In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, Ever Merciful.
Love for All, Hatred for None.
The Ka'bah is a stone cubicle structure measuring 15.25 m high. It is empty on the inside except for the sacred black stone (Hajr-al-Aswad) which is embedded in one corner. The Ka'bah is the physical centre of Islam. It is revered as the very House of God. The Ka'bah, as hinted in the Qur'an itself, was originally built by the Prophet Adam (as) and was, for some time, the centre of worship for his progeny. Then in the course of time people became separated into different communities and adopted different centres for worship. The Qur'an (Ch. 3, v. 97) and authentic Traditions favour the view that prior to the erection of a building on this site by Abraham some sort of structure did exist, but it had fallen into ruins and only a trace of it had remained.
Abraham, under divine guidance, then rebuilt it some 4000 years ago and it continued to remain a centre of worship for his progeny through his son Ishmael (peace be on them). But with the lapse of time it became virtually converted into a house of idols which numbered as many as 360, almost the same as the number of days in a year. At the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) however, it was again made the centre of worship for all nations -- the Holy Prophet (sa) having been sent as a Messenger to all mankind, to unite those, who had become separated after Prophet Adam (as) into one common human brotherhood.
It is said that around the year 570 A.D., the Christian Chief of Yemen, named Abraha, attempted to invade Makkah with the intention of destroying the Ka'bah. Abraha's army rode on elephants and in the Arab history the year 570 A.D. is known as the 'Year of the Elephant'. Abraha did not succeed in his mission and his army was destroyed by an epidemic of disease and a terrible storm. A special mention is made of this incident in a chapter of the Holy Qur'an in Surah Al-Fil:
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, Merciful. Knowest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the Owner of the Elephant? Did He not cause their design to miscarry? And He sent against them swarms of birds, which ate their dead bodies, striking them against stones of clay. And thus made them like broken straw, eaten up.This is the same year in which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) was born, at which time his grandfather, Abdul-Muttalib, chief of the Arab noble tribe 'Quraish', was also the chief of Makkah.
Prophet Muhammad's (sa) desire for maintaining peace and averting conflict is quite evident from an incident that occurred when he was about 35 years old. The Quraish of Makkah decided to rebuild the Ka'bah after some cracks had appeared in its walls. All the families of the Quraish assisted in this effort. As the walls rose from the ground and the time came to replace the sacred black stone in its place, a dispute broke out. Each of the four main families of the Quraish wanted this honour exclusively for themselves and the construction of the Ka'bah came to a halt. After many days of suspended work, the Quraish assembled again and decided that the first person to enter the Ka'bah's courtyard will be chosen to settle the dispute. Muhammad (sa) happened to be the first person to pass through. He was informed of the dispute, quickly grasped the situation and placed his mantle on the ground and asked that the Black Stone be placed on it. He then asked the four families of the Quraish to hold each corner of the cloth and raise the stone to its place. Thus, through his wisdom, he averted the conflict and resolved the dispute in a manner acceptable to the Quraish.
No one knows for sure the background to the Black Stone (Hajr-al-Aswad), except for the fact that it was already there when Prophet Ibrahim and Ismael (peace be on them) rebuilt the Ka'bah under the direction of God. As the Ka'bah was a centre of worship centuries before the advent of Prophet Ibrahim (as), it is believed that the Black Stone was part of the original structure. And as the structure fell to ruin over the centuries, traces of the foundation with the Black Stone remained. God directed Prophet Ibrahim (as) to the site of the remaining traces of the foundation and directed him to rebuild the Ka'bah for the purpose of worship. The Black Stone was embedded in one of the four corners above ground level.
Though it had obviously been revered and respected by the previous generations, it should be borne in mind that the Black Stone itself does not hold any spiritual significance at all. The pilgrim may touch or if he can approach near enough, kiss the Black Stone, which is an emotional gesture calling to mind the Prophet (sa) kissed it when he performed circuit. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) did this, not because of any sanctity attached to the stone, but as an expression of his emotion at the Ka'bah, originally constructed by Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Prophet Ismael (peace be on them), having been finally restored to the worship of the One True God, and would henceforth remain dedicated to that worship. Fearing that the Prophet's kissing the Black Stone might be interpreted as ascribing some special virtue to the stone, Hadhrat Umar, the 2nd Khalifa (peace be on him), when performing the circuit, observed: I know this is only a stone no different from other similar stones, and were it not the memory that the Prophet expressed his gratitude to God for His favours and bounties by kissing it, I would pay no attention to it.
