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Kaaba

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Kaaba

    The Kaaba, a shrine located near the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, is the most sacred place in the Muslim world. It is also called the “House of God.” Millions of Muslims throughout the world turn toward the Kaaba five times each day when they pray. In addition, Muslims bury their dead with their heads pointing toward the Kaaba.

    The shrine is also the primary destination of Muslims during the hajj. Pilgrims visiting Mecca walk counterclockwise around the Kaaba seven times. This ritual imitates angels walking around God's heavenly throne and symbolizes for the pilgrims their entry into the presence of God.

    The Arabic word kaaba means “cube” and reflects the cube shape of the gray stone structure. The Kaaba measures about 33 feet wide, 50 feet long, and 45 feet high. Its corners coincide with the four points of the compass. The interior of the Kaaba is bare, except for three pillars supporting the roof and silver and gold lamps hanging from the ceiling. During most of the year, the Kaaba is covered with a woven black cloth that has verses from the Qur'an embroidered on it.

    According to popular Muslim tradition, Adam built the Kaaba as a copy of the heavenly house of God. Its destruction during Noah's Flood left only the foundation. The Qur'an says that Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail built the shrine. By the time of Muhammad , however, the Kaaba had come under the control of the Quraysh, the major tribe of Mecca, and was used as a shrine for idols of their gods. In 630 , when Muhammad triumphantly returned from exile to his native Mecca, he rid the Kaaba of its idols and restored the monotheistic religion of Abraham.

    The Black Stone of Mecca, a sacred stone that is possibly a piece of meteorite, is fixed into the wall in the eastern corner of the Kaaba. It measures about 12 inches in diameter. When pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, they often try to touch or kiss the stone. Worn down by centuries of contact, the stone's cracked and broken pieces are now held together by a wide silver band. Tradition says that Adam received the stone when he and Eve were expelled from paradise so he could obtain forgiveness of his sins. Muslims believe that Abraham and Ismail later placed the stone in the Kaaba when they rebuilt it. The stone is a symbol of God's covenant with Abraham and Ismail and with the Muslim community itself. According to tradition, the stone was originally white but turned black after absorbing the sins of the many pilgrims who have touched it. See also Abraham; Hajj; Ismail; Mecca.

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