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Essay: Deconstructing Al-Ka’ba

Al-Ka’ba is known to many of us as the House of Allah, as considered by Muslims. It is located among the mountains of Mecca. Though Al-Ka’ba is of huge significance in Islam, but this importance did not reflect in its architecture, as the ancient Greek temples that were built with monumental scale to show the greatness of their Gods and Goddesses back then. Al-Ka’ba was simply a small cubic building that was built with the primitive technique of its era. Al-Ka’ba, Bait Al-Ateeq and Bait Al-Haram are names of it and each name has a meaning different that the others; Al-Ka’ba means a high place with respect and prestige. Bait Al-Ateeq has two meanings and both are true; the earliest and ancient, or something independent and liberating. While Bait Al-Haram means the honorable house. Despite the belief and religion, those meanings declare that this place is sacred and ordained by God to be built in that particular spot of earth. Al-Ka’ba was a shrine for many Gods through time; Allah, Al’lat, Al’oza…. Etc. Religion is not the only factor that influenced that building to become what it is nowadays, the idea of this sacred place needs to be deconstructed through a process that highlight those various aspects. Seven is a vital number in Islam, other religions and the aspects of life. It was mentioned many times in Bible, Quran and Al-Hadith; Seven heavens, seven earths, seven doorways to Paradise, seven stages for the completion of man’s creation, seven skins, seven windy days, seven days of the week, …etc. this number was also repeated in the rituals of Al-Haj; Seven ambulation, seven timed to go back and forth between Safa and Marwah, seven pebbles to be used for stoning to Jumaraat and seven takbeerat for Eid prayers. Through investigation I have found seven aspects, other than religion, that influenced Al-Ka’ba’s idea; History, politics, economy, time, language and symbols. In history, traditions said that Allah has requested a building to be constructed in earth in the shape of Bait Al-Ma’amoor; A house in heaven. This whole idea of Al-Ka’ba being a replica of a heaven house is very contradictory with the fact that through the years, AlKa’ba was reconstructed differently to reach a state the is unlike the “original” of Bait Al-Ma’amoor. Al-Ka’ba has been reconstructed about 12 times, the very first construction was done by Prophet Adam to be the first house for humanity to worship Allah, according to that, Al-Ka’ba was the first concrete evidence of architecture, though the idea of building a house to worship Allah before a shelter is a bit unreasonable. It is just like finding a way to glorify this particular building by connects it with important events in human history.

Again, according to historical resources, Prophet Ibrahim and Ismael rebuilt Al-Ka’ba with a more rectangular form than the one standing up at the present time. The Building not only included “the house of Allah” but also a place for Ismael to learn, which later was called Al-Hateem. Al-Ka’ba was of great importance even in the era of Pagans of the Arabian Peninsula; before the prophecy of Mohammad, Quraish Tribes and Mohammad himself participated in the reconstruction after a flash flood hit Mecca. The form of Al-Ka’ba was changed than what it was before to a more cubical shape due to insufficient funding of Quraish. The left over portion was called Al-Hateem. After Islam spread, the death of Prophet Mohammad and the political changes in the area, the Ommiad Army destroyed Al-Ka’ba .Abdullah Ibn Az-Zubair decided to reconstruct it how Prophet Muhammad desired. He built on Prophet Ibrahim’s foundation and put the roof on three pillars instead of the six ones Quraish Put then he enclosed the semi-circular wall of Al-Hateem with Al-Ka’ba. Another modification was adding four meters to the height of Al-Ka’ba to become a nine meter high. The famous dictator of his time, Al-Hajjaj demolished what Ibn Az-Zubair added and restored Al-Ka’ba’s old structure the way Quraish had done it; he rebuilt it in the small cubical shape and took out Al-Hateem and reduced the door height.

Ibrahim’s Construction

Quraish’s reconstruction

Ibn Az-zubair’s reconstruction

Al-Hajjaj’s reconstruction

This manipulation in Al-Ka’ba’s form continued till now, even if it didn’t touch Al-Ka’ba itself; currently the kings of our time compete with each other to “develop” Al-Harram Al-Makki where Al-Ka’ba is the main icon that centers the world. On the other hand they are competing with each other to create an icon that takes over the singularity of Al-Ka’ba. Al-Ka’ba became a toy in the hand of those in charge, they form it the way they desire and display their power. An example of that is the new clock that rose as skyscraper above Al-Harram Al-Makki which physically rub of the significance of Al-Ka’ba and created new monument there. So the whole idea of a reproduction of a house in heaven is questionable; I do not believe that a giantific clock was added or the angels demolished and reconstructed particular parts of this house which led to changing it on Earth.

