By Omer Dabanli
The Kaaba with its cubic form is the most sacred place of the Muslims. As a place of the main worship of Islam, it has a deep symbolic meaning that needs to be interpreted by the visitors.
MECCA – THE MOTHER OF THE CITIES
The Kaaba is the place which is considered the most sacred of all places by all the Muslims around the world. It is in the centre of the Masjid’ul Haram in Mecca which is known as “Ummu’l Qura – The Mother of the Cities” in the Arab peninsula. Mecca plays an exceptional role for the human life on the earth. This place, which was chosen for the first construction of man, is interesting in terms of both its climate and geographical position. It is thought-provoking as well as edifying that the arid and barren Valley of Tears in the middle of the desert in the Hejaz area was chosen as the location for the Kaaba, instead of one of the many places on earth where many beauties can be seen and which have wonderful nature, climate, flora and ecology.
Why did Allah (SWT) choose Mecca as a habitation for man? Which of His signs did he want to show by this means? What distinguishes this area and what is special about this valley? Why is Mecca the place in which the House of Allah (Baytullah) is constructed on the earth? Of course, these questions are engrossing. There are nothing other than stones and soil in Mecca, especially in the Valley of the Tears in which the Kaaba stands. Later, when the well of Zamzam was discovered in an interesting way, the stones and soil were accompanied by water. However, this valley is not appropriate for agriculture and thus for human habitation.
It is understood that Allah (SWT) ordered the buildings to be constructed in this barren valley, which is no way sympathetic when compared to other places of the world which are full of natural beauty, so that some of His signs would appear. Thus, the climate and geography of Mecca, which are unsympathetic on their own, turned into the place which is loved and desired most by the Muslims. Designation of this valley for the construction of the House of Allah (SWT) not only reminds man of his forefather the Prophet Adam’s home, but it also demonstrates without hiding anything that man was created from soil and water. Mecca rejects worldliness by excluding everything that is worldly. This attitude is seen in the shape of the Kaaba. In fact, Mecca is not a city of the world and it is not a city which belongs to the world and it is not a city which invites to the world.
I think the difference between Mecca and the other cities of the world is the following: If Allah wishes, He may turn the most unattractive place on the earth into a most desirable place for people. An invitation to Mecca is an invitation to abandoning the world. It is turning towards our Lord Allah (SWT) purely, passing through all the veils. It is so exemplary that this invitation and the message of the Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) echoed in the hearts of millions of people and these people enlivened that barren valley for centuries. In a book entitled ‘Risala-i Mi’mariyya’ written by Jafar Efendi in the seventeenth century during the time of the Ottomans, the meaning of word ‘imar (reconstruction)’ is given as ‘to enliven up, to cheer up’ and the meaning of the word ‘mi’mar (architect)’ is given as ‘the one who cheers up’. It is remarkable to notice to what extent the first construction in the middle of a desert, in a barren and arid territory and the city established later cheered up that geography. Mecca is an exceptional example through which we can see how Allah (SWT) constructs, enlivens and cheers up.
Mecca calls out to humanity with all these features and by its position as follows: O man! Abandon the world and turn to your Lord (SWT)!
THE MYSTERIES IN THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE KAABA
The Kaaba, which is a direction that all Muslims turn in worship (qiblah), is the first sacred place of worship. This truth is stated in the Qur’an as follows: “Behold, the first House (of Prayer) established for humankind is the one at Bakkah (Makkah), a blessed place and a (centre or focus of) guidance for all peoples.” (Al-i Imran, 3:96) The Kaaba was also called Bayt’ul Haram (The House of Safety), Baytullah (The House of Allah) and Bayt-i Atiq (The House of Freedom).
It is understood from the reference of the verse that the Kaaba, which was constructed as the first house on the earth, was not only a house, but a house which was intended to be used as a place of worship. It is reported that the first one who constructed the Kaaba was the Prophet Adam (PBUH), the forefather of humanity, then since the building was destroyed in the flood of Prophet Noah (Nuh) (PBUH), the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Prophet Ismail (PBUH) reconstructed and erected it again on the same foundations.
In Arabic, the Kaaba does not mean ‘cube’, but rather ‘cubic form’. In Arabic, not only the objects in the shape of a ‘square’ or a ‘cube’, but also round objects are called ‘muka’ab’. The oval form of an object does not prevent it from being called cubic/kaaba.
It is interesting that the expression ‘kaaba’ represents both round and angular shapes because the same ‘kaaba’ word can represent the current cubic rectangular prism and the semi-circular geometrical form which comes out when the hijr part, which is limited by the curved khatm wall, is included in the Kaaba. Thus having curved lines is not an obstacle to the Kaaba being called cubic.
