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953
MECCA


has been supplied by the invention of spots consecrated by recollections of Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar, or held to be acceptable places of prayer. Thus the space of ten spans between the black stone and the door, which is on the east side, between the black and Irāk corners, and a man’s height from the ground, is called the Multazam, and here prayer should be offered after the ṭawāf with outstretched arms and breast pressed against the house. On the other side of the door, against the same wall, is a shallow trough, which is said to mark the original site of the stone on which Abraham stood to build the Ka‘ba. Here the growth of the legend can be traced, for the place is now called the “kneading-place” (Ma‘jan), where the cement for the Ka‘ba was prepared. This name and story do not appear in the older accounts. Once more, on the north side of the Ka‛ba, there projects a low semicircular wall of marble, with an opening at each end between it and the walls of the house. The space within is paved with mosaic, and is called the Ḥijr. It is included in the ṭawāf, and two slabs of verde antico within it are called the graves of Ishmael and Hagar, and are places of acceptable prayer. Even the golden or gilded mīzāb (water-spout) that projects into the Ḥijr marks a place where prayer is heard, and another such place is the part of the west wall close to the Yemen corner.

The feeling of religious conservatism which has preserved the structural rudeness of the Ka‛ba did not prohibit costly surface decoration. In Mahomet’s time the outer walls were covered by a veil (or kiswa) of striped Yemen cloth. The caliphs substituted a covering of figured brocade, and the Egyptian government still sends with each pilgrim caravan from Cairo a new kiswa of black brocade, adorned with a broad band embroidered with golden inscriptions from the Korān, as well as a richer curtain for the door.[1] The door of two leaves, with its posts and lintel, is of silver gilt.

The interior of the Ka‛ba is now opened but a few times every year for the general public, which ascends by the portable staircase brought forward for the purpose. Foreigners can obtain admission at any time for a special fee. The modern descriptions, from observations made under difficulties, are not very complete. Little change, however, seems to have been made since the time of Ibn Jubair, who describes the floor and walls as overlaid with richly variegated marbles, and the upper half of the walls as plated with silver thickly gilt, while the roof was veiled with coloured silk. Modern writers describe the place as windowless, but Ibn Jubair mentions five windows of rich stained glass from Irāk. Between the three pillars of teak hung thirteen silver lamps. A chest in the corner to the left of one entering contained Korans, and at the Irāk corner a space was cut off enclosing the stair that leads to the roof. The door to this stair (called the door of mercy—Bāb el-Raḥma) was plated with silver by the caliph Motawakkil. Here, in the time of Ibn Jubair, the Maqām or standing stone of Abraham was usually placed for better security, but brought out on great occasions.[2]

The houses of ancient Mecca pressed close upon the Ka‘ba, the noblest families, who traced their descent from Ḳoṣai, the reputed founder of the city, having their dwellings immediately round the sanctuary. To the north of the Ka‘ba was the Dār el-Nadwa, or place of assembly of the Koreish. The multiplication of pilgrims after Islām soon made it necessary to clear away the nearest dwellings and enlarge the place of prayer around the Ancient House. Omar, Othmān and Ibn Jubair had all a share in this work, but the great founder of the mosque in its present form, with its spacious area and deep colonnades, was the caliph Mahdī, who spent enormous sums in bringing costly pillars from Egypt and Syria. The work was still incomplete at his death in A.D. 785, and was finished in less sumptuous style by his successor. Subsequent repairs and additions, extending down to Turkish times, have left little of Mahdī’s work untouched, though a few of the pillars probably date from his days. There are more than five hundred pillars in all, of very various style and workmanship, and the enclosure—250 paces in length and 200 in breadth, according to Burckhardt’s measurement—is entered by nineteen archways irregularly disposed.

