Short History of the Ka`bah
Most surely the first house appointed for men is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for the worlds. In it are clear signs, the standing place of Ibrahim; and whoever enters it shall be secure; and for the sake of Allah, pilgrimage to the House is incumbent upon men, (upon) every one who can afford the journey to it, and whoever disbelieves, then surely Allah is Self-sufficient (independent) of the worlds. (Qur’an 3:96-97)
It is definitely known that it was Ibrahim al-Khalil, peace and blessings be upon him, who built the Ka`bah. The residents around it at that time were his son, Isma`il, and the tribe of Jurhum (originally from Yemen). It is an almost square building whose sides face the cardinal points of the compass; the winds, no matter how strong, lose their force when they strike it – without doing it any harm.
The construction of Ibrahim stood intact, until it was rebuilt by al-’Amaliqah, and later by the tribe of Jurhum (or vice versa).
When the management of the Ka`bah came into the hands of Qusayy Ibn Kilab – an ancestor of the Prophet – in the second century before Hijrah, he demolished and rebuilt it on firm foundation, putting a roof of doom palm timber and date-palm trunk on it. He also built ‘Daru ‘n-Nadwah’ (Council House) on one side. It was the place from where he ruled and where he held counsel with his colleagues. Then he divided various sides of the Ka`bah. Among different clans of the Quraysh and each clan built their houses at the side allotted to them; and they opened their doors towards the Ka`bah.
Five years before the start of the Prophet’s mission, there came a flood which destroyed the Ka`bah’s building. The Quraysh divided among themselves the various responsibilities connected with its reconstruction. They hired a Roman builder to build it and an Egyptian carpenter to help him with the woodwork. When the time came to fix the Black Stone, a dispute erupted as to which clan should be accorded the honor of putting the Black Stone in its place. Then they agreed to leave the decision to Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who at that time was thirty-five years old, because they had full faith in his deep wisdom and sound judgment. He got his robe, and putting the Stone on it, told all the clans to hold the sides of the robe and raise it together. When the Stone reached the required height (on the eastern corner), he took it in his hands and fixed it in its proper place.
But the Quraysh found their funds exhausted. So they reduced the size on one side – as it is today; thus a part of the original foundation was left out, and that is the portion known as ‘Hijr Isma`il’ (the Enclosure of Isma`il).
The building remained in that condition until `Abdullah Ibn Az-Zubair established his rule over Hijaz during the reign of Yazid Ibn Mu`awiyah. Husain Ibn Numair, the commander of Yazid’s army, besieged him at Makkah and struck the Ka`bah with catapult. The Ka`bah was demolished, the ‘Al-Kiswah’ (covering of the Ka`bah) and some roof timbers were burnt down. The siege was lifted when news came of Yazid’s death. Ibn Az-Zubair decided to demolish the Ka`bah completely and rebuild it on its original foundation. He got good mortar from Yemen and constructed the new building. Hijr Isma`il was re-included in the Ka`bah; the door was fixed at the level of the ground; another door was fixed on the opposite side, so that people might enter from one door and go out from the other. He fixed the height of the House at twenty-seven arms. When the building was ready, he covered the whole building with musk and perfume inside out, and put silken Kiswah on it. The construction was completed on 17th Rajab, 64 A.H.
When `Abdul-Malik Ibn Marwan came to power in Damascus, he sent his commander, Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf, who defeated Ibn Az-Zubair and killed him. Entering the Sacred Mosque, he saw what Ibn Az-Zubair had done regarding the Ka`bah. He wrote to `Abdul-Malik about it who ordered him to return it to its previous shape. Hajjaj, therefore, demolished six and a half arms from the northern side and rebuilt it according to the plan of the Quraysh; he raised the eastern door and closed the western one; he also filled the inside with the stones that could not be re-used (thus raising the inside floor to the new level of the door).
