The History of the Ka'bah
23 minutes • 4882 words
Table of contents
The mosques and venerated buildings of the world
God singled out some places of the earth for special honor and made them the homes of His worship.
This was made known by His messengers and prophets, as an act of kindness to His servants and for the purpose of facilitating their ways to happiness.
We know from the two Sahihs that the most excellent places on earth 33 are the three mosques of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.
Mecca is the house of Abraham. God commanded Abraham to build it and to exhort the people to make the pilgrimage thither.
He and his son Ishmael built it, as is stated in the Qur’an. 34 He fulfilled God’s commandment in this respect. Ishmael dwelt there with Hagar and the Jurhum (tribe) who lived with them, until they both died and were buried in the hijr 35 of (the Ka’bah).
Jerusalem is the house of David and Solomon. God commanded them to build the mosque there and to erect its monuments (hayakil). Many of the prophets, descendants of Isaac, were buried around it.
Medina is the place to which our Prophet emigrated when God commanded him to emigrate and to establish the religion of Islam there. He built his sacred mosque in Medina, and his noble burial place is on (Medina’s) soil.
These three mosques are the consolation of the Muslims, the desire of their hearts, and the sacred asylum of their religion. There are many well-known traditions about their excellence and the very great reward awaiting those who live near them and pray in them.
We shall give (in the following pages) some references to the history of the origin of these three mosques and tell how they gradually developed and eventually made their full-fledged appearance in the world. Mecca is said to have originated when Adam built it opposite the “much- frequented house.”
36 Later on, Mecca was destroyed in the Flood. There is no sound historical information in this connection on which one may rely. The information is merely derived from the indication in the verse of the Qur’an, “And when Abraham raised the foundations of the house :..” 37
Then, God sent Abraham, whose story and that of his wife Sarah and her jealousy of Hagar are known. God revealed to Abraham that he should 38 separate from Hagar and exile her together with her son Ishmael to Paran (Faran), the mountains of Mecca beyond Syria and Aylah.
Abraham sent her out there, and she reached the place of the House. There, she became thirsty, and God in His kindness caused the water of the well of Zamzam to gush forth for Hagar and Ishmael. He also caused a group of Jurhumites to pass by them. They took in Hagar and Ishmael and dwelt with them around the Zamzam, as is well known and stated in its proper place.
Ishmael built a house for shelter where the Ka’bah is situated. He built a circular hedge of doom palms around it and turned it into an enclosure for his sheep and goats. Abraham came several times from Syria to visit him. On his last visit, he was ordered to build the Ka’bah on the site of the enclosure. He built it with the help of his son Ishmael.
He exhorted the people to make pilgrimage to (the Ka’bah).Ishmael stayed there. When his mother Hagar died, he buried her there. He himself continued to serve (the Ka’bah) until he died. He was buried next to his mother Hagar, and his descendants took charge after him of the affairs of the House together with their maternal uncles from the Jurhum.
Then, after them, there came the Amalekites. The situation remained unchanged. 39 People eagerly came there from all directions. There were all kinds of people, descendants of Ishmael as well as others, from near and far. The Tubba’s used to make the pilgrimage to the House and to venerate it.
The Tubba’ called Tiban As’ad Abu Karib 40 clothed it with curtains and striped Yemenite cloth and ordered it cleaned and had a key made for it. The Persians used to make pilgrimage to it and present sacrificial gifts to it. The two golden gazelles that ‘Abd-al-Muttalib found when the Zamzam was excavated are said to have been one of the sacrificial gifts presented (to the Ka’bah) by (the Persians).
41. The Jurhum, as descendants of the maternal uncles of the children of Ishmael, continued their administration of the House after them.
Eventually, the Khuza’ah ousted them and remained there after them, as long as God wanted them to remain. Then, the descendants of Ishmael became numerous and spread. They branched out into the Kinanah, who, in turn, branched out into the Quraysh and others.
The administration of the (Ka’bah by the) Khuza’ah deteriorated. The Quraysh took it away from them. They ousted them from the House and took possession of it themselves. Their chief at the time was Qusayy b. Kilab. He rebuilt the House and gave it a roof of doom-palm and date-palm boughs.
