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Courtesy: The Muslim Observer, Vol II, Issue Eleven, March 17-23, 2000.

The small, cubed building known as the Kaba [Ka'bah] may not rival skyscrapers in height or mansions in width, but its impact on history and human beings is unmatched. The Kaba 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 (peace and blessings be upon him) over 1400 years ago.

The Size of the Kaba

The current height of the Kaba is 39 feet, 6 inches and total size comes to 627 square feet. The inside room of the Kaba is 13 x 9 meters. The Kaba'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 [Abraham], Ismail [Ishmael] and Muhammad (peace be upon them all), [Prophets of Allah]. No other building has had this honor. Yet, not very much is [commonly] known about the details of this small but significant building. Did you know the Kaba was reconstructed as recently as close to four years ago? Did you know that the Kaba has been subjected to danger by natural disasters like flooding, as well as human attacks? If you didn't keep reading, you'll find some rarely heard of information discussed below and discover facts about the Kaba many are unaware of.

The Other Names of the Kaba

Literally, Kaba in Arabic means a high place with respect and prestige. The word Kaba may also be a derivative of a word meaning cube. Some of these other names include: 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.

The History of the Kaba

Scholars and historians say that the Kaba has been reconstructed between five to 12 times. The very first construction of the Kaba was done by Prophet Adam. Allah [swt, glory be to Him] says in the Quran that this was the first house that was built for humanity to worship Allah. After this, Prophet Ibrahim and Ismail rebuilt the Kaba.

The measurements of the Kaba's/ Ibrahimic foundation are as follows:

  1. the eastern wall was 48 feet and 6 inches
  2. the Hateem side wall was 33 feet
  3. the side between the black stone and the Yemeni corner was 30 feet
  4. the Western side was 46.5 feet
  5. Following this, there were several constructions before Prophet Muhammad's time.

    Prophet Muhammad participated in one of its reconstructions before he became a Prophet. After a flash flood, the Kaba was damaged and its walls cracked. It needed rebuilding. This responsibility was divided among the Quraish's four tribes. Prophet Muhammad 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 Kaba.

    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. 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 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 then picked up the stone and placed it on the wall of the Kaba.

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

    Construction After the Prophet's Time

    Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr

    The Syrian army destroyed [damaged] the Kaba in Muharram 64 (Hijri date, 683 C.E.) and before the next Hajj Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, may Allah be pleased with him, reconstructed the Kaba from the ground up.

    Ibn az-Zubayr wanted to make the Kaba how the Prophet Muhammad 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 said: "If your people had not quite recently abandoned the Ignorance (Unbelief), and if I had sufficient provisions to rebuild it [the Kaba], 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-Zuhayr said, "Today, I can afford to do it and I do not fear the people."

    Ibn az-Zuhayr built the Kaba 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 wanted but did not do in his lifetime. He rebuilt the Kaba on the Prophet Ibrahim's foundation, which meant that the Hateem area was included. The Hateem is the area adjacent to the Kaba enclosed by a low semi-circular wall. Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr also made the following additions and modifications:

  6. put a small window close to the roof of the Kaba to allow for light. moved the door of the Kaba to ground level and added a second door to the Kaba.
  7. added nine cubits to the height of the Kaba, making it twenty cubits high.
  8. its walls were two cubits wide.
  9. reduced the pillars inside the House to three instead of six as were earlier built by Quraish.
  10. For reconstruction, ibn az-Zubayr put up four pillars around Kaba 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 Kaba 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, restored its old structure as the Quraish had had it.

    Some of the changes he made were the following:

  11. 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.
  12. removed the wooden ladder Ibn az-Zubayr had put inside the Kaba.
  13. reduced the door's height by five cubits.
  14. When Abdul Malik bin Marwan came for Umra and heard the Hadith that it was wish of Prophet for the Kaba 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 Kaba the way the Prophet Muhammad 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 Kaba. Based on this advice, Harun al Rasheed did not reconstruct the Kaba. 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 Kaba's walls fell down. The flood during which this occurred took place on the 19th of Shaban 1039 Hijri [April 2, 1630] which continued constantly, so the water in the Kaba 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 [May 9, 1630]. The rest of the walls except for the one near the Black Stone, were demolished.

    By the 2nd of Zul-Hijjah 1040 [July 2, 1631] 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 Prophet hood.

    On Rajab 28 1377 [Feb. 17, 1958], One historian counted the total stones of the Kaba 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 Kaba in 1996

    A major reconstruction of the Kaba 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 Kaba are the stones. All other material has been replaced including the ceiling and the roof and its wood.

    What is inside the Kaba?

    Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi is the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He had the opportunity to go inside the Kaba in October 1998. In an interview with Sound Vision, he described the following features:

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

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