14 – The Rebuilding of The Ka’bah

Somewhat before these last-mentioned happenings, about the time when ‘Ali was taken into the household, when Muhammad was thirty-five years old, Quraysh decided to rebuild the Ka’bah. As it then stood the walls were just above the height of a man, and there was no roof, which meant that even when the door was locked access was easy; and recently there had been a theft of some of its treasure which was stowed in a vault that had been dug inside the building for that purpose. They already had all the wood that was needed for the roof: the ship of a Greek merchant had been driven ashore and wrecked beyond repair at Jeddah, so they had taken its timbers to serve as rafters; and there happened to be in Mecca at that time a Copt who was a skilled carpenter.

But such was their awe of the Ka’bah that they hesitated to lay hands on it. Their plan was to demolish its walls which were built of loose stones and to rebuild it altogether; but they were afraid of incurring the guilt of sacrilege, and their hesitation was greatly increased by the appearance of a large snake which had taken to coming every day out of the vault to sun itself against a wall of the Ka’bah. If anyone approached, it would rear its head and hiss with gaping jaws, and they were terrified of it. But one day, while it was sunning itself, God sent against it an eagle, which seized it and flew away with it. So Quraysh said among themselves: “Now we may indeed hope that God is pleased with our intent. We have a craftsman whose heart is with us, and we have wood; and God hath rid us of the serpent.”

The first man to lift a stone from the top of the walls was the Makhzumite Abu Wahb, the brother Fatimah, Muhammad’s grandmother; but no sooner had it been lifted than the stone leapt from his hand returned to its place, whereupon they all drew back from the Ka’bah, afraid to proceed with the work. Then the chief of Makhzum, Walid the son of the now dead Mughirah, took up a pickaxe and said: “I will begin the razing for you”; and going to the Ka’bah he said: “O God, fear not, O God, we intend nought but good.” Thereupon he knocked down part of the wall between the Black Stone and the Yemenite Corner, that is, the south-easterly wall; but the rest of the people held back. “Let us wait and see,” they said. “If he be smitten we will raze no more of it, but restore it even as it was; but if he be not smitten, then is God pleased with our work, and we will raze it all to the ground.” The night passed without mishap and Walid was again at work early next morning, so the others joined him; and when the walls were all down as far as the foundation of Abraham they came upon large greenish cobble-stones like the humps of Camels placed side by side. A man put a crowbar between two of these stones to lever one of them out; but at the first movement of the stone a quaking shudder ran through the whole of Mecca, and they took it as a sign that they must leave that foundation undisturbed.

Inside the Corner of the Black Stone they had found a piece of writing in Syriac. They kept it, not knowing what it was, until one of the Jews read it to them: “I am God, the Lord of Becca. I created her the day I created the heavens and the earth, the day I formed the sun and the moon, and I placed round about her seven inviolable angels. She shall stand so long as her two hills stand, blessed for her people with milk and water.” Another piece of writing was found beneath the Station of Abraham, a small rock near the door of the Ka’bah which bears the miraculous print of his foot: “Mecca is the holy house of God. Her sustenance cometh unto her from three directions. Let not her people be the first to profane her.”

Quraysh now gathered more stones, in addition to seho they already had, so as to increase the height of the building. They worked separately, clan by clan, until the walls were high enough for the Black Stone to be built once more into its corner. Then a violent disagreement broke out amongst them, for each clan wanted the honor of lifting it into its place. The deadlock lasted for four or five days and the tension had increased to the point of alliances being made and preparations for battle begun, when the oldest men present proposed a solution. “O men of Quraysh,” he said, “take as arbiter between you, about that wherein ye differ, the first man who shall enter in through the gate of this Mosque.”[1] The precinct round the Ka’bah was called a mosque, in Arabic masjid, a place of prostration, because the rite of prostrating oneself to God in the direction of the Holy House had been performed there since the time of Abraham and Ishmael. They agreed to follow the old man’s counsel; and the first man to enter the Mosque was Muhammad, who had just returned to Mecca after an absence. The sight of him produced an immediate and spontaneous recognition that here was the right person for the task, and his arrival was greeted by exclamations and murmurs of satisfaction. “It is al-Amin,” said some. “We accept his judgement,” said others, “it is Muhammad.” When they explained the matter to him, he said: “Bring me a cloak.” And when they brought it, he spread it on the ground, and taking up the Black Stone he laid it on the middle of the garment. “Let each clan take hold of the border of the cloak,” he said. “Then lift it up, all of you together.” And when they had raised it to the right height he took the stone and placed it in the corner with his own hands; and the building was continued and completed above it.

[1] I.I. 125

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