Makkah and Madinah The Five Pillars of Islam

History of the Ka’aba

16 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Orientation As a pilgrim, the walk through one of the entrances into the Haram Mosque in Makkah for the first time is an amazing feeling. As you walk through the long lit and air- c o n d i t i o n e d prayer halls passing containers of Zum Zum water (the well situated in Makkah) along the way, in the distance you can see the glare of the sunlit or moonlit courtyard. It is only as the pilgrims get nearer the courtyard that they are able to first make out the box shaped building in the centre of the courtyard known as the Ka’aba and draped in a black cloth known as a kiswah. On one corner is the famous Black Stone known in Arabic as the Hajr e Aswad. The four corners of the Ka’aba face towards neigh- bouring countries and so have taken the names Yemeni, Iraqi, Syrian and Black (referring to the Black Stone) corners. It is striking to see people circling the building at all hours of the day or night performing their tawaf (seven circuits of the building). Many pilgrims rush to get to the Black Stone when they see an opening in the crowd, while others wait in line to pray By Fazal Ahmad – UK History of the Ka’aba One of the most recognisable religious icons in the world is the ancient House of Worship in Makkah known as the Ka’aba. Every year, millions of Muslims from around the world flock there on pilgrimage as they will be doing in January 2004. This article traces the history of the Ka’aba from its origins, through its pagan phase and through the events till it became the centre of the Islamic World. It also takes a closer look at the Black Stone and the Well of Zum Zum. 17The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba at the doorway of the building. The sheer euphoria of being close to the Ka’aba, (an icon they will have grown up with from afar without fully understanding its significance) is enough to bring many pilgrims to tears. Even looking up into the sky, the feeling deepens as you see birds circling the building almost mimicking the tawaf of the human pilgrims below them. It is as if the whole of the universe sees this as the gateway to their Creator. There are several huge gates to the modern complex such as the Umrah Gate or the King Abd al- Aziz Gate which overlooks many of the new hotels that have sprung up next to the Haram to cater for the tens of thousands of pilgrims that visit all year round. There are several other features around the central building. There is a shrine known as the Muqam-i-Ibrahim which, so the legend holds, contains the foot- prints of Prophet Abraham( a s ) from when he was building the Ka’aba. There are the steps down to the well of Zum Zum, and then there is the now-enclosed route between the two hills of Safa and Marwah where pilgrims perform circuits between the two hills. On one side of the Ka’aba is a semi-circular wall known as Al- Hatim. This is surrounded by a 1 metre high wall around which pilgrims go when they perform their circuits. The wall actually encloses an area known as Hijr Ismail (the Enclosure of Ishmael(as)) and in fact, a 3 metre The Haram Mosque, Mecca 18 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba portion of this enclosure was originally part of the larg e r Ka’aba structure itself. The visitors are struck by the religious history under their feet and all around them. As with any such place, you begin to wonder about the authenticity and history of the various features and sites. Origins of Ka’aba The use of the site in Saudi Arabia as a place for worship is thought to date back to the time of Adam(as). As such, it would have been the first House built for the worship of God. It was built in a natural valley between several hills which gave it a good secure position, but also made it prone to flooding. Hence, the structure which for centuries had no roof, had to be rebuilt several times. After Adam ( a s ), it is thought that it was rebuilt by his son Seth(as). What is more certain is that 19The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba Abraham(as) built a structure not unlike the current building in order to worship the One true God with his son Ishmael(as) and as such is credited with the distinction of the ‘Place of Abraham’ in the following verses of the Holy Qur’an: Surely the first house founded for mankind is at Becca (the valley of Makkah), abounding in blessings and a guidance for all peoples. In it are manifest Signs; it is the place of Abraham; and whoso enters it, enters peace. And Pilgrimage to the House is a duty which men – those who can find a way thither – owe to Allah. (Ch.3: Vs. 97-98) At the time, the only local residents in Makkah apart from I s h m a e l( a s ) were the tribe of Jurhum who originated from Yemen. The Qur’an confirms that Prophet Abraham( a s ) w a s instrumental in establishing the Ka’aba for pilgrimage to worship God as it states: And We commanded Abraham and Ishmael, saying, ‘Purify My House for those who perform the circuit and those who remain therein for devotion and those who bow down and fall prostrate in p r a y e r. ’ (Ch.2: V.126) He was then commanded to go to Mount Thabir and invite people to come for pilgrimage