The fact that the word ‘kaaba’ represents the angular and curved forms leads to an interpretation that it represents the heart. In this sense, the Kaaba is regarded as the equivalent of the heart on the earth. Since man’s heart is his house, the order “keep my house clean” may be interpreted as “keep your heart clean” metaphorically.
In Arabic, the word ‘bayt’ is used to mean the house in which the night is spent. From this point of view, calling the Kaaba the Baytullah (House of Allah) is meaningful. The Kaaba is at one and the same time the house of the first man and the house of humanity. The Prophet Adam (PBUH), the first architect of the Kaaba, constructed it as a house. The Prophet Adam, who started the first construction on the earth, is the father of architecture as well as the forefather of humanity. It is known that the house of the Prophet Ibrahim, Ismail and Hajar was in the hijr part of the Kaaba which is limited by the khatm, and that Ismail and his mother Hajar are buried there. Thus, the Kaaba is, at the same time, a house.
Since the Kaaba is the house of the Prophet Adam (PBUH), visiting it for humanity means returning to the father- and mother-land and it is Silat-ur Rahim (the strengthening of family ties). For that reason, the Hajj, which is a call to humanity, is the redemption of the task of fidelity which man has towards his motherland. The following verse in the Qur’an reminds us of this truth: “Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed to Allah by all who can find a way to go.” (Al-i Imran, 3:97) The man who comes to that door and sees the Kaaba faces his own essence and his nature. Thus, the Hajj is man’s process of knowing himself. The one who visits the Kaaba knows his presence and absence, his past and future, his friend and his enemy. Man is obliged to show his respect and gratefulness for the importance of this area by visiting it.
The Kaaba is circumambulated by going around it seven times (each of the circuits is called a shawt) in a counterclockwise direction when looked from the above, starting from the corner of Hajar’ul Aswad (The Black Stone). In this practice, it is as if man, by joining in the chant which is sung by all of creation from the tiny particles to the immense planets, returns to his father’s homeland, remembering the creation of him and his species and glorifying his Lord (SWT) by reversing the flow of time.
The Muslims denominated the Kaaba as the innermost part of the Hejaz area (Batn-u Mecca) and Baytullah (the House of Allah) and as the matrix of Mecca (al Batha). In this sense, Mecca is the place of returning to the origin and the first existence, that is the womb (rahim) and the place of attaining the mercy (rahma) of Allah (SWT). The Kaaba is the symbol of modesty, purity and simplicity in terms of being the first level of existence and rising for the Muslims.
WHY IS THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE KAABA DESIGNED IN THIS WAY?
Why is the architecture of the Kaaba, which is the first building intended for worshipping Allah (SWT), designed in this way? Or let us ask the question in another way: With what kind of architecture, design and decoration can man construct a building which is worthy of the glory of Allah (SWT)? How should the design of the Kaaba have been?
The answers to these questions are hidden in the architecture of the Kaaba. The answer is the Kaaba itself. That means the answer is nothingness, simplicity, purity and absence. It is the proof of the fact that unpretentiousness is the greatest assertiveness. It is the announcement of the fact that it is impossible to glorify Allah (SWT) as He deserves, with even the most perfect architectural work which could be made by the hands of man.
The Kaaba – by means of its stance of purity and absence – announces the weakness of man before Allah (SWT) to all humanity. It is the manifestation of the inability of man to praise and appreciate the greatness of Allah (SWT). It states and represents that whatever man has done and will do for Allah (SWT), it will remain symbolic and insignificant when compared to His glory. In this sense, it is the transcendental form of an architecture of submission, servitude, faith, and of man’s being aware of his limits and his self.
The design, construction and geometrical form of the Kaaba are simple, yet imposing and impressive. In the Kaaba we see an example of where less is more. (Humanity learned this impressive truth that simplicity in architecture revealed only in the 20th century through the words of Mies Van der Rohe, the father of modern architecture, “Less is more.”) The Kaaba has a modest yet dignified appearance like a derwish in the middle of Masjid’ul Haram. Its solemnity and dignity in simplicity have such breath-taking beauty that the Muslims who see it for the first time feel overawed by its majestic nature.
The Kaaba was constructed not as an architectural show of power or as an object of architectural rivalry, but rather with an intention of non-secular existence. In these terms; it has a sheer pure geometrical form which does not reflect anything mundane, and rejects all kinds of worldliness even though it stands upon the earth. The Kaaba, with its simple and pure form, symbolizes the submission and faith, not rivalry, of the created man towards his Creator. The One who has the ownership of all things can be praised and glorified only through such simple architecture, and through a form which does not suggest pride and arrogance on the earth. This message that it gives through its architecture is a powerful reflection of the creed of tawhid (the Oneness of Allah). The Kaaba is a kind of symbol of tawhid appearing in the form of architecture. It is like a mirror which reflects the faith of people without being a shadow. It may be considered as a transparent membrane, not a crude curtain, between Allah (SWT) and the servant.
