Friday, March 10, 2006

A crash post to answer Karin.

Karin asked me about what is the Ka'ba and here I am to answer that question for her and I'll continue with the prayer posts after this... This article was taken from Islam Online.

Just a little note, if anybody has a question about anything related to Islam please don't hesitate to ask. If you don't want to make it public, you can always email me at and in God's will I'll get back to you ASAP.

The Symbolism & Related Rites of the Ka`bah

By IOL Team & Mona Abul - Fadl

Islam is a religion of relatively few symbols because it is an open, rational and practical faith. Where symbols do occur, their nature conforms with and confirms the nature of the faith.

The central and foremost symbol of Islam is the Ka`bah and the rituals associated with it. In the Qur’an, God calls the Ka`bah Al-Bayt al-Haram (the Sacred House) and Bayt Allah (House of God). This Sanctuary of God is a tangible point in space and time to assemble and “visit”. It represents how the Muslim’s world and life revolve around an exclusive and pure devotion to the One True God. The pilgrim who visits the Ka`bah must be motivated by a consuming faith and pure devotion, for there is little worldly enjoyment there in the midst of the burning desert.

The Ka`bah is the simple cube stone building in Makkah. Within a few hundred meters of it are other sites associated with the sanctification of Umm Al-Quraa (the Mother of Cities, i.e., Makkah). These sites are two little hills named Marwa and Safa and the Well of Zamzam. The water of this well originally sprang from under the feet of the infant Ishmael (Isma`il) and has flowed ever since then for the pilgrims. Indeed, this water made settlement in Makkah possible. These sites are integral to the rites of Hajj and are enclosed in the Noble Sanctuary.

The foundations of the Ka`bah were laid by Abraham (Ibrahim) and his son Ishmael (Isma`il — peace be upon them), and it was consecrated to the worship of the One True God. However, over the millennia, human folly added to the Ka`bah so that by the half millennium preceding Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the worship conducted there had degenerated into paganism and idolatry. The Ka`bah was surrounded by more than three hundred idols. The Abrahamic origins of the faith and its heritage of pure monotheism were all but buried. Yet it retained its aura of sacredness, and one “heretic” sect refused the customs of the people to nurture a memory and conviction of the One True God. Another residue of the Abrahamic tradition was a cult of peace and asylum related to the Sanctuary.

By the time Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was born, Makkah was submerged in polytheism and idolatry. Only vestiges of the pure faith remained in a symbol and a tradition. Thus, the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was the fulfillment of Revelation, of the Message of Guidance, not its beginning. It came to restore the faith to its original purity.

Hence the message of Islam was not new. What was new was the form of this message, its dimensions and scale. The message would henceforth be preserved in a Book (the Qur’an) that would be immune to the ravages of time and the folly of man but that would be accessible to all who sought the Guidance. The repository of the faith was in the Community at large. No group could claim the privilege of special knowledge or a mission not open to others. No group or individual could come between the human being and Creator. Clergies and theocracies would be obsolete. These are the chief implications of the new form of this Last Guidance. They underline the liberating essence of its core concept and foundation: tawheed.

This liberating essence constitutes the revolutionary component and the regenerative momentum of the faith. These elements continue to retain their force and relevance because of the uncontaminated purity of its sources and its core tenets. Here are some aspects of the enduring symbolism of the Ka`bah:

1. The Ka`bah is symbolic of an essence: the idea of the prime and the core. It has remained at the center of a continuous tradition of human worship and devotion. It symbolizes the integrating and unifying power of monotheism in human life.

2. The idea of the prime and the core reinforces and confirms the basic concepts of Islam as the religion of pure monotheism, and hence as the one true religion for all men and for all time. Abraham is upheld in the Qur’an not for his ancestry of the Arabs, but for being the model and the archetype of the Muslim. In its association with the Abrahamic tradition and its commemoration of it, the Ka`bah symbolizes the unity of all true religion, celebrates the brotherhood of all prophets, and the essential unity of their message.

3. The Ka`bah is not just associated with the beginnings of the pure faith and of religion. It symbolizes the message that was addressed to the People of the Book — the Jews and Christians — in order to resolve the points of dispute among them.

4. The mission of the last messenger, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), was to inaugurate an era in which Divine Guidance was openly universal, wider and more comprehensive in scope, with its injunctions spelled out in detail. The responsibility for man's fate and moral well-being would come to rest squarely on his own free choice and on a willing initiative to respond to his Creator.