I swear by the two garments of the monk (of al-Lujj) and by (the building) that was built by Qusayy all alone and by Ibn Jurhum.42
During the (Qurashite) administration later on, the House was hit by a flood - or a fire - and was destroyed. The (Quraysh) rebuilt it with money collected from their own property. A ship had been wrecked on the coast near Jidda. They bought its wood for the roof (of the Ka’bah). The height of its walls was (just) over a fathom, and they made them eighteen cubits (high).
The door had been level with the ground, and they raised it (just) above one fathom in height, so that floodwaters could not enter it. They did not have enough money to finish it.
Therefore, they shortened its foundations, and omitted six cubits and one span. They surrounded that area with a low wall. In making the circumambulation (of the Ka’bah), one keeps outside this wall. This (area) is the hijr.
The House remained in this state, until Ibn az-Zubayr, who wanted to be caliph, fortified himself in Mecca.
The armies of Yazid b. Mu’awiyah, under al-Husayn b. Numayr as-Sakuni, advanced against him 43 in the year 64 . (The House) was set afire, it is said, by means of naphtha, which the armies of Yazid shot against Ibn az-Zubayr. Its walls began to crack. Ibn az-Zubayr had it torn down and rebuilt it most beautifully.
There was a difference of opinion among the men around Muhammad with regard (to the manner in which the Ka’bah) was to be reconstructed. Ibn az-Zubayr argued against the others with the following remark, which the Messenger of God had made to ‘A’ishah= “If your people had not but recently been unbelievers, I would have restored the House on the foundations of Abraham and I would have made two doors for it, an eastern and a western one.” 44
(Ibn az-Zubayr), therefore, tore it down and laid bare the foundations of Abraham. He assembled the great personalities and dignitaries (of Mecca) to look at them.
Ibn ‘Abbas advised him to think of preserving the qiblah for the people (during thereconstruction). Therefore, he set .up a wooden scaffolding over the foundations and placed curtains over it, in order to preserve the qiblah (and keep it visible as a temporary measure). He sent to San’a’ for gypsum and quicklime, which he had brought back (to Mecca).
He asked about the original stone quarry used in constructing (the Ka’bah). As many stones as were needed by him were brought together. Then, he started construction over the foundations of Abraham.
He built the walls twentyseven cubits high, and he made two doors for (the Ka’bah) on a level with the ground, as it was said in the tradition (quoted). He made floors and wall coverings of marble for (the Ka’bah), and he had keys and doors of gold fashioned for it.
Later on, in the days of ‘Abd-al-Malik, al-Hajjaj came to besiege Ibn az-Zubayr. He bombarded the mosque from mangonels until its walls cracked. After Ibn az-Zubayr’s defeat, al-Hajjaj consulted ‘Abd-al-Malik concerning (Ibn az-Zubayr’s) reconstruction of the House and additions to it. ‘Abd-al-Malik ordered him to tear it down and rebuild it upon the foundations of the Quraysh. The Ka’bah has this (appearance) today.
He (‘Abd-al-Malik) regretted his action when he learned that Ibn az-Zubayr’s transmission of the tradition of ‘A’ishah was a sound one. He said= “I wish I had left it to Abu Khubayb (Ibn az-Zubayr) to rebuild the House as he had undertaken to do it.” 45
Al-Hajjaj tore down six cubits and a span of (the Ka’bah), where the hijr is, and rebuilt (the Ka’bah) upon the foundations of the Quraysh. He walled in the western door and that part of the eastern door that today is below the threshold. He left the rest entirely unchanged.
The whole building as it now stands is the building of Ibn az-Zubayr. In the wall, between his building and that of al-Hajjaj, one can distinctly see a crack in the wall where the two buildings are connected. The one construction is separated from the other by a crack in the wall, originally one finger wide, now repaired.
There is a weighty problem here. The situation described is in disagreement with what the jurists say relative to circumambulation (of the Ka’bah). The person who makes the circumambulation must be careful not to lean over the shadharwan understructure 46 running underneath the foundation walls.
