Ka?ba (Kaaba; from the Arabic Word for "Cube")

views updated

KAʿBA (Kaaba; from the Arabic word for "Cube")

Also called Bait Allah al Haram ("Holy House of God," in Arabic), this is the sacred building in Mecca, square in form, on the corner of which is found the "Black Stone" (al hajr al-aswad), which had pre-Islamic religious significance. Built by Adam, according to tradition, and destroyed in the Deluge, the Kaʿba was reconstructed by the prophet Abraham, who made of it a site dedicated to the cult of a singular god, replacing the multitudinous idols in the city. Thereby, the Black Stone, which was white at the beginning and was supposed to have been given to him by the archangel Gabriel, became an object of veneration, thought to eliminate all humankind's impurities. In his turn, Ishmael, the son of Abraham, was thought to have discovered the Zamzam spring, located in the courtyard of Hijr, at the foot of the Kaʿba, a spring that became a symbol of purity. The tombs of Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, are located in this courtyard.

In 630, after having conquered Mecca, Muhammad had all the idols and their temples destroyed, except for the Kaʿba and the Black Stone. Mecca became the goal of a ritual pilgrimage and the pole of orientation of Muslim prayer, wherever it is practiced in the world. On the northwest side of the building is found the "gutter" (mizab), coated with gold, called the "gutter of pity" (mizab al-rahma). The Kaʿba is covered by a precious drapery, al-Kiswa al-Sharifa, black in color, made long ago in Egypt and offered by the caliph. In the twenty-first century, the upkeep of the Kaʿba is the responsibility of the personnel of the Waqf.

SEE ALSO Abraham;Adam;Ishmael;Muhammad;Waqf.