Pathways of Faith

"What is the Kaaba?" from Oxford Islamic Studies Online

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This article describes the history and role of the Kaaba in the rites of the hajj. It is reprinted from What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito in the Oxford Islamic Studies Online.


The Kaaba is seen as the most sacred space in the Muslim world, the site to which hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world turn each day when they pray.

Located inside the compound of the Grand Mosque at Mecca, the Kaaba (literally, “cube”) is a cube-shaped structure known as the House of God. It contains the sacred Black Stone, a meteorite that Muslims believe was placed by Abraham and Ismail in a corner of the Kaaba, a symbol of God's covenant with Abraham and Ismail and by extension with the Muslim community itself. The Kaaba is approximately forty-five feet high and thirty-three by fifty feet wide and is draped with a woven black cloth embellished with Quranic verses embroidered in gold.

The Kaaba is considered the first house of worship of the one God, originally built by Adam and replicating the heavenly House of God, which contains the divine throne that is circumambulated by the angels. This heavenly ritual is reenacted during the hajj by pilgrims, who circumambulate the Kaaba seven times. This symbolizes their entry into the divine presence. Muslims believe that Adam's Kaaba was destroyed by the neglect of believers and the flood, and according to the Quran (2:127) Abraham and his son Ismail rebuilt the holy house. However, by the time of Muhammad the Kaaba was under the control of the Quraysh of Mecca, who used it as a shrine for the tribal gods and idols of Arabia. The Quraysh held an annual pilgrimage to the Kaaba and a fair that attracted pilgrims from all over Arabia.

Muslim tradition tells us that one of the first things Muhammad did when he returned from exile and triumphantly entered Mecca was to cleanse the Kaaba of its 360 idols and restore the “religion of Abraham,” the worship of the one true God.


Esposito, John L. "Faith." In What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam. Oxford Islamic Studies Online,

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #260: "What is the Kaaba?" from Oxford Islamic Studies Online", May 18, 2024