to this old house. For many centuries, the guardianship of the Ka’aba remained among the descendents of Ishamel. In the centuries that followed, the structure was rebuilt several times by the tribes of Amalikah, Banu Jurhum and the Quraish. Two centuries before the mission of the Holy Prophet(sa), one of his ancestors Qusayy ibn Kilab took the mantle of managing the Ka’aba. He demolished and rebuilt the structure on a firmer foundation, and added a timber roof. He then built his office on one side, and allocated sides of 20 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba the structure to the local tribes. The local tribes built their houses adja- cent to their allocated portion of the Ka’aba. 18 years before Hijra, the Ka’aba once again fell prone to flooding. The Ka’aba was this time re- built by the Egyptian carpenter Baqum using teakwood recovered from a wrecked Byzantine ship, and local stone. Decline to Paganism From the time of Abraham (as), his progeny included the Hebrew tribes who followed Moses(as) and adopted the new religion of Judaism. This new religion also spread into Arabia through the migration of the Jews to towns such as Madinah. However, Judaism was exclusive to the Hebrews and was not preached to the Arabs, who followed their own pagan beliefs. This included the worship of pagan deities such as al-Lat (a goddess whose idol was housed in Taif), al-Uzza (goddess whose shrine was located in the Nakhla valley near Mecca, and was similar to the Greek goddess Venus) and al- Manat (goddess whose temple was at Qudayd on the Red Sea). All of these deities were shared wih other local cultures such as the Nabateans and appeared in Petra and other sites. Indeed the Nabateans had been very close to the Quraish of Makkah. Even at the time of Abraham(as), he had to keep his people from polluting the Ka’aba with idols and to explain to them that this Djin blocks of Dushara, Petra 21The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba was a symbolic house of God, but that God did not live there physically as He was Omnipresent. Following his death, the people again started placing idols in the Ka’aba. Over a period of time, the pagan beliefs became more and more obscure. Worship now took the form of chanting, whistling and dancing around the temple. An onlooker would have been puzzled as to what these people were doing. Deities such as Dushara would require animal sacrifices such a camels. Al-Lat was the companion of Dushara. Other religions also respected the Ka’aba. The Sabaeans respected Ka’aba as one of their seven holy sanctuaries. Persians believed that the spirit of Hormuz was present here and would come on their own pilgrimage. There are even traditions claiming that the Hindu deity Siva visited here while travelling in the Hejaz. The moral fabric of Arabia had not been enriched by this idol worship and paganism. The Arabs were known to be a treacherous race who did not value their ladies and daughters, and who were less than trustworthy in trade. History had shown that other nearby races such as the Thamud had been destroyed because of their mis- deeds. The paganism of Arabia which centred around the Ka’aba was socially destructive. The Arabs felt that they could get what they needed without needing to resort too far to their deities, but in the case of Makkah, it had become a good revenue earner around the pilgrims that visited the site. It would take the advent of Islam to destroy the idols and restore sanity to the Arabs. Attack by Abraha Just before the birth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad( s a ) in 570, the site was the subject of a bizarre attack which is the subject of a chapter in the Holy Qur’an (Al-Fil – the Elephant). At that time, Makkah was a pagan town on a major trade route to Syria which also took in other famous stops such as Petra, 22 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba the rose-red city carved out of rock in southern Jordan, and Damascus in modern Syria. To the South, the Christians in Yemen were becoming perturbed, and chose to send an army led by Abraha, the Christian viceroy of Abyssinia to attack the Ka’aba. They wanted their local Church in San’a to be a greater attraction than the Ka’aba. The most striking feature of the army was that it also had an elephant, hence the name of the chapter in the Qur’an. The Makkan chiefs (including Abd al-Muttalib, grandfather of the Holy Prophet( s a )) tried to negotiate with Abraha, but he had his mission and was intent to carry it out. It was then that Divine intervention took over. The army was struck down with smallpox and utterly destroyed without even reaching the battlefield. Islamic Victory The Black Stone needed to be replaced in the corner of the Ka’aba in its housing after the structure was rebuilt following local floods. The various tribal leaders felt that it was a matter of honour as to who should replace the Stone, and this was creating tension between the tribal leaders. It was therefore a great sign of wisdom when the young Holy CO U L D T H I S V E R S E H AV E B E E N R E F E R R I N G TO T H E C O R N E R S TO N E O F T H E KA’A B A, T H E BL A C K STO N E I N MA K K A H? WH E N T H E JE W S B U I LT T H E TE M P L E O F JERUSALEM, THEY