The New International Encyclopædia/Kaaba

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The New International Encyclopædia
Edition of 1905. See also Kaaba on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

KAABA, kä'bȧ (Ar. ka'bah, square house or chamber). The cube-shaped stone building in the centre of the mosque of Mecca, dating from pre-Islamic times and taken over by Mohammed into the new faith. It seems probable that the name originally designated the square stele representing the god Hobal, who was worshiped there. According to Epiphanius the name of the virgin mother of the god Dusares at Petra was Χααβοῦ, and at Tabala, in Yemen, the name originally designated the white flint stone with a crown sculptured on it which gave its name to the sanctuary (Yemenite Kaaba). The Kaaba has the shape of an irregular cube about 40 feet long, 33 feet wide. 50 feet high. Its corners are oriented. In the northeast corner, about five feet from the ground, is set the famous Black Stone which gives the Kaaba its sanctity. This stone, probably of meteoric origin, is an irregular oval about seven inches in diameter, composed of a number of broken pieces kept together by cement. It is held in extreme veneration by Mohammedans, and is touched and kissed by them in the seven circuits made around the building during the ceremonies connected with the Hajj (q.v.). In the southeast corner a stone of lighter color is also set, but this is not venerated as the Black Stone. Not far from the latter, six or seven feet above the ground, in the north side of the building, is the only entrance to the Kaaba, which is reached by movable staircases, one for men and the other for women. The present very ornate ones were the gift of a pious Indian Moslem. This door is opened three times a year —  once for men, a second time for women, and a third time to permit the inside to be cleaned. On the northwest side is a semicircular space surrounded by a wall, called al-Hijr or al-Hatim. Inside the Kaaba there was originally a dry well, above which was the square statue of the god. There is also said to have been a dove made of aloe wood. To judge from the account of the Persian traveler Nasiri Khusra, in 1035, the interior was once highly ornamented with gold, silver, and costly marbles. There remain today the beautiful pavement of massive marble, the Arabic inscriptions which run along the walls, and the lamps of massive gold suspended from the ceiling. Though changes have been made from time to time, the building is substantially what it was at the time of the Prophet. The flat roof dates from his time. When Mecca was besieged by the Ommiads, fire almost destroyed the building, and it was restored to its original form by Hajjaj. In 1611 the walls threatened to fall in, and a girdle of gilded copper was put around them. In 1630 one of the many floods which from time to time devastate the valley in which the Kaaba stands greatly injured the building, and the whole was rebuilt, but with the original stones. The first caliphs covered the building with costly Egyptian hangings, then with red, yellow, green, or white silk. At the beginning of the ninth century the Caliph was accustomed to send three new coverings a year. Up to 1516 the Sultan of Egypt sent such a covering when he ascended the throne. Since the Osmanli rule the cover is made of thick black brocade, and is sent every year from Cairo at the same time as the maḥmal, or covered litter, the emblem of royalty. The cover has a golden legend, made up of extracts from the Koran, embroidered around its whole surface 33 feet from the bottom. A special foundation provides the money for this purpose, and the ceremony of sending it out is connected with much pomp.

The Kaaba stands within a space called the Mosque, or the Haram (Holy Place). This was originally quite small, the houses of the city reaching right up to it. This space was enlarged by successive caliphs; Al-Mahdi (777-781) built colonnades all around the mosque and covered them with teakwood. In course of time seven minarets were added for the muezzins, and the space immediately around the Kaaba was surrounded by posts through which plaited cords were run and on which lamps were hung. The mosque was rebuilt by Sultan Selim II. (1566-74), and small cupolas were placed over the stoas in the colonnades. This mosque, which is very much more imposing than the simple arrangement at Mohammed's time is unequal in the length of its sides and the angles of its corners. The floor sinks from east, north, and south to the middle; seven causeways run out from the inner circle of the Kaaba to the colonnades. Part of the space and the flooring of the colonnades are of marble. There is a building containing the sacred well, Zemzem, the only well in Mecca. Northwest of this and opposite the entrance of the Kaaba is the Maḳām Ibrahīm, a holy stone of heathen times, originally kept in the Kaaba, then in a stone receptacle under the Kaaba, and now in a box under the cupola of the building. It is used by the Imam (leader in prayer) of the Shafiites. Other maḳāms were introduced during the twelfth century. The mimbar (pulpit) was introduced under the Ommiad caliidis; the present one was the gift of Sultan Solyman II. (1549).

Many legends in regard to the origin and history of the Kaaba and the Black Stone are current among the Moslems. Mohammed himself (Koran, sura xxii. 119) connected the building of the first structure with the patriarch Abraham. Other legends refer this building to Adam, who is said to have fashioned it after its prototype in heaven. The Black Stone is said to have originally been white, but to have turned black, either through the sins of men or the millions of kisses which have been imprinted upon it. Consult: Snouck-Hurgronje, Mekka (The Hague, 1888-89); Wüstenfeld, Die Chroniken der Stadt Mekka (Leipzig, 1861); Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia (London, 1829); Burton, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Mecca (London, 1855); Salih Soubhi, Pèlerinage à la Mecque et à Médine (Cairo, 1894); Wellhausen, Skizzen und Vorarbeiten, iii. (2d ed., Berlin, 1897).

NIE 1905 Kaaba.jpg