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Appreciating the Ka’bah

Prior to the epoch of Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il, there existed only Makkah sanctuary (haram) and the location as well as foundations of the Ka’bah (al-Masjid al-Haram), which had been instituted or appointed for humankind as early as when God created the heavens and the earth. The Quran reveals:

Indeed, the first House (of worship) established for mankind was that at Makkah — blessed and a guidance for the worlds. (3: 96)

The Prophet also confirmed:

Allah made this town (Makkah) sacred on the day He created the earth and the heavens; so it is sacred by the sacredness conferred on it by Allah until the Day of Resurrection… (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 3139)

As a result, the prophets before Ibrahim and Isma’il and their followers — just like those who came after them — were to face the place (the site of the Ka’bah, its foundations and the haram) in their prayers. When needed or commanded, a form of the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the place, too, was undertaken.

When completed, the Ka’bah’s dimensions are believed to have been as follows. It was a cubical structure with thirty-two cubits (one cubit is about half a meter) between the corner with al-Hajar al-Aswad or the Black Stone and the other corner facing Syria; twenty-two cubits between this Syrian and the West facing corner; thirty-one cubits from the latter to the corner facing the direction of Yemen, and twenty cubits between this Yemeni corner and that with the Black Stone.

The building was nine cubits high, was provided with two entrances: one on the side between the Black Stone and the Syrian corner, and the other on the opposite side flanked by the Western corner and the corner facing Yemen, but it had no ceiling. The entrances were formed directly from the ground. They were just open outlines in the walls. There were no doors to block off or allow access to the building.

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People would enter the Ka’bah from one entrance and exit from the other. A well was excavated inside the Ka’bah to the right of the entrance that was in the wall between the Black Stone and the Syrian corner. It was used as a store, or a depository, where gifts donated to the Ka’bah were kept. It was 3 cubits deep.

The Ka’bah was an unpretentious stone structure. From the inception till the completion of construction, Ibrahim and Isma’il are believed to have been laying one course, or line, of stones a day. However, it is unclear whether that applied to the whole building, or individual walls, but the former, rather, seemed to be the case.

No mud was used either for bricks or as plaster for coating the walls. Since it was roofless and its two entrances had no doors, neither was timber needed. The stone over which Ibrahim stood and built is called Maqam Ibrahim (Ibrahim’s station). It is still in existence today and is revered by all Muslims. Even some religious rituals are directly associated with it.

Ibrahim is said to have built the Ka’bah using building materials from five special earthly mounts: Hira’ in Makkah, Tur Sina’ in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, Tur Zayta’ in Palestine, Jabal Lubnan in Lebanon and al-Judiyy which is a mount at which Prophet Nuh’s ark came to rest after the great flood, demonstrating thereby its universal character and appeal, as well as penchant for bringing together and reconciling between people of different backgrounds and dispositions.

The place thus was a catalyst of peace and security; it was an eternal beacon of human hope and optimism. Based on the historic significance of those mountains and hills, some of whose parts had been integrated into the form and configuration of the Ka’bah, the Ka’bah could also be regarded as a symbol and microcosm of entire human history. It should be seen as an epitome of perpetual human struggle, human civilizational challenges and victories.

Makkah is an uncultivated and barren valley surrounded by low rocky hill ranges. That the Ka’bah was originally built as an unpretentious stone structure was extremely apt, making it appropriate to its time, place and people.

The Ka’bah was in total harmony with its natural environment. It grew, so to speak, out of the site. It at once symbolized and reverberated Makkah’s attribute as haram (blessed sanctuary). In consequence, it always seemed naturally beautiful, hence sustainable and even organic, satisfying physical and spiritual needs. It exuded an aura of veneration, lure, awe and spiritual and psychological serenity.

Due to all this, plus the supplication of Ibrahim that the believing human hearts incline towards it, the Ka’bah was always dearly loved and longed for. Because it is a result of a direct heavenly initiative and involvement, the Ka’bah’s intrinsic charm and beauty were always beyond description.

Lost for words, while watching, touching or circumambulating the Ka’bah, most people tend to give in to the stream of abundant but incommunicable spiritual, psychological and even intellectual emotions the circumstances generate. As if they all sense that being silent and self-effacing, acknowledging the supernatural and divine overarching character of the Ka’bah (al-Masjid al-Haram), while juxtaposing it with their flaws, inadequacies and this-worldliness, is the best and most profitable mood.

Any other approach is set to divest visitors and worshipers of some of the boons they have come for and were instinctively looking forward to procuring.

Feeling thus hopeless, some people resort to closing their eyes and try to “watch” and “embrace” the Ka’bah rather by means of their elated hearts and ecstatic souls.

That way, all the inapt and under the circumstances “impairing” physical senses are temporarily shut, and through that metaphysical God-granted capacity that graces each and every human creature, one’s self is attempted to be elevated to a higher spiritual vintage point from where the Ka’bah could be “seen” and experienced better.

Such is also an attempt intended to identify and equate one’s ontological meaning and purpose with the ontological meaning and purpose of the Ka’bah and al-Masjid al-Haram.

Losing completely one’s self inside the infinite spiritual domains of the Ka’bah and al-Masjid al-Haram, it goes without saying, is the best way for a person to find and experience the quintessence of his own being, existence as a whole and the Ka’bah phenomenon itself.

Furthermore, the Ka’bah (al-Masjid al-Haram) is the spiritual compass point of believers in every time and place. Not only that they face its direction in their daily prayers, but also they use it as a source of endless life inspiration and guidance.

The Quran is explicit that al-Masjid al-Haram has been “established for mankind…blessed and a guidance (huda) for the worlds.” (3: 96).

At the same time, the Quran also makes known that Adam, upon descending on the earth to undertake his vicegerency mission (khilafah), was informed by God that

…surely there will come to you a guidance (huda) from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (2:38)

While the two forms of guidance are by no means synonymous, they surely complement each other in the sense that the former signifies both the outcome and embodiment of the latter and its actualization on earth. Thus, the existence of Adam and his life mission, and the existence of al-Masjid al-Haram, at least in the form of direction, site and foundations, could not be separated from each other.

About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].