HAD REJECTED THE HOUSE OF GOD AND THE STONE FROM THE TIME OF ABRAHAM(AS). HOWEVER, WITH THE IMPENDING DAWN OF ISLAM, THAT STONE WHICH HAD LAPSED INTO THE HANDS OF PAGANS WOULD SOON BECOME THE ‘CHIEF CORNERSTONE’ AS THE WHOLE WORLD WOULD FACE TOWARDS IT TO PRAY TO THE ONE GOD. 23The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba Prophet(sa) suggested an approach in which the Stone was placed on a cloth, and then all of the tribal leaders were able to maintain their status and dignity by each holding a corner of the cloth as the Stone was restored to its rightful place by the Holy Prophet(sa) himself (who at that time was respected for being trustworthy even though he had not declared his Divine mission yet). As Muhammad(sa) proclaimed his mission, he was rejected by many of the people of Makkah and driven out of the city. He returned victorious a few years later in a bloodless victory most famous for the manner in which he then forgave the people that had tortured and killed him and so many of his early followers. He went straight to the Ka’aba and after performing seven circuits around the house, he then destroyed each of the 360 idols in the structure including the idol of Hubal who had apparently inspired attacks against the Muslims. There was an idol for each day of the lunar year. As each idol fell, he said ‘truth has come and falsehood has vanished away.’ The Prophet( s a ) then entrusted U m a r( r a ) with the duty of eradicating the pictures from the walls of the Ka’aba. After that point and ever since, the Ka’aba was restored as a place of pilgrimage for Muslims who believed in One God. The pagan shrines were once again removed, never to return. The Qur’an describes the significance of the Ka’aba for Muslims: Allah has made the Ka’aba the inviolable House, as a means of support and uplift for mankind, as also the S a c red Month and the offerings and the animals with collars. That is so that you may know that Allah knows what is in the heavens and what is in the earth, and that Allah knows all things well. (Ch.5: V.98) 24 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba The Black Stone The Black Stone itself is thought to be of meteoritic origin according to tradition. As the name suggests, it is black in colour with red and yellow mineral colours. The stone is roughly an oval shape. It was safeguarded in the mountain of Abu Qubays and incorporated into the Ka’aba by Abraham(as). The meteorite was held as significant because it came from the heavens, and adorned the house of worship for the Creator of the Universe. There was even a local legend that the stone was given to Adam(as) on his fall from paradise and was white. The stone apparently turns black when absorbing the sins of the various pilgrims that touch and kiss it, but clearly this is just local mythology. For the modern pilgrims, they start and end their circuits of the Ka’aba at the station marked by the Black Stone, and each time they pass the stone, they either move closer to the Ka’aba and if they get the opportunity, kiss the stone, or make a symbolic gesture towards it with their arms raised. This gesture towards the stone is only following the practice of the Holy Prophet(sa) as narrated by the second Caliph Umar (ra): ‘I know this is only a stone no different from other similar stones, and were it not the memory that the Prophet( s a ) expressed his gratitude to God for His favours and bounties by kissing it, I would pay no attention to it.’ (Sahih Bukhari) Some scholars suggest that the Stone may even be referred to in the Bible. For example, in Psalm 118 in the Old Testament, we read the following: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.’ (Psalm 118:22) Could this have been a meta- phorical reference to a stone, or a 25The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba literal reference to the Black Stone? J e s u s( a s ) then referred to this Psalm when debating with the chief priests and elders in the Temple of Jerusalem about their failure to accept the messengers sent to the Jews. Jesus (as) went on to say: ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the L o r d ’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.”? Therefore I tell you, the king- dom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ (Matthew 21:42-44) We could understand at a high level that Jesus( a s ) was announc- ing the end of prophethood for the Jews, and that a new line would begin for the people of Ishmael( a s ) that were in Arabia. The fact that he mentions the Psalm in the same context could also signify that the people of Ishmael ( a s ) were the same people that had acted as guardians of ‘the stone’ while Judaism had flourished. Abraham(as) was considered the father of Judaism and con- structed the Ka’aba on the instructions of God. Could this verse have been referring to the OVER A PERIOD OF TIME, THE GREAT MOSQUE HAS BEEN E X PA N D E D A N D I M P R O V E D W I T H T H E O U T E R WA L L CONTINUALLY EXPANDED OUTWARDS, THE COURTYARD BEING SURROUNDED BY COVERED PRAYER HALLS, AND THE WELL OF Z U M Z U M M O V I N G U N D E R G R O U N D. T H I S P E R I O D O F CONSTRUCTION GOES RIGHT BACK TO THE FIRST CALIPHS, UMAR(RA) AND UTHMAN(RA). 