Developments of Al-Harram Al-Makki

Al-Harram Al-Makki Clock

The world largest Clocks

If we overlap those changes in plan through time and cumulate it, the footprint of each time change occurs to Al-Ka’ba should be reflected and shape the ideas behind each phase.

Al-Ka’ba form through years

traces of the major reconstructions

In the early beginning of Islam, Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was Muslims Qibla, where they turn their faces to pray. This made Jerusalem the center of all religions. After that the Qibla was relocated to point to Al-Ka’ba which led to decentering and recentering. Was it political more than religious reason? Yes it was; the necessity of having the focal point of all Muslims nearby the Muslim’s Prophet and keeping it away from the control of other religions led to reposition it in Mecca, the homeland of the Prophet Mohammad. But why not, from the beginning, making Al-Ka’ba the Qibla instead of going through this radical change? Maybe because the new religion needed to be directed toward a holly land that wasn’t occupied by pagans then the need to detach it from other religions to stand still as an independent strong religion. It is very fascinating to me how politics interfere in every aspect of our lives; claims were made saying that Mecca is the center of earth and every point leads in the end to Mecca, but was it Rome the center of the world at one point?

Axis between Jerusalem and Mecca

the effect of this aspect

Al-hajj period is not only of a spiritual and religious importance, it is also a trade event that happens every year. There were “seven” main roads for Al-Hajj; the kufi, Basri, Shami, Egyptian, Coastal Yameni, inner Yamen and Omani roads. Those roads that went through the deserts and the valleys of the Arabian Peninsula ,brought prosperity to the areas around them creating a network of connections that all lead to Mecca, a metaphor for this is that Mecca is the sun and those varied roads are its rays. It also had a force that effected the naming the corners of Al-Ka’ba ; because of the importance of the Iraqi, Shami and Yameni trade Caravans, three corners of Al-Ka’ba were named Iraqi, Shami and Yameni corners. Even the one certain thing brings uncertainty on the table; it is all about relationships, whoever brings more money and benefit get more interest and get a share of something that was set for everyone.

Main roads of Hajj

Corners of Al-Ka’ba

Influence of the three main roads

During Al-Hajj and minor Hajj, Ommra, a unification of the target of most of the Muslims appear, despite their races, languages and believes. There are no more individuals, everyone becomes part of one being that has been and still goes around this centric building creating a helical rings of a white color, every other color disappear in this cubic prism.

Muslims during Hajj

the helical ring of Muslims

Time is an essential part of any Muslim’s life, which is also connected to Al-Ka’ba; five times a day, the Muslims direct themselves toward Al-Ka’ba and pray. Regardless of the sun angle where they stand, it is the direction of the qibla that direct their lives. The sun “starts” to revolve around Al-Ka’ba not the earth. The rays with its different angles during the day create a very tight bond that connects the sun with Al-Ka’ba.

Praying time and angles

outcome on Al-Ka’ba

Every year, a new fabric cladding is weaved to cover Al-Ka’ba, fusing the exterior bricks into one black piece of silk embroidered with Quran Verses written in Arabic Alphabets, those Alphabets become the structure holding Al-Ka’ba and giving it its own identity, without those Arabic Verses, Al-Ka’ba might be odd to any of the visitors. The Arabic language, the language of Mohammed’s Nation stops being decorative at this point and becomes an essential element that is more important that the physical structure of Al-Ka’ba. Part of the worship in Alka’ba is a cornerstone of mysterious origin, which is the dark stone. It is a historical relic of great importance for Muslims; according to them it dates back to the time of Prophet Adam. Some say that Ibrahim founded during the construction of Al-Ka’ba and kept it. Despite the origin and the period, this black stone was present in different eras especially in the pre-Islam era; the stone was set in a large solid silver casing in the other corner of Al-Ka’ba, but the resembling of it was quite interesting, it

was shaped as woman’s Vulva, specifically the vulva of the goddess Al’lat. It became a signifier of fertility and its importance back then. The question remains why all the Idols of gods in Mecca where removed but this black stone remained. Were Muslim aware of its symbolism or did they leave it because of its Materialistic value. There were duality in judging things, the unworthy has to be demolished and the valuable can be covered with religious ideas and stay as it is.

Black Stone

effect of Black Stone on the Black Stone Corner

If those aspects were taken into consideration in shaping the idea of Al-Ka’ba, a lot of things would have changed in our time leading to a better understanding of the meaning of interfaith dialogue and a better application of it.

The result


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Deconstructing Al-Ka'ba  

a contemporary Project that deconstruct the Idea of Al-Ka'ba and how it emerged through time as a holistic Building that can never be touche...

Deconstructing Al-Ka'ba  

a contemporary Project that deconstruct the Idea of Al-Ka'ba and how it emerged through time as a holistic Building that can never be touche...