After the Ka‘ba the principal points of interest in the mosque are the well Zamzam and the Maqām Ibrāhīm. The former is a deep shaft enclosed in a massive vaulted building paved with marble, and, according to Mahommedan tradition, is the source (corresponding to the Beer-lahai-roi of Gen. xvi. 14) from which Hagar drew water for her son Ishmael. The legend tells that the well was long covered up and rediscovered by ‘Abd al-Moṭṭalib, the grandfather of the Prophet. Sacred wells are familiar features of Semitic sanctuaries, and Islām, retaining the well, made a quasi-biblical story for it, and endowed its tepid waters with miraculous curative virtues. They are eagerly drunk by the pilgrims, or when poured over the body are held to give a miraculous refreshment after the fatigues of religious exercise; and the manufacture of bottles or jars for carrying the water to distant countries is quite a trade. Ibn Jubair mentions a curious superstition of the Meccans, who believed that the water rose in the shaft at the full moon of the month Shaban. On this occasion a great crowd, especially of young people, thronged round the well with shouts of religious enthusiasm, while the servants of the well dashed buckets of water over their heads. The Maqām of Abraham is also connected with a relic of heathenism, the ancient holy stone which once stood on the Ma‘jan, and is said to bear the prints of the patriarch’s feet. The whole legend of this stone, which is full of miraculous incidents, seems to have arisen from a misconception, the Maqām Ibrāhīm in the Korān meaning the sanctuary itself; but the stone, which is a block about 3 spans in height and 2 in breadth, and in shape “like a potter’s furnace” (Ibn Jubair), is certainly very ancient. No one is now allowed to see it, though the box in which it lies can be seen or touched through a grating in the little chapel that surrounds it. In the middle ages it was sometimes shown, and Ibn Jubair describes the pious enthusiasm with which he drank Zamzam water poured on the footprints. It was covered with inscriptions in an unknown character, one of which was copied by Fākihī in his history of Mecca. To judge by the facsimile in Dozy’s Israeliten te Mekka, the character is probably essentially one with that of the Syrian Safā inscriptions, which extended through the Nejd and into the Ḥejāz.[3]

Safā and Merwa.—In religious importance these two points or “hills,” connected by the Mas‘ā, stand second only to the Ka‘ba. Safā is an elevated platform surmounted by a triple arch, and approached by a flight of steps.[4] It lies south-east of the Ka‘ba, facing the black corner, and 76 paces from the “Gate of Safā,” which is architecturally the chief gate of the mosque. Merwa is a similar platform, formerly covered with a single arch, on the opposite side of the valley. It stands on a spur of the Red Mountain called Jebel Kuayḳian. The course between these two sacred points is 493 paces long, and the religious ceremony called the “sa‘y” consists in traversing it seven times, beginning and ending at Safā. The lowest part of the course, between the so-called green milestones, is done at a run. This ceremony, which, as we shall presently see, is part of the omra, is generally said to be performed in memory of Hagar, who ran to and fro between the two eminences vainly seeking water for her son. The observance, however, is certainly of pagan origin; and at one time there were idols on both the so-called hills (see especially Azraqī, pp. 74, 78).

The Ceremonies and the Pilgrimage.—Before Islām the Ka‘ba was the local sanctuary of the Meccans, where they prayed and did
  1. The old kiswa is removed on the 25th day of the month before the pilgrimage, and fragments of it are bought by the pilgrims as charms. Till the 10th day of the pilgrimage month the Ka‛ba is bare.
  2. Before Islām the Ka‛ba was opened every Monday and Thursday; in the time of Ibn Jubair it was opened with considerable ceremony every Monday and Friday, and daily in the month Rajab. But, though prayer within the building is favoured by the example of the Prophet, it is not compulsory on the Moslem, and even in the time of Ibn Baṭūṭa the opportunities of entrance were reduced to Friday and the birthday of the Prophet.
  3. See De Vogué, Syrie centrale: inscr. sem.; Lady Anne Blunt Pilgrimage of Nejd, ii., and W. R. Smith, in the Athenaeum, March 20, 1880.
  4. Ibn Jubair speaks of fourteen steps, Ali Bey of four, Burckhardt of three. The surrounding ground no doubt has risen so that the old name “hill of Safā” is now inapplicable.