Were he to do so, his circumambulation would be inside the House. This (restriction) is based upon the assumption that the walls cover only a part of the foundations, a part that is not covered by the walls being where the shadharwan understructure is.
The jurists also state with regard to kissing the Black Stone, that the person who makes the circumambulation must straighten up again when he has kissed the Black Stone, lest part of his circumambulation be inside the House.
If all the walls belong to the building of Ibn azZubayr, which was erected upon the foundations of Abraham, how could there occur what (the jurists) say could occur, (namely, that unless due caution is practiced, part of the circumambulation might fall inside the Ka’bah)? There is no escape from (the difficulty), except by assuming one of two alternatives.
Al-Hajjaj may have torn down the whole and rebuilt it, as a number of persons have reported, (but not covered the whole of Ibn az-Zubayr’s foundation).
However, this assumption is refuted by the crack visible between the two buildings and the differences of technical detail between the upper and lower parts. The other alternative would be that Ibn az-Zubayr did not fully restore the House upon the foundations of Abraham.
He would only have done this in the case of the hijr, so as to include it. (The Ka’bah) today, although built by Ibn az-Zubayr, would thus not be on the foundations of Abraham. This is unlikely. But it is one of the two possible alternatives.
The area (courtyard) around the House, that is, the Mosque, was an openspace to be used by those who were making the circumambulation. In the days of the Prophet and his successor, Abu Bakr, there were no walls surrounding it. Then the number of people (who made pilgrimage to the Ka’bah) increased. ‘Umar bought the (adjacent) houses and had them torn down, and added their (sites) to the Mosque (area).
He surrounded it with walls less than a fathom high. The same was done, successively, by ‘Uthman, Ibn az-Zubayr, and al-Walid b. ‘Abd-al-Malik. The latter rebuilt (the Mosque) with marble columns. Al-Mansur and his son and successor al-Mahdi added to it. Subsequently, no further additions were made, and the Mosque has remained as it was then down to our time.
Indications that God has honored the House and been greatly concerned with it are too impressive for them all to be recorded. It is sufficient to mention that He made it the place where the revelation and the angels came down, and a place for worship and fulfillment of the religious duties and rites of pilgrimage.
The sacred precinct of the House has been singled out for more venerable rights and privileges than any other place. God has forbidden anyone who opposes the religion of Islam to enter the sacred precinct.
He enjoined those who enter it to wear no sewn garments but a piece of cloth (izar) to cover them 47 He has granted asylum and protection against all harm to those who take refuge in it and to the cattle that graze on its pastures. No one has anything to fear there. No wild animal is hunted there. No tree is cut down for firewood.
The limits of the sacred precinct, which is invested with so much sanctity, extend, in the direction of Medina, three miles to at-Tan’im; 48 in the direction of the ‘Iraq, seven miles to the pass of the mountain of al-Munqata’; in the direction of al-Ji’ranah, 9 miles to ash-Shi’b; 49 in the direction of at-Ta’if, 7 miles to Batn Namirah; and, in the direction of Jidda, 10 miles to Munqata’ al-‘Asha’ir.
This is the importance and history of Mecca. Mecca is called “the Mother of Villages.” 50 The name of the Ka’bah is derived from ka’b (cube), because of its heights 51
Mecca is also called Bakkah.52 Al-Asma’i 53 says= “(It is called Bakkah,) because the people ‘squeezed’ (bakka) -that is, pushed-each other toward it.”
Mujahid 54 says= “The b of Bakkah was changed into m, as one says lazim and lazib ‘clinging, adhering,’ because of the proximity of the place of articulation of the two sounds.” An-Nakha’i 55 says= “Bakkah means the House, and Mecca the place.” Az-Zuhri 56 says; “Bakkah means the whole mosque, and Mecca the sacred precinct.”
Ever since pre-Islamic times, Mecca has been honored by the nations. Their rulers sent property and treasures there. (This was done, for instance,) by the Persian emperor (Khosraw) and others. The story of the swords and the two gazelles that ‘Abd-al-Muttalib found when the Zamzam was excavated is well known. 57
During the conquest of Mecca, the Messenger of God found in the cistern there 70,000 ounces of gold, which were gifts to the House by the rulers (of the foreign nations). Their value was 2,000,000 dinars of a weight of 200 hundredweight.