26 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba cornerstone of the Ka’aba, the Black Stone in Makkah?. When the Jews built the Temple of Jerusalem, they had rejected the House of God and the Stone from the time of Abraham (as). H o w e v e r, with the impending dawn of Islam, that stone which had lapsed into the hands of pagans would soon become the ‘chief cornerstone’ as the whole world would face towards it to pray to the One God. Qibla For Muslims, part of the global unity is that they all pray in one direction. To start with, Makkah and the Ka’aba were in pagan hands and the Muslims had been forced to flee and seek sanctuary in Madinah. The direction for prayers (Q i b l a) was originally set to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem which was held as a bastion of monotheistic belief whereas at the time, Makkah was still associated l a rgely with idol worship. While leading prayers in the mosque of the Banu Salimah in Madinah, the Holy Prophet( s a ) was commanded to change the direction from Jerusalem to Makkah to complete his prayers, and his congregation followed his change of direction mid- prayer. The Qur’an describes this incident as follows: Verily, We see thee turning thy face often to heaven; surely, then, will We make thee turn to the Qibla which thou likest. So turn thy face towards the S a c red Mosque; and wherever you be, turn your faces towards it. (Ch.2: V.145) Since then, that mosque has the name Masjid Qiblatain (t h e Mosque of the two Qiblas) and Muslims have always prayed in the direction of the house of God in Makkah. Disruption and Strife In its early years, schisms were forming within Islam over the rightful successors and leaders of the faith, and the political status of the various Arab states. 27The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba Unfortunately, the Ka’aba, whilst being a focus for all Muslims around the globe, also became a victim of the feuding. In 684, Makkah was under the occupation of Abd Allah ibn az- Zubayr, and was besieged by the Umayyad army. A blazing arrow from the army set fire to the Ka’aba and destroyed the structure. The destruction also caused the fracturing of the Black Stone into three pieces. It was repaired and held together with Silver. In the year 930, the Qarmatians (a Gnostic sect in Islam from Iraq) raided Makkah and carried off the Black Stone to Bahrain where it was held under threat of a ransom. When it was returned in 951 on the persuasion of the Fatimid Caliph al-Mansur, it was now in seven pieces. Construction of the Modern Mosque Over a period of time, the Great Mosque has been expanded and improved with the outer wall continually expanded outwards, the courtyard being surrounded by covered prayer halls, and the well of Zum Zum moving underground. This period of construction goes right back to the first Caliphs, Umar(ra) and Uthman (ra). The area around the Ka’aba was not densely populated at the time, and the Caliphs knew that space would become more important as Islam grew. They therefore compensated local residents and bought land around the site. U m a r( r a ) built an enclosure around the ka’aba with gates and lamps, and then Uthman(ra) built modest covered prayer halls around the central courtyard. In 684, following the Umayyad attack, Ibn az-Zubayr had the structure rebuilt out of stone and enlarged. He also had the Black Stone repaired and held together using Silver. He used mosaics and columns from a huge church in the Yemen (ironically built by Abraha who had attempted to destroy the ka’aba earlier) to decorate the covered prayer halls. By the 9th century, the 28 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba Haram Mosque had grown to something like its modern appearance. It had an outer wall with large minarets and covered prayer halls. The Ka’aba and Zum Zum were in the larg e square courtyard. In 1571, the architect Sinan (more famous for his mosque construction in Istanbul) rebuilt the Haram complex using 892 marble columns, and this was complemented by gold calli- graphy. At this time, the mosque could accomodate over 35,000 worshippers. The modern era of construction began in 1955 under the auspices of King Faisal of Saudia Arabia due to the growing demands of the huge throng of worshippers annually for Hajj (the pil- grimage). The mosque was e n l a rged to hold hundreds of thousands of worshippers. It had new floors for extra accom- modation. It also adopted modern technology in the form of ceiling fans and other mechanisms to keep the temperature bearable for w o r s h i p p e r s . The Haram Mosque, Mecca 29The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba Probably one of the most noticeable changes was when the treck between the hills of Safa and Marwah was enclosed and covered. The modern pilgrim sees a long tiled floor with a dip in the middle, and then a rise to some rocks at either end where the actual ‘hills’ are. There is a sign near the middle to signify the time when the pilgrim is expected to run rather than walk between the two hills. The actual significance is less obvious now that the course is covered and enclosed in this way. In reality, this relates to the story of when the wife of Abraham( a s ) w a s running between the hills searching