By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
FIVE times a day from sunrise to sunset practicing Muslims, prostrate in prayer towards Mecca. In the courtyard of Mecca’s Grand Mosque stands this hallowed symbol and is known as the Ka’bah (meaning cube), a stone structure sheathed in black silk and cotton .it is the epicentre of the hajj. t is considered by Muslims to be the Bayt Allah, the "House of God" a stepping-stone to paradise. The slaughter of animals and other rituals – circumcision’s weddings funerals - always take place facing this navel of the world,
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform it once in their lifetime. The Hajj is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and start fresh.
During the hajj pilgrimage the pilgrims’ enter Mecca and walk seven times around the Kaʿbah, kiss or touch the Black Stone (Ḥajar al-Aswad) in the Kaʿbah, pray twice in the direction of the Maqām Ibrāhīm and the Kaʿbah, and run seven times between the minor prominences of Mount Ṣafā and Mount Marwah. This step of the pilgrimage is the most iconic, and the one that most people think of when they think of the Hajj – masses of people moving in a continuous circle around the Ka’bah.
Constructed of gray stone and marble, it is oriented so that its corners roughly correspond to the points of the compass. The interior contains nothing but the three pillars supporting the roof and a number of suspended silver and gold lamps. During most of the year the Kaʿbah is covered with an enormous cloth of black brocade, the Kiswah.
Set in its southern corner is the Black Stone no larger than a loaf of bread that fell from heaven and is considered a “fragment of paradise”. Believers gain absolution for their sins by touching or kissing the stone. According to tradition, this stone was given to Adam on his expulsion from paradise in order to obtain forgiveness of his sins. Legend has it that the stone was originally white but has become black by absorbing the sins of the countless thousands of pilgrims who have kissed and touched it.
The Ka'bah is also referred to in the Koran as the "first house established for mankind," meaning, according to the foremost medieval commentator on the Koran, al-Tabari, that it is the first building ever consecrated to the worship of God.
The great Islamic scholar and acclaimed translator of the Qur’an Muhammad Asad consider its simplicity awesome He observed: "There it stood, almost a perfect cube ... entirely covered with black brocade, a quiet island in the middle of the vast quadrangle of the mosque: much quieter than any other work of architecture anywhere in the world. ….. The builder knew that no beauty of architectural rhythm and no perfection of line, however great, could ever do justice to the idea of God: and so he confined himself to the simplest three-dimensional form imaginable—a cube of stone."
It is a symbol, as Asad wrote, "of God's oneness; and the pilgrim's bodily movement around it is a symbolic expression of human activity, implying that not only our thoughts and feelings—all that is comprised in the term 'inner life'—but also our outward, active life, our doings and practical endeavours must have God as their centre."
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.
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