‘Ali b. Abi Talib told Muhammad that he should use the money for his war, but Muhammad did not do that. He (‘Ali) later on mentioned (the same thing) to Abu Bakr, but he could not move him. This is stated by al-Azraqt. 58
In al-Bukhari, there is the following story with a chain of transmitters going back to Abu Wa’il,59 who said= “I was with Shaybah b. ‘Uthman. 60 He said= ‘Umar b. al-Khattab was with me. He said= My intention is not to leave any gold or silver in (Mecca), but I shall distribute it among the Muslims.
I replied= You will not do that.
He asked= Why? I said= (Because) it was not done by your two masters (sahib). He said= “They are the two men who must be taken as models.” The story was (also) published by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah”.61
The money remained in Mecca up to the time of the disturbance caused by al-Aftas, that is, al-Husayn b. alHasan b. ‘Ali b. ‘Ali Zayn-al-’ Abidin, in the year 815.62
When (al-Aftas) conquered Mecca, he went to the Ka’bah and took everything that was in the treasury. He said= “What would the Ka’bah do with that money?
It lies there unused. We are more entitled to use it for our war (than is the Ka’bah to hold it).” So he took it out and used it. Since then, there has been no treasure in the Ka’bah.
Jerusalem is “the Most Remote Mosque.” 63
It began in the time of the Sabians as the site of a temple to Venus. The Sabians used oil as a sacrificial offering and poured it upon the rock that was there. The temple (of Venus) was later on totally destroyed.
The Israelites conquered Jerusalem and used it as the qiblah for their prayers. This happened in the following way:
Moses led the Israelite out of Egypt, in order to conquer Jerusalem, as God had promised to Isaac and Jacob, the fathers of Israel, 64 before him. While in the desert, God commanded Moses to use a tabernacle 65 of acacia wood, whose measurements, description, effigies (hayakil), 66 and statues were indicated (to Moses) in a revelation.
The tabernacle was to contain an ark, a table with plates, and a candelabrum with candles.
Moses was to make an altar for sacrifices. All this is very fully described in the Torah.
Moses made the tabernacle and placed in it the ark of the covenant - that is, the ark in which were kept the tablets fashioned in replacement of the tablets that had been sent down with the ten commandments and had been broken - and he placed the altar near it. God told Moses that Aaron should be in charge of the sacrifices.
The Israelites set up the tabernacle among their tents in the desert. They prayed to it, offered their sacrifices upon the altar in front of it, and went there in order to receive revelations. When they conquered Syria, they deposited it in Gilgal in the Holy Land between Benjamin and Ephraim. The tabernacle remained there 14 years, for seven years of war, and for seven years after the conquest, when the country was being divided.
When Joshua died, the Israelites transferred it to Shiloh, close to Gilgal, and surrounded it with walls. It remained there for 300 years, until the Philistines took it away. The Philistines returned the tabernacle.
After the death of Eli the priest, the Israelites transferred the tabernacle to Nob. Later on, in the days of Saul, it was transferred to Gibeon 69 in the land of Benjamin.
When David became ruler, he transferred the tabernacle and the ark to Jerusalem. He made a special tent for it, and placed it upon the Rock.
The tabernacle remained the qiblah of the Israelites. David wanted to build a temple upon the Rock in its place, but he was not able to complete it. He charged his son Solomon to take care of (the building of the temple). Solomon built it in the fourth year of his reign, 500 years after the death of Moses.
He made its columns of bronze, and he placed the glass pavilion 70 in it. He covered the doors and the walls with gold. He also used gold in fashioning its effigies (hayakil), statues, vessels, chandeliers, and keys. He made the back( room) 71 in (the form of) a vault.
In it, the ark of the covenant was to be placed. He brought it from Zion, the place of his father David. The tribes and priests carried it, and it was deposited in the vault.
The tabernacle, the vessels, and the altar were put in the places prepared for them in the Mosque. Things remained that way as long as God wished. The temple was later destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, 800 years after its construction.
