possibly a meteorite remnant; at the northern corner is the Ruknu l-ˤĪrāqī "the Iraqi corner". The western corner is the Ruknu sh-Shāmī "the Levantine corner" and the southern is Ruknu l-Yamanī "the Yemeni corner".

The Kaaba is covered by a black silk and gold curtain known as the kiswah, which is replaced yearly. About two-thirds of the way up runs a band of gold-embroidered calligraphy with Qur'anic text, including the Islamic declaration of faith, the Shahada.

In modern times, entry to the Kaaba's interior is generally not permitted except for certain rare occasions and for a limited number of guests. The entrance is a door set above the ground on the north-eastern wall of the Kaaba, which acts as the façade. There is a wooden staircase on wheels, usually stored in the mosque between the arch-shaped gate of Banū Shaybah and the well of Zamzammarker. Inside the Kaaba, there is a marble and limestone floor. The interior walls are clad with marble halfway to the roof; tablets with Qur'anic inscriptions are inset in the marble. The top part of the walls are covered with a green cloth decorated with gold embroidered Qur'anic verses. Caretakers perfume the marble cladding with scented oil, the same oil used to anoint the Black Stonemarker outside.

There is also a semi-circular wall opposite, but unconnected to, the north-west wall of the Kaaba known as the hatīm. This is in height and in width, and is composed of white marble. At one time the space lying between the hatīm and the Kaaba belonged to the Kaaba itself, and for this reason it is not entered during the tawaf (ritual circumambulation). Some believe that the graves of Abu Simbel, prophet Ishmael and his mother Hagar are located in this space.

Muslims throughout the world face the Kaaba during prayers, which occur five times a day. For most places around the world, coordinates for Meccamarker suffice. Worshippers in the Sacred Mosquemarker pray in concentric circles around the Kaaba.

Black Stone

The Black Stone is a significant feature of the Kaaba, believed by Muslims to date back to the time of Adam and Eve. Located on the eastern corner of the Kaaba, it is about in diameter and surrounded by a silver frame. All Hajj pilgrims must attempt to kiss the Stone as Muhammad once did. If they cannot then a flying kiss would be sufficient Because of the large crowds, this is not always possible, and so as pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, they are to point to the Stone on each circuit.


Before Islam

As little is known of the history of the Kaaba, there are various opinions regarding its formation and significance.

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 Meccamarker with a place called Macoraba mentioned by Ptolemy. His text is believed to date from the second century AD, before the rise of Islam, and described it as a foundation in southern Arabia, built around a sanctuary. The area probably did not start becoming an area of religious pilgrimage until around the year AD 500. It was around then that the Quraysh tribe (into which Muhammad was later born) took control of it, and made an agreement with the local Kinana Bedouins for control. 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 Wellmarker, an area of considerable religious significance.

In her book, Islam: A Short History, Karen Armstrong asserts that the Kaaba was dedicated to Hubal, a Nabatean deity, and contained 360 idols which either represented the days of the year, or were effigies of the Arabian pantheon. Once a year, tribes from all around the Arabian peninsula, be they 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 is the only one built of stone. The others also allegedly had counterparts to 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 time 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 Stonemarker was a further symbol of this as a meteorite that had fallen from the sky and linked heaven and earth. According to the Boston Globe, the Kaaba was a shrine for the Daughters of God (al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat) and Hubal.

According to Sarwar, about four hundred 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 tribe. 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 keep the peace among the perpetually warring tribes, Mecca was declared a sanctuary where no violence was allowed within of the Kaaba. This combat-free zone allowed Mecca to thrive not only as a place of pilgrimage, but also as a trading center.

Patricia Crone disagrees with most academic historians on most issues concerning the history of early Islam, including the history of the Kaaba. In Makkan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Crone writes that she believes that the identification of Macoraba with the Kaaba is false, and that Macoraba was a town in southern Arabia in what was then known as Arabia Felix.

Many accounts , including Muslim accounts, and some accounts written by 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 Makkan 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 last three centuries before the rise of Islam.

According to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, "before the rise of Islam it was revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage." According to the Germanmarker historian Eduard Glaser, the name "Kaaba" may have been related to the southern Arabian or Ethiopianmarker word "mikrab", signifying a temple. Again, Crone disputes this etymology.

Islamic tradition

Picture of the Kaaba taken in 1880
According to the Qur'an, the Kaaba was first built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismāʿīl (Ishmael). Islamic traditions assert that the Kaaba "reflects" a house in heaven called al-Baytu l-Maʿmur ( ) and that it was first built by the first man, Adam. Ibrahim and Ismail rebuilt the Kaaba on the old foundations.