When the Ottoman Sultan Sulaiman ascended the throne in 960 A.H., he changed the roof of the Ka`bah. Sultan Ahmad (who came to power in 1021 A.H.) made some other repairs and alterations. Then came the great flood of 1039 A.H. which demolished parts of its northern, eastern and western walls. Therefore, the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV got it repaired. And the same building continues till this day and it is the year 1375 by lunar Hijri calendar, and 1338 according to the solar one.
The Ka`bah is nearly square in shape, built with hard dark bluish-grey stones. It now rises to sixteen meters; but was much lower at the time of the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, as may be inferred from the fact that, on the day of conquest of Makkah, the Prophet raised `Ali Ibn Abu Talib on his shoulders so that `Ali could remove and break the idols that were placed on the roof of the Ka`bah.
The wall [the northern one that faces the Enclosure of Isma`il and] over which is placed the water trough and the one on its opposite side [the southern one] are ten meters and ten centimeters long; while the [eastern] wall which has the door and the one opposite to it are twelve meters long. The door is placed at a height of two meters from the ground level.
The Black Stone is fixed in the [east-south] corner, so that if one wants to enter the door, the Stone would be on his left. This Stone is one and a half meters above the ground level, that is, above the level of the circumambulation area. The Black Stone is a hard rock of irregular oval shape, black with some reddish tint; it has red dots and yellow wavy lines which appeared when some broken pieces were soldered and joined. It has a diameter of about thirty centimeters.
The Ka`bah’s corners, since ancient days, are called “Al-Arkan (pl. of “Ar-Rukn” pillar); the northern one is called, the Iraqi Rukn; the western, the Syrian; the southern, the Yemenite; and the eastern (wherein the Black Stone is fixed), is named the Black. The area between the door and the Black Stone is called “al-Multazam” (lit.: the place where one clings to) because when one circumambulates one adheres to it for invocation and prayer.
The trough fixed over the northern wall, which is called the Trough of Mercy, was an innovation of Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf; in 954 A.H. Sultan Sulaiman changed that with a silver one; that too was replaced by Sultan Ahmad in 1021 A.H. with another one of enameled silver with golden designs. In 1273 A.H. Sultan `Abdul-Majid replaced it with another one made of gold, and it is the present one.
Facing the northern wall is a wall-half circle in shape. It is called, Al-Hatim. It is like a bow whose two ends face the northern [Iraqi] and the western [Syrian] Rukns; there is a gap of two meters and three centimeters between the ends of the bow and the said Rukns. The wall, Al-Hatim, is one meter high and one and a half meters wide. It is paneled with carved marble. The distance between the center of Al-Hatim and the center of the northern wall of the Ka`bah is eight meters and forty-four centimeters. The area covered by al-Hatim and the northern wall is known as Hijr Isma`il [Enclosure of Isma`il]. About three meters of this space was included in the Ka`bah built by Ibrahim, peace and blessings be upon him
The changes and alterations that were done inside the Ka`bah, and the rituals and Sunnah rites connected with the House are not so necessary to be described here.
As for the covering of the House itself, it is said that the first to cover it was the Tubba [Tubba' - was the title of the Kings of Yemen.] Abu Bakr As’ad, who hang on it the sheets embroidered with silver threads. His successors followed this custom. Then people started covering it with sheets of various kinds – putting one upon the other. Whenever a covering looked old, a new one was put over it. This continued until Qusayy came on the scene. He imposed a tax on the Arabs for putting a new covering every year. This system continued in his descendants. Abu Rabi`ah Ibn Al-Mughirah used to put a covering one year and all the clans of Quraysh did so the next year.
The Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, covered the House with Yemenite sheets. This custom continued. When the `Abbaside caliph Al-Mahi went for pilgrimage, the attendants of the House complained to him about the coverings that had accumulated on the roof of the Ka`bah. They said there was a danger of the roof collapsing down because of that load. The King ordered that all the old coverings should be removed and that every year a new covering should replace the old one – and that custom is followed up till now.
The Ka`bah is draped from inside too. The first to do so was the mother of `Abbas, son of `Abdul-Muttalib – she had done so because of a vow she had taken regarding her son- `Abbas.