Nebuchadnezzar burned the Torah and the staff (of Moses), melted the effigies (hayakil), and scattered the stones. Later on, the Persian rulers permitted the Israelites to return.
Ezra, the Israelite prophet at that time, rebuilt the temple with the help of the Persian ruler, Artaxerxes, who owed his birth to the Israelites who were led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar.72 He set limits upon the reconstruction of (the temple) by (the Israelites) which made it a smaller building than that of Solomon. The Israelites did not go beyond that plan.
The 74 vaulted halls underneath the temple in two superimposed stories, the columns of the upper story of which rest upon the vault of the lower story, are thought by many people to have been Solomon’s stables. This is not so.
The vaulted halls were built in order to avoid any contamination of the temple in Jerusalem.
According to Jewish law, something unclean that is deep down in the earth and separated from the surface by a layer of earth, so that a straight line would connect the unclean object in the earth with the object on the surface, could be suspected of making the object on the surface unclean.
A suspicion has the same implication as a fact in (Jewish legal) opinion. Therefore, (the Israelites) built these vaulted halls in this form, with the columns of the upper 75 hall resting upon the vaults of (the lower), so that there would be no straight line (between the object underground and the object upon the surface), along which contamination could spread, and thus any suspicion of the contamination of the temple was avoided.
This makes for greater ritual cleanliness and holiness for the temple.76
Then, the Greek, Persian, and Roman rulers successively had control over the children of Israel. During that period, a flourishing royal authority was enjoyed by the children of Israel and exercised by the Hasmoneans who were (Jewish) priests. The Hasmoneans, in turn, were succeeded by Herod, a relative of theirs by marriage, and by his children. Herod rebuilt (the temple in) Jerusalem very splendidly, after the plan of Solomon.
He completed it in six years. Then, Titus, one of the Roman rulers, appeared and defeated the (Jews) and took possession of their realm. He destroyed Jerusalem and the temple there.
The place where the temple had been standing he ordered to be turned into a field.
Then, Christianity was adopted by the Romans.
Constantine’s mother Helena became a Christian.78 She traveled to Jerusalem in search of the wood where Jesus had been crucified.
The priests informed her that his cross had been thrown to the ground and had been covered with excrements and filth. She discovered the wood and built “the Church of the Excrements” 80 over the place where those excrements had been.
Christians think that that Church is on the grave of the Messiah. Helena destroyed the parts of the House (the Temple) that she found standing. She ordered dung and excrements to be thrown upon the Rock, until it was entirely covered and its site obscured.
That she considered the proper reward for what (the Jews) had done to the grave of the Messiah. Opposite “the (Church of the) Excrements,” they later on built Bethlehem, the house where Jesus was born. 81
Things remained this way until the coming of Islam and the Muslim conquest.
‘Umar was present at the conquest of Jerusalem, and he asked to see the Rock. The place was shown to him. It was piled high with dung and earth.
He had it laid bare, and he built upon it a mosque in the Bedouin style. He gave it as muchveneration as God allowed and as befitted its excellence, as preordained and established in the divine Qur’an. 82
Al-Walid b. ‘Abd-al-Malik later on devoted himself to constructing the Mosque of (the Rock) in the style of the Muslim mosques, as grandly as God wanted him to do it.
He had done the same with the Mosque in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, as well as the Mosque of Damascus. The Arabs used to call (the Mosque of Damascus) the Nave (balat) of al-Walid. 83 Al-Walid compelled the Byzantine Emperor to send workers and money for the building of these mosques, and the Eastern Roman artisans were to embellish them with mosaics. The Eastern Emperor complied, and the construction of the mosques was able to materialize according to plan.
During the 11th century and especially at the end of it, the caliphate’s power weakened.
Jerusalem had the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids), the Shi’ah caliphs of Cairo. Their power also crumbled.
The European Christians conquered Jerusalem, as well as the border cities of Syria. Upon the holy Rock they built a church which they venerated and in the construction of which they took great pride.