At the time of Muhammad

At the time of Muhammad (CE 570-632), 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, including Jesus and Mary. Muhammad earned the enmity of his tribe by claiming the shrine for the new religion of Islam that he preached. He wanted 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 Medinamarker in 622.

After this pivotal migration, or Hijra, the Muslim community became a political and military force. In 630, Muhammad and his followers returned to Mecca as conquerors, and he destroyed the 360 idols in and around the Kaaba. While destroying each idol, Muhammad recited which says "Truth has arrived and falsehood has perished for falsehood is by its nature bound to perish."

The Kaaba was re-dedicated as an Islamic house of worship, and henceforth, the annual pilgrimage was to be a Muslim rite, the Hajj, which visits the Kaaba and other sacred sites around Mecca.Islamic histories also mention a reconstruction of the Kaaba around 600. 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 Stonemarker 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 Seamarker coast at Shu'ayba, and the work was undertaken by a Coptic carpenter called Baqum.

It is also claimed by the Shīʿa that the Kaaba is the birth place of ʿAlī ibn Abī Tālib, the fourth caliph and cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Since Muhammad's time

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, a semi-circular wall now outside the Kaaba. 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, during the war between 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 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 lifetime.

During the Hajj of 930, the Qarmatians attacked Mecca, defiled the Zamzam Well with the bodies of pilgrims and stole the Black Stone, removing it to the oasis region of Eastern Arabia known as al-Aḥsāʾ, where it remained until the Abbasids ransomed it back in 952 CE.

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 Iranian 2000 rials banknotes.


The building is opened twice a year for a ceremony known as "the cleaning of the Kaaba." This ceremony takes place roughly fifteen days before the start of the month of Ramadan and the same period of time before the start of the annual pilgrimage.

The keys to the Kaaba are held by the Banī Shaybat (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 honored guests who ritually clean the structure, using simple brooms. Washing of the Kaaba is done with a mixture of Zamzammarker and Persian rosewater.

Qibla and prayer

Supplicating pilgrim at Masjid al-Haram
The Qibla is the Muslim name for the direction faced during prayer While it may appear to some non-Muslims that Muslims worship the Kaabamarker, it is simply the focal point for prayer. The qibla has changed at least twice.


  1. Also known as ( "The Noble Kaʿbah), ( "The Primordial House"), or ( "The Sacred House")
  2. Wensinck, A. J; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of Islam IV p. 317
  3. Hawting, G.R; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an p. 76
  4. Grunebaum, p. 18
  5. Wensinck, A. J; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of Islam IV p. 318 (1927, 1978)
  6. Grunebaum, p. 19
  7. Imoti, Eiichi. "The Ka'ba-i Zardušt", Orient, XV (1979), The Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan, pp. 65-69.
  8. Grunebaum, p. 24
  9. Armstrong, Jerusalem, p. 221
  10. Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, p. 221-222
  11. pp. 134-137
  12. p. 137
  13. Britannica 2002 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM, "Ka'bah."
  14. Azraqi, Akhbar Makkah, vol. 1, pp. 58-66
  16. pp. 84-87
  17. Cyril Glasse, New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 245. Rowman Altamira, 2001. ISBN 0759101906
  18. Sahih Bukhari 1506, 1508;Sahih Muslim 1333
  19. Sahih Bukhari 1509; Sahih Muslim 1333
  20. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. The Rituals of Hajj and ‘Umrah, Mizan, Al-Mawrid
  21. Central Bank of Iran. Banknotes & Coins: 2000 Rials. – Retrieved on 24 March 2009.
  23. Islam - Saudi Arabia Readies for Hajj Emergencies (December 29 2005), Retrieved November 30 2006.


  • Peterson, Andrew (1996). Dictionary of Islamic Architecture London: Routledge.
  • Hawting, G.R; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an
  • Elliott, Jeri (1992). Your Door to Arabia. ISBN 0-473-01546-3.
  • Mohamed, Mamdouh N. (1996). Hajj to Umrah: From A to Z. Amana Publications. ISBN 0-915957-54-x.
  • Wensinck, A. J; Ka`ba. Encyclopaedia of Islam IV
  • Karen Armstrong (2000,2002). Islam: A Short History. ISBN 0-8129-6618-x.
  • Crone, Patricia (2004). Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias.
  • [1915] The Book of History, a History of All Nations From the Earliest Times to the Present, Viscount Bryce (Introduction), The Grolier Society.
  • Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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