The Ka`bah was held in high esteem by various nations. The Hindus respected it, believing that the spirit of Siva, the third person of their Trimurty, entered into the Black Stone, when he was accompanied by his wife visiting Hijjaz.
The Sabaeans of Persia and Chaledonia counted it as one of their seven holy sanctuaries [The seven sanctuaries were: (1) The Ka`bah; (2) Mars – on the summit of a mountain in Isfahan; (3) “Mandusan”? in India; (4) Naw Bahar in Balkh; (5) House of Ghamdan in San`a; (6) Kawsan in Farghana, Khurasan; and (7) a House in Upper China. Many of them said that it was the House of the Saturn – because it was the most ancient, and the longest in existence.
The Persians too respected the Ka`bah, believing that the spirit of Hormoz was present therein; they sometimes went for its pilgrimage.
The Jews honored it and worshipped God there according to the religion of Ibrahim. There were many pictures and images in the Ka`bah, including those of Ibrahim and Isma`il which had divining arrows in their hands. Also there were pictures of the virgin Mary and Christ – which indicates that the Christians too respected the Ka`bah like the Jews.
The Arabs held it in the highest esteem; they believed that it was the House of Allah, and came to its pilgrimage from every place. They believed the Ka`bah to be built by Ibrahim and the hail to be a part of his religion which had come to them as his legacy.
The trusteeship was in the hands of Isma`il; and after him it remained in his descendants. Then the Jurhumites became more powerful and took over the trusteeship. They in their turn were vanquished – after several wars – by the `Amaliqah, who were a part of Banu Karkar. The `Amaliqah resided at the lower section of Makkah while the Jurhumites had settled in its upper section. They had their own kings.
Later on, the Jurhumites defeated the `Amaliqah and regained the trusteeship, which remained with them for about three hundred years. They extended the area of the House and increased its height.
Gradually the Isma`ilites grew in number and gained power and they found the place too congested and over-populated. Then they fought the Jurhumites, defeated and expelled them from Makkah. The leader of the Isma`ilites at that time was `Amr Ibn Lahiyy, the chief of the clan of Khuza`ah. He became over-lord of Makkah and took over the trusteeship of the Ka`bah. It was he who put idols in the Ka`bah and called people to worship them. The first idol he put there was Hubal which he had brought from Syria; then he brought others. Gradually there were a lot of idols, and idol-worship spread among the Arabs; the upright religion of Ibrahim was discarded.
Shahnah Ibn Khalaf Al-Jurhumi refers to this episode, when he addresses `Amr Ibn Lahiyy in the following ode:
O `Amr! You have invented various gods; At Makkah – idols around the House.
And there was for the House One Lord from ever; But you have made for it several lords (which are now worshipped) by the people.
Surely you should know that soon He will choose for (His) House stewards other than you.
The trusteeship remained in the clan of Khuza`ah up to the time of Halil Al-Khuza`i. He nominated his daughter (who was married to Qusayy Ibn Kilab) to succeed him, and gave the right of opening and closing the door to a man from his clan, Abu Ghabshan Al-Khuza`i by name. Abu Ghabshan sold his right to Qusayy Ibn Kilab for a camel and a skinful of liquor. The proverb, “More loss incurring than the deal of Abu Ghabshan”, alludes to this sale.
The trusteeship was thus transferred to the Quraysh. Qusayy rebuilt the House, as we have mentioned above. The things continued as they were, until the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, conquered Makkah, and entering the Ka`bah ordered the pictures to be effaced, and the idols to be thrown down and broken.
The Standing Place of Ibrahim – the stone with the imprints of Ibrahim’s feet – was at first put in a kneading trough near the Ka`bah; then it was buried in the place where it is at present. It has a dome on four pillars where the people offer their prayers after the circumambulation.
There are a lot of details of various aspects of the Ka`bah and other religious buildings attached to it. We have described here only the things which are necessary for understanding the verses of Hajj and the Ka`bah.
One of the specialties of this House – which Allah has blessed and made a guidance – is that no Muslim group has ever disagreed about it or its prestige, honor and respect.