Islamic Studies Ka`aba
Yousef Meri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0046


A cubical structure located in the Sacred Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) in Mecca which Muslims venerate as the original sanctuary established by the patriarch Abraham. Metaphorically referred to as the “navel of the earth,” the Kaʿaba is the focal point of the qiblah, the direction of prayer for Muslims. Mentioned by name in the Qurʾan in Surah al-Maʾida (5:95, 96) and also referred to as al-Bayt al-Haram (the Inviolable Sanctuary) and al-Bayt al-ʿAtiq (the Ancient House), the Kaʿaba's cornerstone is known as the Black Stone (al-hajar al-aswad). Although the Kaʿaba has been damaged and repaired throughout history, Muslims believe the Black Stone is the original cornerstone. According to tradition Adam built the first Kaʿaba, and it was subsequently rebuilt by Abraham. In pre-Islamic times the Kaʿaba was a center for the veneration of idols until the Prophet Muhammad destroyed them after the conquest of Mecca in 630. Muslims circumambulate the Kaʿaba seven times and kiss the Black Stone as part of the rites of the Hajj and ʿUmra.

General Overviews

General discussions of the Kaʿaba and its significance in Islam have been written by historians, scholars of comparative religion and art historians. Hawting 2003 gives a detailed historical overview, while Newby 2005 approaches the Kaʿaba from a religious-studies perspective.

  • Hawting, Gerald R. “Kaʿba.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, Vol. 3. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 75–80. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    Balanced historical discussion of the Kaʿaba and its Qurʾanic context.

  • Nanji, Azim. “Kaʿba, or Kaaba.” In Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Edited by Josef W. Meri, 429–431. New York and London: Routledge, 2005.

    Succinct overview of the Kaʿaba and its history. Available online.

  • Newby, Gordon D. “Kaʿbah.” In Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 8. 2d ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 5049–5050. Detroit, MI: MacMillan Reference USA, 2005.

    Excellent overview of the Kaʿaba and its history.

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