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December 2005
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Closer to the Kaaba
By Adil Salahi

Pilgrims to Makkah are wonderstruck by the Kaaba and seek to know more about it.

People often wonder why we kiss the Black Stone when we do the tawaf around the Kaaba. Some people go further and kiss the corner before it. Certain reports suggest that Prophet Abraham only renovated the Kaaba that was built long before him. What is the truth in all this?

We may mention first that the Kaaba is subject to all natural phenomena that affect buildings. Hence, at times it was in danger of collapse and needed renovation. Indeed we know that it was rebuilt by the Quraysh shortly before the beginning of Islamic revelations. Its foundation had been weakened by floods. The story about arbitration among the Makkans as to which of their tribes would have the honour of putting the Black Stone in its place is well known. The arbiter was Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) who, at the time had not received any revelations from on high, which means that he was not yet a Prophet. His ruling averted armed conflict between the tribes that could have led to much bloodshed.

The Kaaba was rebuilt several times, whenever its structure showed need for strengthening or rebuilding. Abdullah ibn Al-Zubayr and Abd Al-Malik ibn Marwan were two people who rebuilt the Kaaba. They were contemporaries of each other and lived close to the time of the Prophet (Pbuh).

It is believed that the semi-circle area next to the Kaaba, which is known as Hijr Ismaeel or Al-Hateem, was originally part of the structure built by the Prophets Abraham and Ismael (peace be upon them). Reports mention that when Abdullah ibn Al-Zubayr, a companion of the Prophet, rebuilt the Kaaba, he incorporated this area in the building, but when his rival, Abd Al-Malik ibn Marwan, a caliph who rebuilt it, he left the semi-circle area outside it, as it is today. The tawaf, which is the act of worship performed by walking around the Kaaba seven times, is done outside this area because it was originally part of it. However, the Kaaba was originally of rectangular shape. The exact position of the two corners on the side of the semi-circle is not known now for certain. By contrast, we are sure that the other two corners known as the Black Stone and Al-Rukn Al-Yamani are in their original places.

We kiss the Black Stone simply because the Prophet kissed it. We do not kiss Al-Rukn Al-Yamani because the Prophet did not do so. This is all part of the tawaf that is an act of worship that we perform in the same way as the Prophet did. We are recommended, however, to do like him and touch Al-Rukn Al-Yamani with our hands and pray: “My Lord! Forgive me and have mercy on me.”

There are various reports that suggest different dates of building the Kaaba. One report mentions that it was built by angels before the creation of Adam. This report, mentioned by Al-Qurtubi, a leading scholar and commentator on the Qur’an, is described by Hadith scholars as “strange.” Another similarly classified report mentions Adam as its first builder, and that in completing his task he used stones brought from five different mountains including Mount Hira’ in the vicinity of Makkah, Mount Sinai, Mount Zita in Palestine, the mountain of Lebanon and the mountain known as Al-Judi, on which Noah’s ark landed after the floods had subsided. A third report suggests that the first builder of the Kaaba was Prophet Sheeth, one of the early children of Prophet Adam.

According to Imam Ibn Katheer, a leading commentator on the Qur’an, all these reports and similar ones are based on reports contained in the scriptures of early religions. Our attitude to such reports is that we neither accept them as correct nor reject them as false. We simply cannot base any views on them, unless they are corroborated by an authentic Hadith. This means that it is possible that the Kaaba was built sometime before Prophet Abraham and that it was raised before he was assigned the task of building it again, but we cannot say that with any degree of certainty. All we know for certain is that Abraham and his son Ismael built the Kaaba, because God tells us so in the Qur’an.

The Kaaba is the focus of Islamic worship. We face it when we pray, wherever we are in the world, and we walk around it as part of the pilgrimage rituals. Such walk, known as tawaf, is a form of prayer, while the pilgrimage is described as a journey to the Kaaba. However, some people try to add some romantic flavour to the pilgrimage. Once a reader wrote to me that there are three types of pilgrims:

1. those who answer the call of Prophet Abraham: They perform the pilgrimage as it should be performed and return home to live as good Muslims until they die;

2. those who answer the call of the angel Gabriel: they die during their performance of the pilgrimage; and

3. those who hear the call of Iblis: They go home after their pilgrimage and engage in acts that are contrary to Islam.

This is one of the strangest things I ever heard about the pilgrimage. To start with, if the angel Gabriel makes a call to people to do the pilgrimage, God would have told us about it, either in the Qur’an or through the Prophet. The fact that He has not means that there is no such call and, therefore, the claim concerning it collapses. There is no doubt that a pilgrim who offers his pilgrimage with sincerity and devotion and dies in the process is in a happy position because he has done a duty which ensures forgiveness of past sins and he has died before he has committed any new ones. To say that he has answered an angel’s call suggests that the call is made to us all, but he is one who has the privilege of answering it. This is false.

The call of Prophet Abraham is true in the sense that when he completed the building of the Kaaba, God instructed him to call on people to do the pilgrimage. This is mentioned in Verse 27 of Surah 22. When he received this order, Abraham stood on top of the Kaaba and called out to mankind: “God commands you to do the pilgrimage. Therefore, do it.” God has made the message given in this call known to people in a variety of ways. Muslims know it since it is one of the most essential duties of their faith. Everyone who goes on pilgrimage with the intention of fulfilling this Islamic duty may be described as responding to the call of Prophet Abraham.

It is well known that the reward of a pilgrimage offered with sincerity, conscientiousness and proper submission to God is complete forgiveness of all one’s past sins. Therefore, every pilgrim is expected to review his pattern of behaviour, his attitude to life and the choices he normally makes. Having ensured the forgiveness of his past sins, he wants to make sure that he will never be guilty of a cardinal sin. As for minor mistakes and offences, we all commit these and hope that God will forgive us our slips and errors.

Nobody is expected to be perfect in every sense. If someone, nevertheless, commits grave mistakes, he cannot be described as having answered the call of Iblis, i.e. Satan, simply because Satan does not call anybody to do the pilgrimage.

It is true that Satan tries to persuade everyone of us to indulge in sin and disobedience to God, but anyone who yields to this temptation may be said to follow Satan, not only those who have done the pilgrimage and then yielded to such temptation. In short, the division of pilgrims into these three groups is a myth that cannot be supported with any reliable evidence.