From whichever direction the pilgrim enters the enclosure and approaches the Ka'bah, he begins his circuit from the corner in which the Black Stone is placed. A circuit of the Ka'bah means circumambulating it 7 times, reciting certain prayers, beginning and ending opposite the Back Stone.
The Ka'bah is held in reverence by all Muslims of the world. Pilgrimage to the 'House of God' is a duty of every Muslim (if they can afford it), as is facing the direction of the Ka'bah (Qiblah) during their 5 daily Prayers. The cloth covering that drapes the Ka'bah is called the Kiswa and has a fascinating and colourful history. Although its precise origin has been difficult to trace, the use of the Kiswa clearly pre-dates the advent of Islam. It is traditionally known that when the Prophet Abraham (as) was told by God to rebuild the Ka'bah, no mention was made of the Kiswa. Some scholars argue that the first Kiswa was made by the Prophet Ismael (as), but there is no evidence to support this. Others affirm that the first Kiswa was made by Adnan bin Ad', a great great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad (sa), but this claim also lacks authentication.
The first historically verifiable record of the draping of the Ka'bah attributes the honour to Tabu Karab Aswad, King of Humayyur in the Yemen. Tabu invaded Yathrib (now Madinah) in 400 C.E., 220 years before the Hijra. He also entered Makkah and performed Umrah. He is said to have dreamt that he was making a covering and then dressed the Ka'bah with this Kasaf made of dried palm leaves sewn together. In one form or another, the Kiswa has draped the Ka'bah ever since.
After the Prophet Muhammad (sa) defeated the pagans of Makkah and entered the Ka'bah, he cleansed it of all idols and turned it into a sacred sanctuary of monotheistic Islamic worship. In the 10th year of the Hijra (630 C.E.), 2 years after the Prophet (sa) led the campaign to free Makkah, the sacred valley of Mina, and Mount Arafat from the control of the Makkan pagans, he performed his first and only pilgrimage (Hajj). Over 100,000 pilgrims, at that date the largest gathering ever, flocked from all over Arabia for this pilgrimage. For the first time in many centuries, the Ka'bah had once again become the exclusive sanctuary of monotheism. It is said that on this pilgrimage the Prophet Muhammad dressed the Ka'bah in its first Islamic Kiswa, referred to as the 'Yemeni Kiswa'. Khalifa (Caliph) Umar bin Al-Khattab ordered the first Egyptian-made Kiswa in 13 A.H. (634 C.E.). It was made from thick cloth known as Gabaati. Every year, at the time of pilgrimage, the Kiswa was cut into pieces and distributed among the pilgrims. Verses such as 'Glory be to Allah', 'There is no God save Allah', and 'Allah is Merciful and Loving' used to be stitched on to the Kiswa in those early days of Islam.
At one time, it had become a custom that the old Kiswa was not removed, the new one being put on top of the old. This continued until the reign of Al-Mahdi, the Abbasid Khalifa. When he performed Hajj in 160 A.H. (775 C.E.) he saw that the accumulated Kiswas could cause damage to the Ka'bah itself. He therefore decreed that only one Kiswa should drape the Ka'bah at any one time, and this has been observed ever since.
The colour of the Kiswa has also changed many times over the centuries. Al-Mamoon -- 198-218 A.H. (813-833) dressed the Ka'bah in a red Kiswa, and by the reign of contemporary of Saladin the Great, Khalifa Al-Nasir Al-Abbasi, the colour of the Kiswa had changed to green. Khalifa Al-Nasir changed it to black, and black it has remained to this day.
For centuries the Kiswa used to be transported from Egypt to Makkah in the Mahmal -- a special litter at the head of a caravan, with as many as 15 camels carrying various sections of the revered garment. The sending of the Mahmal was regularly accompanied by much fanfare and celebration in Egypt, while its arrival in Makkah was hailed with music and joyous acclaim. When the founder of Saudi Arabia, the late King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud entered Makkah in 1924 C.E., he and his men objected to the music and dancing which accompanied the delivery of the Kiswa from Egypt. He and his men held to the pure Islamic faith and considered this an unacceptable innovation, and this eventually led to clashes with Egyptians which resulted in them stopping to send the Kiswa. King Abdul Aziz founded the holy Ka'bah factory. The first Makkan-made Kiswa to drape the Ka'bah was at the end of 1927 and for the next 10 years Makkah produced the Kiswa.
