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The Kaaba or Ka'aba, in the mosque known as Masjid al Haram in Mecca (Makkah), is the holiest place in Islam. It is a large masonry building in the shape of a cube. It is made of granite which came from the near by hills around Mecca. The structure is 50 ft. high (15.24 m), the shorter walls are about 35 ft long (10.67 m) and the longest walls are 40 ft. long (12.19 m). It is covered by golden lettered and black silk cloth, known as the Kiswa, which is replaced yearly [1] [2]. It contains the Hajar el Aswad (the sacred "Black Stone"), which is presumed by most sources to be a meteorite remnant.

At the time of Muhammad, his tribe, the Quraysh was in charge of the Kaaba, which was at that time a shrine to inter-tribal Arabic pagan gods. Since Mecca was in the crossroads of major international trade routes, the Kaaba and its precincts also served as a place of sanctuary for caravan pagan worship, tribal and tradesmen poetry contests, and an oracle. It is also thought that the Kaaba represented the solar system, for it housed a zodiac "machine" of daily shrines that consisted of over 360 idols, each of which was probably a symbol representing a complex astronomical relationship between each day of the year, the months, and survival rituals tied to seasonal events. Muhammad, preaching the doctrines of one God (called Allah) and the threat of the Day of Judgment, did not at first have much success in the city of Mecca, which was a teeming metropolis in its own right, filled with people from as far away as India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece.

The Quraysh persecuted and harassed him continuously, and he was forced to flee to Medina. On his return from this flight, known as the Hijra, the Kaaba was re-dedicated as a house of worship to Allah.

In Islam, the Kaaba represents the House of God. This physical centre on the planet earth symbolises the centre of the Universe, as well as the centre of life, of the Muslim community, and the centre of the mind to which all things are linked and around which they revolve. It is the centre of orientation which gives meaning and value to the lives and existence of all Muslims and all Muslim nations.

According to the Qur'an, the Kaaba was built by the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ishmael [3].

The Qibla and prayer

At prayer in Damascus
At prayer in Damascus

The Qibla, for any point of reference on the Earth, is the direction of the Kaaba. In Muslim religious practice, supplicants must face this direction in prayer. It should be noted that Muslims do not worship the Kaaba or its contents, any more than Christians worship churches or crosses; the Kaaba is simply a focal point for prayer.

The Qibla points along the shortest path to the Kaaba. Because the Earth is approximately spherical, this path will be a great circle such as airplanes fly. The location of the Kaaba (at ) can be used together with spherical geometry to determine the Qibla for any given point on the Earth.

In ancient times, Muslims traveling abroad used an astrolabe to find the Qibla.

In the early years of Islam, Muslims used to pray towards the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (and it is therefore called the First of the Two Qiblas). During Muhammad's exile in Medina, the Qibla was changed to the Kaaba, where it has remained ever since. Some academic scholars have attributed this change in the direction of prayer to a rift between Muhammad and the Jews in Medina.

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Last updated: 08-01-2005 01:39:32
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12