Eventually, Salah-ad-din b. Ayyub al-Kurdi became the independent ruler of Egypt and Syria. He wiped out the influence and heresy of the Ubaydid (Fatimids). He advanced toward Syria and waged the holy war against the European Christians there. He deprived them of possession of Jerusalem and the other border cities of Syria they were holding.
This took place around the year 580 [1184/85].
Salah-ad-din destroyed the Christian church, uncovered the Rock, and rebuilt the Mosque in about the same form in which it is still standing at this time.
One should not bother about the famous problem arising from the sound tradition that the Prophet, when he was asked about the first “house” to be erected, replied= “First Mecca, and then Jerusalem.” And when he was asked how long the time interval between the two buildings had been, he replied= “Forty years.” 84
The span between the construction of Mecca and the construction of Jerusalem corresponds to the span between Abraham and Solomon, because it was Solomon who built the temple in Jerusalem. That is considerably more than 1,000 years.
The word “erected” that is used in the tradition was not intended to refer to “construction,” but it was intended to refer to the first House to be specially designated for divine worship.
It is not an unlikely assumption that Jerusalem was designated for divine worship a long time, such as (the period mentioned), before Solomon (built his temple). It has been reported that the Sabians built a temple to Venus upon the Rock. That was perhaps because (Jerusalem) was (already) a place of divine worship.
In the same way, pre-Islamic Arabs placed idols and statues in and around the Ka’bah. The Sabians who built the temple of Venus lived in the time of Abraham.
There was an interval of 40 years between the time when Mecca was made a place of divine worship and the time when the same occurred in Jerusalem, even if there was no building there (at that early date), as is well known. The first to build (a temple in) Jerusalem was Solomon. This should be understood, as it is the solution to the problem raised by the tradition.
Medina is a city that was originally) called Yathrib. It, was built by Yathrib b. Mahla’il (Mahalalel), an Amalekite, and named after him. The Jews took Medina away from the (Amalekites), together with the other parts of the Hijaz.
Then, (the Aws and the Khazraj), descendants of Qaylah 85 who belonged to the Ghassanids, settled as neighbors of (the children of Israel in Arabia) and took (Medina) and its castles away from the Jews.
Because of God’s preordained concern for Medina, the Prophet was commanded to emigrate there, and he did so in the company of Abu Bakr. The men around him followed him. He settled there and built his Mosque and his houses in the place God had prepared for that (purpose) and had predestined since eternity for that honor.
The descendants of Qaylah received him hospitably and helped him. Therefore, they were called “the Helpers” (al-Ansar). Islam spread from Medina and eventually gained the upper hand over all other (organizations). Muhammad defeated his own people. He conquered Mecca. The Helpers thought that he would now move away from them and return to his own country. 86
This thought weighed upon them. However, the Messenger of God addressed 87 them and informed them that he would not move. Thus, when he died, he was even buried in Medina.
In praise of Medina’s excellence, there exist sound traditions, as everybody knows. Scholars disagree as to whether Medina should be considered as more excellent than Mecca. Malik expressed himself in favor of Medina, because he accepted the clear statement to that effect on the authority of Rafi’ b. Khudayj, 88 which said that the Prophet had said= “Medina is better than Mecca.”
This tradition was transmitted by ‘Abd-al-Wahhab 89 in the Ma’unah. There are other suchtraditions the explicit wording of which indicates the same thing. Abu Hanifah and ash-Shafi’i were of a different opinion. At any rate, (Medina) comes right after the Sacred Mosque (of Mecca). The hearts of people everywhere long for it.
We have no information about any mosque on earth other than these three, save for stories about the Mosque of Adam on the Indian island of Ceylon. But there exists no wellestablished information about that mosque upon which one may rely. The ancient nations had mosques which they venerated in what they thought to be a spirit of religious devotion.
There were the fire temples of the Persians and the temples of the Greeks and the houses of the Arabs in the Hijaz, which the Prophet ordered destroyed on his raids.
Al-Mas’udi mentioned some of them.
We have no occasion whatever to mention them. They are not sanctioned by a religious law. They have nothing to do with religion.
No attention is paid to them or to their history. In connection with them, the information contained in historical works is enough. Whoever wants to have historical information (about them) should consult the historical works.