The Kaaba as a Place of Worship in History

    "And now verily We shall make you turn (in prayer) toward a Qibla which is dear to you. So turn your face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship (the Kaaba of Makkah)." (Al Baqarah 2:144)

    Location Of Makkah

    Makkah is at the intersection of latitude 21 to 25 degree north and longitude 39 to 49 degree east. It is set in a rugged landscape consisting mostly of solid granite, with rocks sometimes reaching 300 meters (1,000 feet) above see level.

    Makkah is enclosed by the Valley of Abraham, which is surrounded by two nearby mountain ranges to the east, west and south. The northern range comprises the Al-Falaq and Qu'aqi'an mountains, while the southern range consists of Abu Hudaidah mountain to the west, Kuday to the south and Abu Qubais and Khindimah to the south-east.

    There are three main entrances to Makkah: Al-Mu'allat (also known as Al-Hujûn), Al-Musfalah and Al-Shubaikah.

    It is generally agreed that Al-Mu'allat includes all areas which are higher than the Haram and Al-Musfalah covers all areas that are lowers.

    Kaaba & Makkah In History

    The kaaba: Its Size and History

    The small, cubed building known as the kaaba may not rival skyscrapers in height or mansions in width, but its impact on history and human beings is unmatched. The kaaba is the building towards which Muslims face five times a day, everyday, in prayer. This has been the case since the time of Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) over 1400 years ago.

    The Size of the kaaba:

    The current height of the kaaba is 39 feet, 6 inches and total size comes to 627 square feet.
    The inside room of the kaaba is 13x9 meters. The kaaba's walls are one meter wide. The floor inside is 2.2 meters higher than the place where people perform Tawaf.

    The ceiling and roof are two levels made out of wood. They were reconstructed with teak which is capped with stainless steel. The walls are all made of stone. The stones inside are unpolished, while the ones outside are polished.
    This small building has been constructed and reconstructed by Prophets Adam, Ibrahim, Ismail and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). No other building has had this honor. Yet, not very much is known about the details of this small but significant building.

    The Other Names of the kaaba
    Literally, kaaba in Arabic means a high place with respect and prestige. The word kaaba may also be derivative of a word meaning a cube. Some of these other names include:
    1. Bait ul Ateeq - which means, according to one meaning, the earliest and ancient. According to the second meaning, it means independent and liberating. Both meanings could be taken.
    2. Bait ul Haram - the honorable house.

    Scholars and historians say that the kaaba has been reconstructed between 5 to 12 times. The very first construction of the kaaba was done by Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). Allah says in the Quran that this was the first house that was built for humanity to worship Allah. After this, Prophet Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them) rebuilt the kaaba.

    The measurements of the kaaba's foundation by Ibrahim are as follows:
    The eastern wall was 48 feet and 6 inches
    The Hateem side wall was 33 feet
    The side between the black stone and the Yemeni corner was 30 feet
    The Western side was 46.5 feet
    Following this, there were several constructions before the Prophet Muhammad's (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) time.

    Reconstruction of kaaba by Quraish

    Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) participated in one of its reconstructions before he became a Prophet. After a flash flood, the kaaba was damaged and its walls cracked. It needed rebuilding. This responsibility was divided among the Quraish's four tribes. Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) helped with this reconstruction.

    Once the walls were erected, it was time to place the Black Stone, (the Hajar ul Aswad) on the eastern wall of the kaaba. Arguments erupted about who would have the honor of putting the Black Stone in its place. A fight was about to break out over the issue, when Abu Umayyah, Makkah's oldest man, proposed that the first man to enter the gate of the mosque the following morning would decide the matter. That man was the Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam). The Makkans were ecstatic. "This is the trustworthy one (Al-Ameen)" they shouted in a chorus. "This is Muhammad." He came to them and they asked him to decide on the matter. He agreed.

    Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) proposed a solution that all agreed to - putting the Black Stone on a cloak, the elders of each of the clans held on to one edge of the cloak and carried the stone to its place. The Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) then picked up the stone and placed it on the wall of the kaaba.