5. The Ka`bah also symbolizes the common orientation and common goal of mankind: its response to the One True God. Every mosque has a mihrab (niche) that points in the direction of the Ka`bah. Wherever a Muslim stands to pray, bow and prostrate, he faces in the direction of the Ka`bah, thus reminding him of the source of identity and common purpose and goal that binds him to his community in faith.

6. The Ka`bah is symbolic both of permanence and constancy and of renewal and renewability. Upon entering the precincts of the Holy Sanctuary, every Muslim makes a pledge as he approaches the Ka`bah. He faces its door and, before beginning tawaf (circumambulation), he renews his commitment by professing the Shahadah, the Testimony of Faith (“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”). Standing in solemn humility at this station, the Muslim identifies with a whole series of similar stations and situations in which the oath of allegiance was taken, whether during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) or at any time since Abraham and Ishmael (peace be upon them) pledged to God and laid the foundations of the Ka`bah. For this reason, the door of the Ka`bah is known as Bab Al-Multazim, the door of the one who takes the oath or makes the pledge.

7. Bab Al-Multazim is just one detail of the entire state of ihram, the state of sanctification and abstinence of the pilgrim. The pilgrim settles all his worldly debts, and then removes his worldly attire. He bathes and dresses in the fresh attire of the pilgrim and rededicates himself to the Way of his Creator.
The preservation of the Ka`bah as a living symbol down the generations to this day and age and its continuity as a haven of devotion, a shelter of refuge, and a site of grace is, in itself, a sign that invites serious reflection by all those who truly care to think.

*Summarized from Introducing Islam from Within by Mona Abul-Fadl (Leicester, UK: The Islamic Foundation, 1991). Used with permission.
Another article about this and the black stone to clear the other part of Karin's question.

The Ka'bah - House of Allah

Mrs. Rashida Hargey - South Africa
The Review of Religions, May/June 1997

The Ka'bah is a stone cubicle structure measuring 15.25 m high. It is empty on the inside except for the sacred black stone (Hajr-al-Aswad) which is embedded in one corner. The Ka'bah is the physical centre of Islam. It is revered as the very House of God. The Ka'bah, as hinted in the Qur'an itself, was originally built by the Prophet Adam (as) and was, for some time, the centre of worship for his progeny. Then in the course of time people became separated into different communities and adopted different centres for worship. The Qur'an (Ch. 3, v. 97) and authentic Traditions favour the view that prior to the erection of a building on this site by Abraham some sort of structure did exist, but it had fallen into ruins and only a trace of it had remained.

Abraham, under divine guidance, then rebuilt it some 4000 years ago and it continued to remain a centre of worship for his progeny through his son Ishmael (peace be on them). But with the lapse of time it became virtually converted into a house of idols which numbered as many as 360, almost the same as the number of days in a year. At the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) however, it was again made the centre of worship for all nations -- the Holy Prophet (sa) having been sent as a Messenger to all mankind, to unite those, who had become separated after Prophet Adam (as) into one common human brotherhood.

It is said that around the year 570 A.D., the Christian Chief of Yemen, named Abraha, attempted to invade Makkah with the intention of destroying the Ka'bah. Abraha's army rode on elephants and in the Arab history the year 570 A.D. is known as the 'Year of the Elephant'. Abraha did not succeed in his mission and his army was destroyed by an epidemic of disease and a terrible storm. A special mention is made of this incident in a chapter of the Holy Qur'an in Surah Al-Fil:

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, Merciful. Knowest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the Owner of the Elephant? Did He not cause their design to miscarry? And He sent against them swarms of birds, which ate their dead bodies, striking them against stones of clay. And thus made them like broken straw, eaten up.

This is the same year in which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) was born, at which time his grandfather, Abdul-Muttalib, chief of the Arab noble tribe 'Quraish', was also the chief of Makkah.

Prophet Muhammad's (sa) desire for maintaining peace and averting conflict is quite evident from an incident that occurred when he was about 35 years old. The Quraish of Makkah decided to rebuild the Ka'bah after some cracks had appeared in its walls. All the families of the Quraish assisted in this effort. As the walls rose from the ground and the time came to replace the sacred black stone in its place, a dispute broke out. Each of the four main families of the Quraish wanted this honour exclusively for themselves and the construction of the Ka'bah came to a halt. After many days of suspended work, the Quraish assembled again and decided that the first person to enter the Ka'bah's courtyard will be chosen to settle the dispute. Muhammad (sa) happened to be the first person to pass through. He was informed of the dispute, quickly grasped the situation and placed his mantle on the ground and asked that the Black Stone be placed on it. He then asked the four families of the Quraish to hold each corner of the cloth and raise the stone to its place. Thus, through his wisdom, he averted the conflict and resolved the dispute in a manner acceptable to the Quraish.

