KAABA, ka'a ba: The pre-Mohammedan sanctuary at Mecca, adopted by the Mohammedans as the chief sanctuary of their faith. It is situated in the heart of Mecca, the sacred city of Islam (see MOHAMMED, MOHAMMEDANISM), in a court approximately 535 feet by 355 feet which forms an irregular oblong, the long axis of which is approximately n.e.-s.w., while its sides are only approximately parallel. The wall which bounds the enclosure does not preserve its direction throughout on any one of the four sides, while on the northeastern and southwestern sides are projections forming two large halls. The wall is pierced by nineteen ungated entrances. On the inside and next to the bounding wall a triple or, in some places, a quadruple, colonnade a little over twenty feet in height limits the open area, while each group of four columns supports a small dome as a part of the roof of the colonnade. The ground level of the area inside the walls is lower than that outside. The Kaaba itself is near the center of the enclosure, a structure in the form of a trapezium, no two sides exactly parallel, with its long axis transverse to that of the court, the diagonals being nearly in the direction of the cardinal points, one corner of the building being said by the Arabs to face the North Star. The structure is about fifty-five feet by forty-five, and between thirty-five and forty feet in height, built of the common gray stone of the district, the courses of which are irregular. Its roof is nearly flat, yet sufficiently inclined to shed the rainfall easily. The main structure rises from a sloping base two feet in height. It has no win dows and but one door, placed on the eastern side about six feet from the southeast corner and seven feet from the ground. At the southeast corner is the Black Stone, an irregular oval about seven inches in diameter, the pieces of which it is composed being joined by cement. It has an uneven surface, though it is worn smooth by the constant kissing and rubbing to which it has for ages been subjected by the faithful. It is described now as being a deep reddish brown, but whether it is basaltic or a meteorite is undetermined, with probabilities in favor of the latter. It is set in the wall about fifty inches from the pavement, and is surrounded by a border of composite cement so set as to form a boss, and this is supported by a circle of gold or silver or gilt. In the northeast corner is another stone of the material common about Mecca, eighteen inches by two in size, set horizontally in the wall, which receives a secondary veneration, being rubbed by pilgrims with the right hand but never kissed. A slight hollow in the northeastern side in the pavement is lined with marble and is hallowed as the place where Abraham and Ishmael mixed the material with which they built the Kaaba. The roof is sustained by three cross beams each supported in the center by a column covered with decorated aloe wood. In the northern corner is a small door leading to a staircase and the roof, used only by the attendants for purposes of work. The roof of the Kaaba is covered by a robe or mantle which hangs over the sides. This is made at Cairo by a family in which the monopoly is hereditary, and is made of coarse silk and cotton. The interior of the court about the Kaaba has three levels: (1) a pavement of marble immediately surrounding the Kaaba in an irregular oval, about which is an oval of small columns between which lamps are suspended; (2) a second pavement about twenty feet broad and slightly higher than the interior pavement; (3) a pavement six inches higher and about forty feet in width, surrounding the two inner pavements. Between the outer edge of this last and the colonnade the ground is graveled except where the stone walks lead to several of the gates. There are a number of smaller structures at different points of the outer pavement which serve various purposes, one of them covering the sacred well Zem Zem. The lowest pavement next the Kaaba is that upon which the sevenfold circuit of the building is made by the pilgrims.
Arabic legend asserts that the present structure is the tenth in historical order. The first was built by the angels before the creation; the second by Adam; the third by Seth, and was destroyed in the deluge; the fourth by Abraham; the fifth by the Amalikah, descendants of Shem; the sixth by the Beni Jurham, about the Christian era; the seventh by Kusay bin-Kilab, fifth in order of ascent among Mohammed's paternal ancestors; the eight in Mohammed's twenty-fifth (thirty-fifth) year; the ninth in 686 A.D. (64 A.H.) by Abdullah bin-Zubaye, nephew of Ayesha, after the Black Stone had been split by fire or by the weapons of an enemy; the tenth between 1652 and 1662 A.D., after the partial destruction of the house by flood in 1652. The ceremony of circumambulation was performed about all of these, according to Arab tradition. That the Kaaba has a high antiquity is made certain by Diodorus Siculus who asserts that "there is in this country (Arabia) a temple greatly revered by all the Arabs." The very universality of reverence asserted here and supported by Arab tradition guarantees an early origin for the structure.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The foregoing description of the Kaaba is taken from a careful comparison of the accounts of R. F. Burton, Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Meccah and Medinah, chaps. xxvi.-xxx., and Appendix, London, 1879; A. Sprenger, Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammed, ii. 340-347, 3 Vols., Berlin, 1861-65: and J. L. Burckardt, Travels in Arabia, pp. 136 sqq, London, 1829. The history is taken from W. Muir, Life of Mahomet, vol. i., pp. ccx. sqq., London, 1861; and A. P. Caussin de Perceval, Essai sur l'histoire des Arabes avant l'islamisme, i. 170-175, Paris, 1847.
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