The Kaaba, which still stands in the middle of the Valley of the Tears like a black diamond in the form in which it was first constructed, represents the modesty and innocence of man before Allah (SWT). When the tawaf (circling) starts around the Kaaba, the centre of love, a movement of attraction begins, drawing people under its influence. Just like a spiritual whirlpool, it attracts all people towards itself and draws them into the movement of tawaf. When a man joins in the movement of tawaf, it is as if he enters into the heart of the earth and disappears into the sea of faith like a drop of blood which flows into that heart from the veins of the tawaf. He loses his self and reaches an absolute awareness of his servitude.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF FREEDOM AND SAFETY
Two of the names that the Qur’an uses for the Kaaba are “Bayt’ul Haram” and “Bayt’ul Atiq”. The former of these means ‘the House of Safety’ and the latter means ‘the House of Freedom’. Safety and freedom are the most basic existential problems which are related to being human and which man carries in his nature. All the internal and external conflicts of man may be associated with these two basic concerns.
The Kaaba that addresses these basic concerns of man, which have remained unchanged though time and place have varied, announces, in a sense, a call of safety and freedom to people. The revelation (wahy) has brought man the responsibility of protecting his safety and freedom. Only a true faith emancipates its owner. In the words of Bediuzzaman, “A man who has the true faith can challenge the universe”. Such a definition of freedom finds itself in the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the architecture of freedom; it is the architecture of safety. It is to stand with its glory in the Valley of the Tears and in Mecca without being affected by any mundane ideology or movement. The Kaaba salutes the people who put on their ihram (which represents the shroud) and come to rehearse the Judgement Day, with an architectural stance isolated from all mundane forms and shapes. It announces the message coming from beyond the earlier centuries with its most original form, with all its grandeur, and without including any excess which would disrupt the balance and rhythm of this spiritual chorus. It inspires all people with the safety and warmth of the fatherland by means of its architecture which is not odd in any way.
The Kaaba reflects a dignified and magnificent appearance in the modesty and simplicity of its architecture. This first construction of humanity is not an effort at establishing a fetish object. The design of the Kaaba is one which is respectful to the nature surrounding it, which interferes with its environment to the minimum level possible and is extremely economical. The economy lesson that the Kaaba gives through its architecture is extremely meaningful, when compared to the extravagancy in the modern architectural works of today. Yes, the Kaaba refuses all extravagancy and unnecessary zealotry with the simplicity and purity of its architecture and thus it addresses the heart and mind of mankind.
According to tradition, when the Prophet Adam and his wife were in the Heaven, they were mesmerized by the praise of the angels who were performing tawaf around the Bayt’ul Ma’mur, which is the Kaaba of the Heaven. When they descended down to the earth, they were deprived of that praise and they missed that heavenly scene. After they became the recipients of divine forgiveness, Allah (SWT) ordered Adam to build a kaaba on the earth and perform tawaf around it. In that way, Allah (SWT) both showed His particular mercy that He has for man, and responded to the objection of the angels, which was, “Will you set therein one who will cause disorder and corruption in it and shed blood, while we glorify You with Your praise and proclaim Your holiness ” and explained the mystery behind the verse, “Surely I know what you do not know.” (Baqara, 2:30)
It is related about the Bayt’ul Ma’mur in Surah Tur, verse 4 that the Kaaba, the heart of the earth is connected to the Bayt’ul Ma’mur through a navel-cord through which the earth is fed by the matrix of the heaven.
According to tradition, seventy thousand angels visit the Bayt’ul Ma’mur in the heaven every day and do not return. According to a report from Hasan al-Basri “what is meant by Bayt’ul Ma’mur is the Kaaba. Allah (SWT) reconstructs it with six hundred men every year. If the number of people does not suffice to complete this number, Allah (SWT) completes it with the angels”.
Sometimes ‘reconstructing’ and ‘restoring’ may be used figuratively to mean the visiting of a place by many people . The restoring of the Kaaba is realized by the multitude of the people who visit it as may be understood from the following verse, “Keep My House pure (from any material and spiritual uncleanness) for those who will go round it in devotion, and those who will stand in prayer before it, and those who will bow down and prostrate themselves in worship.” (Hajj, 22:26) Baydhawi says that the Bayt’ul Ma’mur is the heart of the believer and care for the heart is provided through knowledge and sincerity.
May Allah (SWT) grant us to visit this blessed place again and again. Amin.