    Since the tribe of Quraish did not have sufficient funds, this reconstruction did not include the entire foundation of the kaaba as built by Prophet Ibrahim. This is the first time the kaaba acquired the cubical shape it has now, unlike the rectangle shape which it had earlier. The portion of the kaaba left out is called Hateem now.

    Construction after the Prophet's Time - Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr

    The Syrian army destroyed the kaaba in Muharram 64 (Hijri date) and before the next Hajj Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, may Allah be pleased with him, reconstructed the kaaba from the ground up.

    Ibn az-Zubayr wanted to make the kaaba how the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) wanted it, on the foundation of the Prophet Ibrahim. Ibn az-Zubayr said, "I heard Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) say, The Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) said: "If your people had not quite recently abandoned the Ignorance (Unbelief), and if I had sufficient provisions to rebuild it [the kaaba], I would have added five cubits to it from the Hijr. Also, I would make two doors; one for people to enter therein and the other to exit." (Bukhari).

    Ibn az-Zubayr said, "Today, I can afford to do it and I do not fear the people. Ibn az-Zubayr built the kaaba on Prophet Ibrahim's foundation. He put the roof on three pillars with the wood of Aoud (a perfumed wood with aroma which is traditionally burned to get a good smell out of it in Arabia).

    In his construction he put two doors, one facing the east the other facing the west, as the Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) wanted but did not do in his lifetime. He rebuilt the kaaba on the Prophet Ibrahim's foundation, which meant that the Hateem area was included. The Hateem is the area adjacent to the kaaba enclosed by a low semi-circular wall.

    Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr also made the following additions and modifications:
    Put a small window close to the roof of the kaaba to allow for light.
    Moved the door of the kaaba to ground level and added a second door to the kaaba.
    Added nine cubits to the height of the kaaba, making it twenty cubits high.
    Iits walls were two cubits wide.
    Reduced the pillars inside the House to three instead of six as were earlier built by Quraish.
    For reconstruction, ibn az-Zubayr put up four pillars around the kaaba and hung cloth over them until the building was completed. People began to do Tawaf around these pillars at all times, so Tawaf of the kaaba was never abandoned, even during reconstruction.

    During Abdul Malik bin Marwan's time in 74 Hijri (or 693 according to the Gregorian calendar), Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi, the known tyrant of that time, with the approval of Umayyad Khalifa Abdul Malik bin Marwan, demolished what Ibn az-Zubayr had added to it from the older foundation of Prophet Ibrahim, and restored its old structure as the Quraish had had it.

    Some of the changes he made were the following:
    He rebuilt it in the smaller shape which is found today
    Took out the Hateem
    Walled up the western door (whose signs are still visible today) and left the rest as it was
    Pulled down the wall in the Hateem area.
    Removed the wooden ladder Ibn az-Zubayr had put inside the kaaba.
    Reduced the door's height by five cubits
    When Abdul Malik bin Marwan came for Umra and heard the hadith that it was the wish of the Prophet (s.a.w.) for the kaaba to be constructed the way
    Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr had built it, he regretted his actions.

    Imam Malik's advice to the Khalifa Harun al Rasheed Abbasi

    Khalifa Harun al Rasheed wanted to rebuild the kaaba the way Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) wanted and the way Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr built it. But when he consulted Imam Malik, the Imam asked the Khalifa to change his mind because constant demolition and rebuilding is not respectful and would become a toy in the hands of kings. Each one would want to demolish and rebuild the kaaba. Based on this advice, Harun al Rasheed did not reconstruct the kaaba. The structure remained in the same construction for 966 years, with minor repairs here and there.

    Reconstruction during Sultan Murad Khan's time

    In the year 1039 Hijri, because of heavy rain, flood and hail, two of the kaaba's walls fell down. The flood during which this occurred took place on the 19th of Shaban 1039 Hijri which continued constantly, so the water in the kaaba became almost close to half of its walls, about 10 feet from the ground level. On Thursday the 20th of Shaban 1039 Hijri, the eastern and western walls fell down.

    When flood receded on Friday the 21st of Shaban, the cleanup started. Again, a curtain, the way Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr established on 4 pillars, was put up, and the reconstruction started on the 26th of Ramadan. The rest of the walls except for the one near the Black Stone, were demolished.

