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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The word kaba means it swelled or became prominent or it became high and exalted (ala wa-rtafa'a). The Kaba is a rectangular building in Mecca, almost in the center of the Masjid al-Haram, whereof the front and back walls (north-east and south-west) are each 40 feet in length, and the two side-walls 35 feet each, the height being 50 feet, the four walls running north-west, north-east, south-west and south-east. The four corners of the building are known by four different names, the north corner as al-rukn al-Iraqi (after Iraq), the south corner as al-rukn al-Yameni (after Yamen), the west corner as al-rukn al-Shami (after Syria) and the east corner as al-rukn al-Aswad (after the hajar al-aswad, the Black Stone). The four walls of the Kaba are covered with a black curtain called kiswa, means clothing. The door of the Kaba is in the north-east wall, about seven feet from the ground, not in the middle of the wall but nearer the Black Stone. When the Kaba is opened, a stair-case is placed in front of it to enable the visitors to reach the entrance. Outside the building is an open space, called al-Hijr, means prohibited, marked by a semi-circular wall three feet high, running opposite the north-west wall of the Kaba, the two ends of this wall is being about six feet distant from the north and west corners of the Kaba, and the central part about 37 feet from the wall. This part is also called al-Hatim, means it crushed, though Ibn Abbas is reported as saying that it should not be called by that name, as this name was given to it in the days of ignorance and carried with it the superstitious association of throwing there one's whip or shoe at the time of taking an oath (Bukhari, 63:27). In the east corner at the height of about five feet is the hajar al-aswad (the Black Stone) built into the wall. It is of a radish black colour about eight inches in diameter, and is now broken into pieces held together by a silver band. The Maqam Ibrahim, the place of Abraham is given name to a very small building within the Sacred Mosque, about five feet square, supported on six columns eight feet high. This name, handed down from antiquity from one generation to another, is a decided proof of the connection of Abraham with the Kaba, and attention is drawn to this in the Koran (3:96). But as used in 2:125, Maqam Ibrahim means the Sacred House itself.

The Kaba is stated in the Koran to be "the first House appointed for men" (3:95). In one place, it is called al-Bayt al-Atiq, the Ancient House (22:29). It is also called al-Bayt al-Haram (5:97), or al-Muharram (14:37), which carries the same significance as al-Haram, both meaning originally al-mamnu min-hu or that which is forbidden; in other words, a place whereof the sanctity must not be violated. There is nothing in the Koran or hadith to show when and by whom the Kaba was first built, but it is said to have been rebuilt by Abraham and Ismael: "And when Abraham and Ismael raised the foundations of the House, our Lord! Accept from us" (2:127). An earlier revelation makes it clear that the Kaba was already there when Abraham left Ismael in the wilderness of Arabia: "O our Lord! I have settled a part of my offspring in a valley unproductive of fruit near Thy Sacred House" (14:37). It appears from this that Ismael had been purposely left near the Sacred House; it was, in fact, under a Divine commandment that Abraham took this step (Bukhari, 60:9). It would seem that the Kaba was then in a demolished condition and was afterwards, when Ismael grew to manhood, rebuilt by Abraham and Ismael as stated in 2:127. In a long hadith of Ibn Abbas, speaking of Abraham leaving Ismael and his mother near the Kaba, it is said: "And the House was then rising above the surface of the earth like a mound, the flood waters passing to its right and to its left" (Ibid. 60:9). The hadith then goes on to narrate how long after this, when Ismael had grown to manhood and was a married man, Abraham came to pay a visit to him and told him that God had commanded him to build a house at the place where the mound was, and how the father and the son built the Kaba. Besides being in a ruined condition, it seems to have had idols placed in it and Abraham was required to purify it of these: "And We enjoined Abraham and Ismael, saying, Purify My House for those who visit it and those who abide in it for devotion and those who bow down and those who prostate themselves" (2:125). Nearly the same words occur in an earlier revelation, vide 22:26.

When Abraha attacked Mecca, the people of Mecca took to the surrounding hills, offering no resistance. When Abraha asked Abdul Muttalib why he did not ask him to spare the Kaba, his reply was that the Kaba was the House of God and He would take care of it.

The Kaba was again rebuilt by the Qoraish when the Prophet was young man, and he personally took part in its building, carrying stones on his shoulders. During the construction a dispute arose as to who should place the Black Stone in its place. Every tribe was desirous of having this honour accorded to its representative. Finally, a settlement was arrived at, namely that the decision of the man who made his appearance fist in the Kaba should be accepted by all. Fortunately, the man who appeared first was the Prophet, and there was an outcry that al-Amin had come. The Prophet decided this dispute with his usual sagacity, placing the stone in a cloth with his own hands, and then asking a representative of each of the tribes to hold a corner of that cloth and life the stone to its position, the Prophet himself fixing it in position.

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