(Arabic 'A-Kaabah, "Square House," or, more properly, now Beit-Allah, " House of God") is the name of an oblong stone building inclosed in the great mosque at Mecca. From time immemorial tradition makes Mecca to have been a place of pilgrimage from all parts of Arabia "within a circuit of a thousand miles, interrupted only by the sea. The Kaaba, the Black Stone, and other concomitants of worship at Mecca have a similar antiquity" (Muir, Mahomet, i, 211). There are intimations of the Kaaba to be found in Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus. It certainly existed before the Christian aera (Sir W. Jones, Works, 10:356; M. C. de Percival, i 74; ii, 532). SEE MECCA.
Origin and History. — Mr. Muir (ii, 34) thinks the Kaaba to be of Yemen origin, and to have been connected with the systems of idolatry prevalent in the southern portion of the Arabian peninsula. The Mussulmans say that Adam first worshipped on this spot, after his expulsion from Paradise, in a tent sent down from heaven for this purpose. Seth substituted for the tent a structure of clay and. stone, which was, however, destroyed by the Deluge, but afterwards rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. But this tradition may have arisen in connection with a traditional Jewish inscription found on a stone in the Kaaba about forty years before Mohammed, and which would suggest the possibility that some remote Abrahamic tribe acquainted with Syriac may have been at an early period associated with aboriginal Arabs in the erection of the Kaaba. Some have supposed it to have been devoted to the worship of Saturn (Zohal). Certain it is that it has been the holy emblem at different periods of four different faiths. Sabaean, Hindu, Gueber, and Moslem have all held it in veneration (Burton, 3:160). According to the Koran, it is "the ancient house," the first house built and appointed for God's worship (Sale's Koran, p. 276), and the guardianship of it was by express revelation given to Othman (Sale, p. 167).
It was originally without a roof, and, having suffered material damage by a flood, was considered to be in danger of falling. The treasures it contained were considered insecure, and some of them were alleged to have been stolen. In A.D. 605 Mohammed rebuilt the edifice, but in A.D. 1626 it was again destroyed by a great torrent, and in A.D. 1627 was rebuilt substantially after its present form.
Structure. — It stands now on a base about two feet in height, which is a sharp inclined plane; and, as the roof is flat, the building becomes an irregular cube, the sides of which vary from forty to fifty feet in height, and eighteen by fourteen paces in extent. It is inclosed by a wall some two hundred and fifty paces on two sides, and two hundred paces on the others.
The Kaaba has but one door, which is raised some four or five feet from the ground, and is reached by a ladder. It is allowed to be entered only two or three times a year, though it is reputed to be susceptible of a money influence, and to be opened clandestinely much more frequently. The door is wholly coated with silver, and has gilt ornaments. Wax candles are burned before it nightly, together with perfuming-pans containing musk, aloes, etc., and other odorous substances.
Black Stone. — The most important feature of the Kaaba is the " Black Stone," which is inserted in the northeast corner of the building, at the height of four or five feet from the ground. It is in shape an irregular oval, about seven inches in diameter. There are various opinions as to the nature of this stone. Burckhardt supposes it to be a "lava" stone. Others suggest that it is an aerolite. Muir calls it " a fragment of volcanic salts sprinkled with colored crystals, and varied red feldspath upon a dark black ground like a coal, one protuberance being reddish." Burckhardt thinks it looks as if it had been broken into several pieces and cemented. He says, however, that it is difficult to determine the quality of it, because it is so worn by the millions of kisses and touches of the pilgrims. Muir says it is worn "until it is uneven, and has a muscular appearance." It is bordered all round with a large plate of silver about a foot broad. The part or angle exposed is semicircular. So much of the merit of the Kaaba depends on this stone that at the time of the rebuilding of the edifice by Mohammed a great contest arose between the families of the Koreish for the honor of placing it in the new structure. Mohammed settled this dispute by placing it on his own mantle, and causing a chief of each tribe to lift it, and then put it-himself in its position in the Kaaba. SEE KOREISH. Pilgrims, on arrival at Mecca, proceeding to the Kaaba and making the circuit of it, start at the corner where the black stone is inserted.