    By the 2nd of Zul-Hijjah 1040 the construction was taking place under the guidance of Sultan Murad Khan, the Ottoman Khalifa. From the point of the Black Stone and below, the current construction is the same as that done by Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr.

    The construction which was done under the auspices of Murad Khan was exactly the one done at the time of Abdul Malik ibn Marwan which is the way the Quraysh had built it before Prophethood.

    On Rajab 28 1377, one historian counted the total stones of the kaaba and they were 1,614. These stones are of different shapes. But the stones which are inside the outer wall which is visible are not counted in there.

    Reconstruction of the kaaba in 1996

    A major reconstruction of the kaaba took place between May 1996 and October 1996. This was after a period of about 400 years (since Sultan Murad Khan's time). During this reconstruction the only original thing left from the kaaba are the stones. All other material has been replaced including the ceiling and the roof and its wood.

    • What is inside the kaaba?

      Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi is the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He had the opportunity to go inside the kaaba in October 1998.
      He described the following features:

      There are two pillars inside (others report 3 pillars)
      There is a table on the side to put items like perfume
      There are two lantern-type lamps hanging from the ceiling
      The space can accommodate about 50 people
      There are no electric lights inside
      The walls and floors are of marble
      There are no windows inside
      There is only one door
      The upper inside walls of the kaaba were covered with some kind of curtain with the Kalima written on it.

    History of the Kaaba before the Christian Era

    Edward Gibbon writes about the kaaba and its existence before the Christian era in his book:

    ..... of blind mythology of barbarians - of the local deities, of the stars, the air, and the earth, of their sex or titles, their attributes or subordination. Each tribe, each family, each independent warrier, created and changed the rites and the object of this fantastic worship; but the nation, in every age, has bowed to the religion as well as to the language of Mecca. The genuine antiquity of Caaba ascends beyond the Christian era: in describing the coast of the Red sea the Greek historian Diodorus has remarked, between the Thamudites and the Sabeans, a famous temple, whose superior sanctity was revered by all the Arabians; the linen of silken veil, which is annually renewed by the Turkish emperor, was first offered by the Homerites, who reigned seven hundred years before the time of Mohammad.[1]

    Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian of 1st century BC who wrote Bibliotheca Historica, a book describing various parts of the discovered world. The following lines are the English translation of Greek quoted by Gibbon from the book of Diodorus Siculus (Diodorus of Sicily) describing the 'temple' considered to be the the holiest in the whole of Arabia.

    And a temple has been set-up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.[2]

    It is interesting to know that Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria, mathematician and astronomer, flourishing about a century after Pliny, undertook to make an atlas of the habitable world. He was not a descriptive geographer, and his book was intended to be no more than a commentary on his maps. He enumerated some hundred and fourteen cities or villages in Arabia Felix.

    For example, Dumaetha, placed by Ptolemy just outside the northern boundary of Arabia Felix, must be the mediaeval Arabian Daumet, which is today the chief village of the great oasis of Jauf. Hejr, famous in the "times of ignorance" as the seat of a kingdom, and now Medayin Salih, is Ptolemy's Egra. His Thaim is Teima, now known for its inscriptions to have had temples and some sort of civilization as far back as 500 BC. It is the Tema of Job. In Lathrippa, placed inland from Iambia (Yambo), we recognize the Iathrippa of Stephan of Byzantium, the Yathrib of the early Arab traditions, now honoured as El Medina, the City of Cities.[3]

    Apart from this a place called Macoraba is also shown which is identified as Mecca (please refer to the map facing page 17 of reference [3]). G E von Grunebaum says:

    Mecca is mentioned by Ptolemy, and the name he gives it allows us to identify it as a South Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary.[4]

    Makkah In The Scriptures

    The Qur'ân talks about Bakkah (the older name of Makkah) being the first house of worship appointed for mankind. It also addresses this place as Umm ul-Qurâ i.e., Mother of the Settlements.

    Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for Al-'Alamin (the mankind and jinns). In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqam (place) of Ibrahim (Abraham); whosoever enters it, he attains security. And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (kaaba) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one's conveyance, provision and residence); and whoever disbelieves [i.e. denies Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), then he is a disbeliever of Allah], then Allah stands not in need of any of the 'Alamin (mankind and jinns). [Qur'ân 3:96-97]

    The Bible also mentions about the valley of Baca in connection with the pilgrimage. Below is the quote from Psalms 84 (NIV):

    1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
    2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
    3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young-- a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
    4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
    5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
    6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
    7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
    8 Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob.
    9 Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.
    10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
    11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
    12 O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.

    The interpretation of the valley of Baca in the The Jewish Encylopedia is quite interesting, though it does not provide a complete evidence and leaves the reader with a suggestion. Below is the full quote.

    Baca, The Valley Of: A valley mentioned in Psalms LXXXIV:7. Since it is there said that pilgrims transform the valley into a land of wells, an old translators gave to Baca, the meaning of a "valley of weeping"; but it signifies rather any valley lacking water. Support for this latter view is to be found in II Samuel V:23 et seq.; I Chronicles XIV:14 et seq., in which the plural form of the same word designates a tree similar to the balsam tree; and it was supposed that a dry valley could be named after this tree. Konig takes Baca from the Arabian Baka'a, and translates it "lack of streams". The Psalmist apparently has in mind a particular valley whose natural condition led him to adopt its name.[5]

    The translation of Arabian Baka'a as "lack of stream" seems to throw some light on the nature of the valley before the appearance of the stream of Zam-Zam near kaaba which was a dry place with no vegetation whatsoever.

    The Anchor Bible Dictionary does not throw any light on it, albeit, there are some suggestions in it too like the The Jewish Encylopedia. Below is the full quote.

    Baca, The Valley Of (PLACE): [Hebrew 'emeq habakka'], The valley of Baca (Psalms 84:1) is either a historical place name or a symbolical expression for "deep sorrow". The first part of Psalms 84:6 seems to mean that by "passing through the experience of deep sorrow, righteous ones can make it the source of life." The Septuagint translated the phrase into Greek as "the valley of weeping". The word 'emeq "valley" has the root meaning of "deep", so the expression may mean "deep sorrow".

    However, some have considered it as the "valley of the balsam tree" from the same word in plural form found in 2 Samuel 5:24. This is based on the assumption that baka may be a "gum-exuding [weeping] tree". Another possibility is that the word beka'im (plural of baka) may mean "weeping wall-rocks" in the valley of Rephaim on whose tops David and his troops were waiting for the coming of the Philistine army passing through the valley below (2 Samuel 5:24). It seems safe to seek the meaning of baka in relation to the dripping water, since we often find this word in the names related to rivers and wadis, such as Wadi al-Baka in the Sinaitic district and Baca on the wadi in the central Galilee area, W of Meroth. It is also possible to understand beka'im as the place of "weepings" of the Philistine army for their defeat by David. After all these considerations, the expression of "valley of baka" can best be taken as a symbolic expression "weeping" or "deep sorrow" which fits well in the context of Psalms 84:6.[6]

    The interpretation of the valley of Baca as a "the valley of weeping" makes sense because of the distress which Hagar(P) underwent when she was left with Ishmael(P) in the barren desert with no means of living.

    The two interpretations of Baca, viz., "lack of stream" and "the valley of weeping" appears to fit in the context of pilgrimage to Bakkah, the older name of Makkah where the kaaba is situated. kaaba has been a place of reverence by all Arabians before the Christian era as we have seen earlier.

    And Allah knows best!


    [1] Edward Gibbon (Introduction by Christopher Dawson), Gibbon's Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Volume V, Everyman's Library, London, pp. 223-224.

    [2] Translated by C H Oldfather, Diodorus Of Sicily, Volume II, William Heinemann Ltd., London & Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MCMXXXV, p. 217.

    [3] D G Hogarth, The Penetration Of Arabia, Alston Rivers Limited, London, 1905, p. 18.

    [4] G E Von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600-1258, George Allen & Unwin Limited, 1970, p. 19.

    [5] The Jewish Encylopedia, Volume II, Funk & Wagnalls Company, MDCCCCII, p. 415.

    [6] David Noel Freedman (Editor-in-Chief), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume I, Doubleday, p. 566.




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