Keywords: Ka‘ba, Mecca, bayt Allah (House of God), masjid al haram (sacred mosque), Prophet Muhammad, Islam, haram, pilgrimage (hajj), umra (minor pilgrimmage), pilgrim, worship, Black Stone (al hajar al aswad), tawaf, Well of Zamzam, Abraham (Ibrahim), Hagar, Ismail (Ishmael), Abrahamic tradition, maqam, qibla.
The structure and its immediate precincts in Mecca that also house a large mosque are referred to in the Qur’an and subsequently in Muslim tradition as the House of God (bayt Allah) and the sacred Mosque (masjid al haram). The Ka‘ba is the point of orientation for Muslims when they pray, and it is also the focal point of the Pilgrimage (Hajj) as well as the umra (minor pilgrimage).
The Hajj takes place over a fixed period in the prescribed month, whereas the umra may be undertaken at any other time. During pre-Islamic times, the Ka‘ba served as a shrine and a sacred space (haram). Arab tribes and others made annual pilgrimages to the site and visited it to honor tribal and ancestral deities that included several gods and goddesses. Representatives of these deities were kept in the Ka‘ba, and the ritual visits were often accompanied by music, dance, and the recitation of poetry.
Professor Azim Nanji serves currently as Special Advisor to the Provost at the Aga Khan University. Most recently he served as Senior Associate Director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University 2008-2010 and also lectured on Islam in the Department of Religious Studies. He was previously the of Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies from 1998 - 2008.