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5 / Cosmology and Belief

Artist / Origin Unknown architect(s), Mecca
Region: West Asia
Date Rebuilt multiple times; latest 17th century
Material Granite and marble, covered with silk
Dimensions H: 49 ft. (14.93 m.), W: 39 ft. (11.88 m.), D: 33 ft. (10.05 m.)
Location Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Credit © Mohamed Messara/epa/Corbis

expert perspective

Kishwar RizviAssistant Professor of Islamic Art, Yale University

Additional Resources

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Ching, Francis D. Architecture: Form, Space, & Order. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2007.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Peters, F.E. The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.


» Unknown architect(s), Mecca

Rebuilt innumerable times throughout the centuries, the Ka’ba stands at the center of an enormous public square surrounded by the colonnaded cloister of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca.

Cubic in form and built of granite, the Ka’ba rests on a platform of marble and is covered by a black silk drapery called the Kiswa, which is replaced annually. Ritual prayer at the site focuses on the structure’s exterior. The interior is an essentially empty space ornamented only with calligraphic quotations from the Qur’an.

The Ka’ba has a long history as a site of devotional practice. According to the Qur’an (Chapter 3: 96–97), the Ka’ba was a blessed place marked by Abraham and as such became the first house of worship for all religions. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth in the sixth century, the cubic structure was already an important pilgrimage site. Housed within were statues and images representing the gods of many faiths. After a long exile in Medina, Muhammad returned to Mecca, the place of his birth, in 630, and calling for the worship of a single God, cleansed the Ka’ba of its idols. From that point on, the Ka’ba was associated exclusively with Islam.

During daily prayers, no matter where they are, all Muslims turn to face in the direction of the Ka’ba. Moreover, according to Islamic teachings, it is the spiritual duty of every Muslim to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj, at least once in his or her lifetime. Today, millions of Muslims make the journey, which involves several ceremonial acts, including communal circumambulation of the Ka’ba. The Ka’ba is neither the object of worship nor a house in which objects of worship are stored or sacred rituals performed. Rather, it serves to center the individual worshipper and unify the community of the faithful.


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