Three things determined the rise of Makkah to influence, power and wealth. To begin with, its wells, among which the Zamzam is historically the most famous, which attracted the nomadic tribes around Makkah to come there for water and settlement. Secondly, it's trading position, because Makkah lay on a junction of the great trade-routes which passed from Yemen to Syria and Iraq. But most importantly, its sanctuary of Holy Kaaba , founded by the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and his son, Ismael (peace be upon him), which gradually became the hub of the ancient Arabs. These factors made Makkah an important place after the fall of the Yemeni kingdom of Sana and set the stage for the rise of Islam.
In spite of the widespread knowledge of Islam and an elaborate global system of information technology, the Holy Kaaba still remains the curiosity it seemed half a century ago. This giant black cube occupies the centre of the Masjid al Haram and pilgrims are seen circumambulating it day and night non-stop. If Kaaba is the heart of Makkah, true to the metaphor, this heart beats throughout the year.
Approaching it from afar, no one can fail to be impressed by the great height of this celebrated monument, which from base to top is enriched by broad bands of elaborately carved ornament. Its architectural majesty and grandeur become very impressive. The stonework is so admirable that it is impossible to conceive anything more perfect.
How old is the Kaaba?
When was it that the Kaaba was first built? .History tells us that when the Kaaba was founded by Hazarat Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and Hazarat Ismael (peace be upon him), Makkah did not exist. For several centuries after, it was no more than a camping ground for the neighbouring nomadic tribes. Then, probably in the first century of the Christian era, the Bani Jurhum acquired the guardianship of the Kaaba and laid the foundations of the city of Makkah.
Kaaba was not exclusively an Islamic Monument:
Or to be more specific, different religions have held it high in their prestige. It remained in the hands of Islam, paganism and Islam again. Although when it was built by the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) it was meant to be a symbol of Allah’s sovereignty over the earth. But in later ages, during which paganism spread far and wide, the idolaters of Hijaz kept it for themselves, undoubtedly charmed by its majesty. For ages the Kaaba served as a pagan monastery wherein idols of Gods and Goddesses (notable idols being those of Al-Lat, Manat, Al-Uza and Hubba’a) were worshipped in a typical heathenistic fashion.
Every year the pagans would undertake pilgrimage to Kaaba and hold weeks of trade and festivities there. Islam has replaced their pagan Gods with the only true God –Allah- but the ritual remains, more or less, unchanged. From an historical point of view, our principal interest in the fact lies in there being the record of 360 idols of heathen gods inside the.This meant that Arabs prayed in the Kaaba on a daily basis. The Prophet (peace be upon him) following the Sunnah of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) issued orders to destroy those idols effective immediately.
Is it true that the Kaaba was destroyed? How frequently has it been renovated?
Like any other building, the Kaaba had to undergo several reconstructions and renovations as well. Of course it goes without saying but the Kaaba we see today is not the one that was built by the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him). Any building that remains unused for some time can be seen in a state of ruin. Time leaves its prints in passing and sooner or later, the need is felt to build it again. But that was in ancient history. During the age of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) this site was so respectful in the eyes of all Arabs that any damage to its structure would be immediately taken care of.
Since the valley of Makkah lay downhill, water was the first threat. Whenever a dam was destroyed by the flood, the water sat in the valley for days, sometimes weeks, on end. This left the building shaky and destabilized and locals had to rebuild it but the site was kept the same as that it now occupies. Floods continued to pose a test of endurance for pilgrims even after the advent of Islam but no flood has yet been able to postpone a single tawaaf!
But not everything is the work of time. As the old saying goes “Time is a devourer; man, more so.” No doubt that man has insensibly damaged the Kaaba as well. Makkah withstood a six month long siege under the command of Abdullah bin Zubair and suffered unprecedented damage from the bombardment of the Umayyads. During the siege of Makkah the Kaaba was also caught in the fire, not taking into account the loss of people and the damage to the city’s property.
The last time Kaaba was renovated, it was in 1996 and the building was fortified for years to come. Also, with the recent constructions of Abraj Al Bait it became clear that the Saudi government had the intention of extending the perimeters of Haram, and thus of eclipsing in size and grandeur all that had been erected in other cities before.
The importance of Kaaba in the Prophet’s dream:
About a year after the Battle of the Ditch, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) saw a dream of his visit to Kaaba. Next morning he called upon the Muslims to prepare for a journey. A few days later he told them that the purpose of that journey was to perform Umrah On hearing this news the Muslims, especially the Emigrants, were filled with joy to visit their birth-place which they had not seen for the last six years. The Prophet (peace be upon him), accompanied by 400 Muslims, dressed himself as a pilgrim and left Madinah for Makkah in the month of Zul Quad, 6th Hijri. This was followed by significant events like the Treaty of Hudaybia and the eventual fall of Makkah on 20th of Ramadan 8th Hijri.
How the Prophet’s timely intervention saved both the Kaaba and the Quraish:
A dispute arose among the tribes of Quraish over the depositing of the Black Stone (Hajr e Aswad) of the Kaaba. Because of frequent floods, Kaaba Sharif was in need of repairs. After much hesitation, the Quraish leaders decided to undertake its rebuilding in 605 A.D. But when the question of depositing the sacred stone in its old place came up, each tribe of the Quraish was eager to have this honour of replacing it. Arabs are much too sensitive about pride and honour. It was quite possible that the Quraish would fight over this issue. But the Holy Prophet's wise intervention saved a bloody situation. Before any bloodshed, their leaders agreed to seek the guidance of a man who would enter the sacred grounds of Kaaba first thing in the morning next day. Now it was the habit of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) to go to the Kaaba for prayers early in the morning. As he did so they asked him to settle the Black Stone dispute. With great tact and wisdom, the Prophet (peace be upon him) placed the sacred stone in a blanket and asked all the leaders of the Quraish to lift it to the level where it was to be placed and then he himself deposited it in its place. The crowd shouted 'al-Amin'!
Kaaba - Then and Now:
Literally speaking, Kaaba translates to the word 'cube' in English. Even this was a happy accident. Kaaba, in its original shape, was not intended to be designed as a cube but some other shape, more likely a rectangle. Also, part of its design was an arc forming the courtyard of this House of Allah .This would come down in history as the Hijr Ismail.
Before they switched to the Kaaba, Muslims faced the city of Jerusalem when offering their prayers. But Kaaba was more prestigious and deserved to be the qibla for all time to come. Also, the presence of Baitul Mamur in the heavens and right on top of this earthly Kaaba further underline the importance of this site as the default qibla for Muslims.
Kaaba was not always black. Kiswa, the black shroud covering the Kaaba, was introduced during the Abbassid Caliphate.
Back when Kaaba was accessed daily, there used to be an entrance and a separate exit. Ever since the number of pilgrims began to swell, the door was closed to regular pilgrims. In addition to that, the next scheduled renovation that took place changed the structure of the Kaaba to comply with recent regulations. The second door was closed. Its only window, however, lost its purpose when the monument was completely covered with the Kiswa, so that was filled as well.
Qusai bin Kilab laid the foundations of the administration of the Quraish by acquiring into his hands five functions. They were the functions of nadwa, liwa, rifadha, hijaba and siqaya. Four out of five of these functions are administered today by the Saudi government but hijaba (the keys of the Kaaba) remain in possession of the Bani Shayba tribe. This is because the Prophet (peace be upon him) made it clear on the Fall of Makkah that this will remain so. So can you go inside the Kaaba? Not everyone is allowed to enter the Kaaba. Special delegates on diplomatic visits are allowed to actually enter the building and offer prayers, and even that is supervised by the members of the Banni Shayba tribe.