No one knows for sure the background to the Black Stone (Hajr-al-Aswad), except for the fact that it was already there when Prophet Ibrahim and Ismael (peace be on them) rebuilt the Ka'bah under the direction of God. As the Ka'bah was a centre of worship centuries before the advent of Prophet Ibrahim (as), it is believed that the Black Stone was part of the original structure. And as the structure fell to ruin over the centuries, traces of the foundation with the Black Stone remained. God directed Prophet Ibrahim (as) to the site of the remaining traces of the foundation and directed him to rebuild the Ka'bah for the purpose of worship. The Black Stone was embedded in one of the four corners above ground level.

Though it had obviously been revered and respected by the previous generations, it should be borne in mind that the Black Stone itself does not hold any spiritual significance at all. The pilgrim may touch or if he can approach near enough, kiss the Black Stone, which is an emotional gesture calling to mind the Prophet (sa) kissed it when he performed circuit. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) did this, not because of any sanctity attached to the stone, but as an expression of his emotion at the Ka'bah, originally constructed by Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Prophet Ismael (peace be on them), having been finally restored to the worship of the One True God, and would henceforth remain dedicated to that worship. Fearing that the Prophet's kissing the Black Stone might be interpreted as ascribing some special virtue to the stone, Hadhrat Umar, the 2nd Khalifa (peace be on him), when performing the circuit, observed: I know this is only a stone no different from other similar stones, and were it not the memory that the Prophet expressed his gratitude to God for His favours and bounties by kissing it, I would pay no attention to it.

From whichever direction the pilgrim enters the enclosure and approaches the Ka'bah, he begins his circuit from the corner in which the Black Stone is placed. A circuit of the Ka'bah means circumambulating it 7 times, reciting certain prayers, beginning and ending opposite the Back Stone.

The Ka'bah is held in reverence by all Muslims of the world. Pilgrimage to the 'House of God' is a duty of every Muslim (if they can afford it), as is facing the direction of the Ka'bah (Qiblah) during their 5 daily Prayers. The cloth covering that drapes the Ka'bah is called the Kiswa and has a fascinating and colourful history. Although its precise origin has been difficult to trace, the use of the Kiswa clearly pre-dates the advent of Islam. It is traditionally known that when the Prophet Abraham (as) was told by God to rebuild the Ka'bah, no mention was made of the Kiswa. Some scholars argue that the first Kiswa was made by the Prophet Ismael (as), but there is no evidence to support this. Others affirm that the first Kiswa was made by Adnan bin Ad', a great great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad (sa), but this claim also lacks authentication.

The first historically verifiable record of the draping of the Ka'bah attributes the honour to Tabu Karab Aswad, King of Humayyur in the Yemen. Tabu invaded Yathrib (now Madinah) in 400 C.E., 220 years before the Hijra. He also entered Makkah and performed Umrah. He is said to have dreamt that he was making a covering and then dressed the Ka'bah with this Kasaf made of dried palm leaves sewn together. In one form or another, the Kiswa has draped the Ka'bah ever since.

After the Prophet Muhammad (sa) defeated the pagans of Makkah and entered the Ka'bah, he cleansed it of all idols and turned it into a sacred sanctuary of monotheistic Islamic worship. In the 10th year of the Hijra (630 C.E.), 2 years after the Prophet (sa) led the campaign to free Makkah, the sacred valley of Mina, and Mount Arafat from the control of the Makkan pagans, he performed his first and only pilgrimage (Hajj). Over 100,000 pilgrims, at that date the largest gathering ever, flocked from all over Arabia for this pilgrimage. For the first time in many centuries, the Ka'bah had once again become the exclusive sanctuary of monotheism. It is said that on this pilgrimage the Prophet Muhammad dressed the Ka'bah in its first Islamic Kiswa, referred to as the 'Yemeni Kiswa'. Khalifa (Caliph) Umar bin Al-Khattab ordered the first Egyptian-made Kiswa in 13 A.H. (634 C.E.). It was made from thick cloth known as Gabaati. Every year, at the time of pilgrimage, the Kiswa was cut into pieces and distributed among the pilgrims. Verses such as 'Glory be to Allah', 'There is no God save Allah', and 'Allah is Merciful and Loving' used to be stitched on to the Kiswa in those early days of Islam.

[Facts on the Kiswa taken from Ahlan Wasahlan, Aug. 1986]

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