History of the Ka’ba

“History of the Ka’ba”

Al-Azhar Magazine –February 1969

The Ka’ba is the first sanctuary to be erected for the mankind on earth. The eyes of the whole Muslim world fixed on that central spot which saw the first glimmerings of the light of truth. It is to this holy place that all Muslims turn at the time of prayers and make their pilgrimage. As Ka’ba is an inescapable part of the Islamic religion, and there is concentrated the adoration of millions, and the chief features of the Hajj center round it, something must be known about the history, name and description of this Sacred House.

The root word ‘Ka’ba’ means it became high and exalted or became prominent. This Sacred House is called Ka’ba on account of its glory and exaltation. It is a rectangular building, almost in the center of Masjid Al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque of Mecca). The front (north-east) and back (south-west) walls are each forty feet in length and the two side walls thirty –five feet. The door of the Ka’ba is in the north-east wall, about seven feet from the ground, near the Black Stone. A stair case is placed in front of it to enable the visitors to reach the entrance.

The Hajar Al-Aswad (the Black Stone) is built into the wall in the east corner of the Ka’ba at the height of about five feet. It is of a reddish black color about eight inches in diameter and is now kept in a silver bant. Within the Sacred Mosque is a small building called the Maqam Ibrahim. It means the place of Ibrahim, and his name handed down from antiquity as a decided proof of the connection of Prophet Ibrahim with the Ka’ba. The Holy Quran referred to the history, antiquity and the connection of Ibrahim with the Ka’ba in the following verses:

It means: “Lo! The first sanctuary appointed for mankind was that at Becca, a blessed place, a guidance to the peoples; wherein are plain memorials (of Allah’s guidance); the place where Abraham stood up to pray; and whosoever entereth it is safe. And pilgrimage to the House is a duty unto Allah for mankind, for him who can find a way thinker. As for him who disbelieveth, (let him know that) lo! Allah is independent of (all) creatures…” (3: 96-97)

There is nothing in the Holy Quran or in the Hadith (tradition of the Prophet) to show when and by whom the Ka’ba was first built ; but it is stated in the Holy Quran to be the first House appointed for mankind, in one place it is called Al-Baith Al-Atiq or the Ancient House. It appears from the Holy Quran that the Ka’ba was already there when Ibrahim left Ismail in the wilderness of Arabia, as the Quran says:

It means: “Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near unto The Holy House, our Lord! That they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and provide Thou them with fruits in order that they may be thankful.” (14:37)

It would seem that the Ka’ba was then in a demolished condition and was rebuilt by Ibrahim and Ismail as stated in this verse:

It means: “And when Abraham and Ismael were raising the foundations of the House, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower”. (2:127)

In a long Hadith of Ibn Abbas reported by Bukhari , speaking of Ibrahim leaving Ismail and his mother near the Ka’ba, and how long after this the father and the son re-built the house, it is said…Besides being in a ruined condition, it seems to have had idols placed in it and Ibrahim was required to purify these , as stated in the Holy Quran:

It means: “And when We made the House (at Mecca) a resort for mankind and a sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham stood (to pray): And We imposed a duty upon Abraham and Ismail, (saying): Purify My house for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves (in worship)”. (2:125)

The Ka’ba was again re-built by the Quraish when Prophet Muhammed was a young man and he personally took part in its building carrying stones on his shoulders. After construction a dispute arose among the tribes as to who should place the Black Stone in its place, because every tribe was desirous of having this honor. A settlement was arrived at the decision of the man who made his appearance first in the Ka’ba next morning should be accepted by all. The man who appeared first was Muhammad and then, there was a outcry that Al-Amin (the Faithful) had come. Finally the Holy Prophet decided to settle this dispute placing the stone in a cloth with his own hands and asking a representative of each of the tribes to hold a corner of that cloth and lift the stone to its place. The Prophet himself fixed it in its position.

All available historical evidence upholds the antiquity of Ka’ba and the fact of its being the first House of Divine Worship on earth. It is said in Islamic cosmology that before the world was created the Ka’ba was a focus of in the flux of pre-existence and that the world was formed from that particular point. Thus it becomes the navel of earth. Also in cosmography, the Ka’ba corresponds with the Pole star and as the latter is the highest point in the heavens, so the former is the highest point in the earth. The four corners of the Ka’ba indicate the cardinal points of the compass.

Recognizing a very high antiquity for the Ka’ba, Mr. William Muir writes….”tradition represents the Ka’ba as from time in memorial the scene of pilgrimage from all quarters of Arabia; from Yemen and Hadramaut, from the shores of the Persian Gulf, the deserts of Syria, and the distant environs of Hira and Mesopotamia, men yearly flocked to Mecca. So extensive a homage must have had its beginnings in an extremely remote age.” (Life of Muhammad by Muir).

The fact of its being a centre of pilgrimage can only have come down from time memorial, for there is no tradition or record showing that it was introduced at any time within historical memory.

The sacredness of Ka’ba and its connection with the names of Ibrahim and Ismail finds clear mentions in the early Mecca revelations. Notwithstanding all that was said in the Holy Quran with regard to the sacredness of the Ka’ba and Mecca, and the fact that pilgrimage to Mecca had been ordained as a duty of the Muslims towards the close of the Prophet’s stay at Mecca, and even the fact that it was the Prophet’s desire that the Ka’ba should be made his qibla, (as clear from Quranic verses of 2:145-146) he continued to follow the qibla of the Last Prophet before him (Al-Aqsa Mosque at Jerusalem) but at Mecca he could turn his face to both places, to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to the Ka’ba. As soon as he came to Medina he felt the difficulty that he could no more, as at Mecca, turn his face to both the places. For sixteen months at Medina, he had continued to pray with his back to Mecca, because he would not do anything of his own desire. Then the Prophet received a revelation to turn Ka’ba as the future qibla of the Muslim world.