for water for her baby. There was a dip where she lost sight of her baby and would run until she once again had line of sight to her child. It is at that point that pilgrims also run. Kiswah (Covering of the Ka’aba) The Ka’aba itself has been covered by a cloth with Arabic inscriptions for many centuries, known as the Kiswah. The reader is probably familiar with the black embroidered silk and cotton fabric that adorns the Ka’aba today. What may be more surprising is that the Kiswah was at various times made of red and then green cloth. It was not until the time of Khalifa al-Nasir Al-Abbasi (11 8 0 – 1225) that the colour of the cloth was changed to black, and it has remained black ever since. The Kiswah is changed every y e a r, and the old cloth is cut into pieces and distributed among various institutions and to pilgrims as a souvenir of their visit. Well of Zum Zum The spring of Zum Zum is situated very close to the Ka’aba and originates from the time of Abraham(as) when his wife Hagira was searching for water for their baby son Ishmael( a s ). Wa t e r appeared and trickled down the hill, and this was the discovery of the spring of Zum Zum. After many centuries, the We l l was covered and forgotten, and it was only at the time of Abd Al- 30 The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba Muttalib, the grandfather of the Holy Prophet( s a ) that the well was re-discovered just after the incident with Abraha described e a r l i e r. Traditions suggest that he was guided to dig the well in a v i s i o n . There are other wells in the area such as Al-Yusrah and Ar- R w a near the mount of Arafah. Zum Zum itself comes from a source u n d e rground some 35 metres d e e p . As Islam spread into North Africa, the moorish converts to Islam were keen to show close links with the origins of Islam. Traditions exist in Kairouan, modern Tunisia, in which at the time of the founding of Kairouan by Uqba ibn Nafi in 670, the military leader dug to find water and was amazed to see his old vessel from Makkah floating in there. The inference was that the local well was linked directly to Zum Zum. Obviously this is the stuff of legend and not baked in fact, but it reflects the need of the distant Muslims to have a connection to the Ka’aba. The Muslims in d i fferent countries already prayed in the direction of Makkah, but they also wished that they had a hereditary direct connection not just to the line of the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ), but also to the Ka’aba, the nerve centre of Islam. Most pilgrims are taught that the water will cure ailments, and that the same original well has been serving millions of pilgrims since the start of time. Certainly, to the pilgrim, the water tastes wonderful and refreshing, and it is a tradition to take home a supply of Zum Zum for family and friends. Even scientific research conducted in 1971 following doubts raised by an Egyptian showed that the water was very rich in Calcium, Magnesium and Flourides which make it taste very good and also have a germicidal effect which is obviously very beneficial for pilgrims in this harsh climate. It is however likely that the original well was running dry a long time ago, and it required 31The Review of Religions – January 2004 History of the Ka’aba other local wells and sources to be connected to Zum Zum in order to keep the supply active. Conclusions We have seen how the Ka’aba has a line of religious activity traced back to Abraham(as) and that although it had periods of pagan activity, the larger period has seen it as a place of worship of the One True God. Makkah provides inspiration for millions of Muslims around the globe and unites them in their five daily prayers. The Ka’aba is the centrepiece of the establishment of monotheism in Arabia. It has attracted millions of pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah, and even other great messengers such as Guru Baba Nanak ( a s ) a r e known to have visited here on p i l g r i m a g e . For the pilgrims to Makkah, understanding the history and background of the Ka’aba helps greatly in appreciating the places and activities involved in their p i l g r i m a g e . References 1. The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Cyril Glasse, Harper San Francisco 1999. 2. Rushdie – Haunted by his unholy ghosts, Arshad Ahmedi, Avon Books, London 1997. 3. Life of Muhammad, Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Islam International Publications 1990. 4. The Mosque – History, arc h i t e c t u r a l development and regional diversity, Martin Frishman & Hasan-uddin Khan, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London 1994. 5. Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Tru t h, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Islam International Publications 1998. 6. Islam – A short history , Karen Armstrong, Pheonix Press, London 2001. 7. The Ka’aba- House of Allah , Mrs Rashida Hargey, Review of Religions, Vol.92, No.5/6. 8. Stories of the Pro p h e t s, Imam Ibn Kathir (700 – 774 AH), Darussalam Publishers, Riyadh. 9. Zum Zum water – A Miracle, Moinuddin Ahmed, based upon research conducted by Tariq Hussein of Riyadh. 10. Perished Nations , Harun Yahya, Ta-Ha Publishers, Istanbul 2001.