Fabulous stories abound relative to the black stone, such as that it was originally white, but became black because of the silent and unseen tears which it wept on account of the sins of men. This, however, only affected its exterior. Others attribute its change of color to the innumerable touches and kisses of the pilgrims. It is one of the precious stones of Paradise, which came to earth with Adam, and was miraculously preserved during the flood, and brought back to Mecca by the angel Gabriel, and given to Abraham to build originally in the Kaaba. It was taken at one time by the Karmathians (q.v.), who refused to release it for five thousand pieces of gold, but they finally restored it.
Veiling. — There is a custom, very remote in its origin, of covering the outside of the Kaaba with a veil, which has at various times been made of Yemen cloth, of Egyptian linen, of red brocade, and of black silk. To supply it became at one time a sign of royalty, and it was accordingly furnished by the caliph of Egypt, and later by the Turkish sultan. There seems to be some conflict of authorities about some things pertaining to the custom of veiling. About one third from the top of the veil is a band about two feet in width, embroidered with texts from the Koran' in gilt letters (see Muir, ii, 32; Burton, ii, 295, 300).
Admission. — Since the ninth year of the Hegira an order has obtained that none but Islamites shall be admitted to the Kaaba. Formerly the General Assembly of Ocadh convened at Mecca. In it poets contested for a whole month for prizes, and those poems to which prizes were from time to time awarded were by public order written in letters of gold on Egyptian silk, and hung up in the Kaaba (Sale, p. 20).
Other Features. — In the south-east corner of the Kaaba is a smaller stone, less venerated than the above, being touched only, and not kissed, by those walking round the Kaaba. On the north side of the Kaaba is a slight hollow, large enough to admit three persons, where it is specially meritorious to pray, it being the place where Abraham and Ishmael kneaded chalk and mud for the original structure. From the west side of the Kaabaa water- spout carries rain from the roof and pours it on the reputed grave of Ishmael, and pilgrims are not unfrequently seen "fighting to catch it." This water-spout is said to be of pure gold, and is four feet in length and about six inches in width. It is declared to have been taken to the Kaaba A.H. 981. The pavement round the Kaaba is a mosaic of many colored stones, and was laid in A.H. 826. There is on one side of the Kaaba a semicircular wall, which is scarcely less sacred than the Kaaba itself. The walk round the Kaaba is outside this wall, but the closer to it the better. This wall is entitled El Hattim, and is of solid stone, five feet in height and four feet in thickness. It is incased in white marble, and inscribed with prayers. The Kaaba has a double roof, supported by pillars of aloe-wood, and it is said that no bird ever rests upon it. The whole building is surrounded by an inclosure of columns, outside which there are found three oratories, or places of devotion for different sects; also the edifice containing the well Zem-Zem, the cupola of Abbas, and the Treasury. All these are further inclosed by a splendid colonnade, surmounted by cupolas, steeples, spires, crescents, all gilded and adorned with lamps, which shed a brilliant lustre at night. These surroundings, between which and the Kaaba run seven paved causeways, were first devised by Omar for the better preservation of the Kaaba itself. According to Biirckhardt, the same holy Kaaba is the scene of such indecencies as cannot with propriety be particularized; indecencies which are practiced not only with impunity, but publicly and without a blush. SEE MOHAMMEDANISM.
Since the second year of the Hegira the Kaaba has been for the Mussulman world the Keblah, or place towards which all Moslems turn in prayer. SEE KEBLAH.
See Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Mecca, by Richard F. Burton, vol. iii (Lond. 1855); Sale's Koran; Muir, Life of Mahomet, vol. ii and iii (London, 1858); Sprenger, Life of Mahomet, ii, 7; Ley, De templi Meccani origine (Berlin, 1840, 4to). (J. T. G.)