With the political rift healed in 1939, Egypt resumed sending the Kiswa until it fell victim again to the vagaries of political change in 1962. The Kiswa factory in Makkah was once again opened and it was declared that 'the Kiswa factory should be in Makkah so that it is not affected by the moods of the rulers of the Muslim world'.
Every year the Kiswa is woven at a cost of SR17 million. It is made of 670 kg pure white silk, which is later dyed black. It is made up of 47 pieces, each piece being 14 m long and 95 cm wide. The Ikhlas Surah from the Holy Qur'an is embroidered in gold on the four corners. Under the belt, all round the Kiswa, there are 16 panels with Qur'anic verses. The intricate calligraphy is emblazoned on the black silk using 120 kg of gold and silver wire. The ratio of gold to silver is 1 to 4. On the bright sunny days the blazing Arabian sun glints off the Kiswa's lustrous gold and silver embroidery. At night the Kiswa shimmers with the soft glow in the brightly-lit open courtyard of the Grand Mosque. The effect is at once awe-inspiring and breathtaking, as well as being soothing to the eyes of the faithful. The sight of the Ka'bah covered with the splendour of the Kiswa is an image which becomes emblazoned in the minds of those who have had the honour of visiting the house of Allah. With longing they will picture this beautiful sight over and over.
The interior of the Ka'bah is draped with dark green silk, also decorated with Qur'anic verses and Islamic designs. The solid gold doors of the Ka'bah are set 2 m above the ground and a movable wooden canopied staircase is used to enter the Ka'bah on the rare occasions when the doors are opened only to the King of Saudi Arabia and his special guests.
One of these special people were the late Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, a prominent member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, who visited Makkah. Sir Zafrullah Khan was a very distinguished man. In 1947 he was appointed Foreign Minister of Pakistan; for many years he led the Pakistan Delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and he was President of the General Assembly's 17th Session. Since then he had served as Judge and President of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. He was not only a great expounder of Islam, but also a distinguished and prominent member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at. Yet, with all these achievements, he remained a humble and pious person living a very simple life. In the early part of 1958 he went to Makkah for the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage), and visited Madinah as well. He was familiar with the then Prince Faizal, who was at the time Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and had officially visited Pakistan with his entourage to whom Sir Zafrullah Khan, then the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, had afforded them excellent hospitality. In Makkah, he was afforded royal hospitality and he was privileged to enter the Ka'bah itself and to say two Raka'ats of Prayer facing each of the four directions. Sir Zafrullah Khan's second visit to Makkah for Umrah and Hajj took place in the year 1967. He was a special guest of King Faizal and was afforded impeccable hospitality during his stay.
Twice a year, in the months of Shaban and Dhul Hijja, the interior of the Ka'bah is ceremonially washed with water perfumed with rose and sandalwood. The ceremonial washing is performed by the king or sometimes his deputised representative, the governor of Makkah. Nowadays it is done by the custodian of the two Mosques. At the second washing which takes places a few days before Hajj, the Kiswa is replaced by a new one. The removed Kiswa is then cut into pieces and presented as mementos to Muslim individuals and diplomats and to favoured institutions all over the world. The reception hall in the delegates' lounge of the UN building in New York is adorned by one particularly large and impressive piece, the Sitara (one of the four drapes that cover the doors of the Ka'bah) which measures 2.5 m wide and 9 m high.
The Kiswa, by itself, does not hold any particular religious significance to Muslims. It should therefore be understood that the reverence in which it is held, and the magnitude of effort and cost that goes into its making and upkeep, is due solely to the desire of Muslims to ensure that it reflects the sanctity, the splendour, and the majesty befitting the structure that it drapes, the Ka'bah -- House of Allah.
The Ka'bah is par excellence the House of Allah. Of course, all the places of worship are 'Houses of Allah', and as the Prophet (sa) declared: 'The whole earth is made a mosque for me', but the Ka'bah has been declared by God Himself to be the Sacred House, being the first House consecrated to the worship of the One True God (Holy Qur'an, Ch. 3: v. 97). Thus the expression 'House of Allah' is understood through the Muslim world to refer to the Ka'bah.
[Facts on the Kiswa taken from Ahlan Wasahlan, Aug. 1986]