The Black Stone is a rock set into the eastern corner of the Kaaba, the ancient building located in the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
It is revered by Muslims as an Islamic relic which, according to Muslim tradition, dates back to the time of Adam and Eve.
The stone was venerated at the Kaaba in pre-Islamic pagan times. According to Islamic tradition, it was set intact into the Kaaba’s wall by the prophet Muhammad in 605 CE, five years before his first revelation.
Since then it has been broken into fragments and is now cemented into a silver frame in the side of the Kaaba. Its physical appearance is that of a fragmented dark rock, polished smooth by the hands of pilgrims.
Islamic tradition holds that it fell from heaven as a guide for Adam and Eve to build an altar. It has often been described as a meteorite.
Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as a part of the tawaf ritual during the Hajj and many try to stop and kiss the Black Stone, emulating the kiss that Islamic tradition records that it received from Muhammad. Muslims do not worship the Black Stone.
History and tradition
The Black Stone was held in reverence well before the preaching of Islam by Muhammad. It had long been associated with the Kaaba, which was built in the pre-Islamic period and was a site of pilgrimage of Nabateans who visited the shrine once a year to perform their pilgrimage. The Kaaba held 360 idols of the Meccan gods.
The Semitic cultures of the Middle East had a tradition of using unusual stones to mark places of worship, a phenomenon which is reflected in the Hebrew Bible as well as the Qur’an, although bowing to or kissing such sacred objects is repeatedly described in the Tanakh as idolatrous and was the subject of prophetic rebuke.
The meteorite-origin theory of the Black Stone has seen it likened by some writers to the meteorite which was placed and worshipped in the Greek Temple of Artemis.
Some writers remark on the apparent similarity of the Black Stone and its frame to the external female genitalia and ascribe this to its earlier association with fertility rites of Arabia.
A “red stone” was associated with the deity of the south Arabian city of Ghaiman, and there was a “white stone” in the Kaaba of al-Abalat (near the city of Tabala, south of Mecca). Worship at that time period was often associated with stone reverence, mountains, special rock formations, or distinctive trees.
The Kaaba marked the location where the sacred world intersected with the profane, and the embedded Black Stone was a further symbol of this as an object as a link between heaven and earth.
It may have been associated with the pre-Islamic deities al-Rahman and Hubal, to whom the Kaaba was formerly dedicated; Muhammad is said to have called the stone “the right hand of al-Rahman“.
According to Islamic belief, Muhammad is credited with setting the Black Stone in the current place in the wall of the Kaaba.
A story found in Ibn Ishaq’s Sirah Rasul Allah tells how the clans of Mecca renovated the Kaaba following a major fire which had partly destroyed the structure.
The Black Stone had been temporarily removed to facilitate the rebuilding work. The clans could not agree on which one of them should have the honor of setting the Black Stone back in its place.
They decided to wait for the next man to come through the gate and ask him to make the decision. That person was 35-year-old Muhammad, five years before his prophethood. He asked the elders of the clans to bring him a cloth and put the Black Stone in its center.
Each of the clan leaders held the corners of the cloth and carried the Black Stone to the right spot. Then, Muhammad set the stone in place, satisfying the honor of all of the clans.
After his Conquest of Mecca in 630, Muhammad is said to have ridden around the Kaaba seven times on his camel, touching the Black Stone with his stick in a gesture of reverence.
Meaning and symbolism
Islamic tradition holds that the Black Stone fell from Jannah to show Adam and Eve were to build an altar, which became the first temple on Earth.
Muslims believe that the stone was originally pure and dazzling white, but has since turned black because of the sins of the people who touch it.
Its black color is deemed to symbolize the essential spiritual virtue of detachment and poverty for God and the extinction of ego required to progress towards God.
According to a prophetic tradition, “Touching them both (the Black Stone and al-Rukn al-Yamani) is an expiation for sins.”
Adam’s altar and the stone were said to have been lost during Noah’s Flood and forgotten. Ibrahim (Abraham) was said to have later found the Black Stone at the original site of Adam’s altar when the angel Jibrail revealed it to him.
Ibrahim ordered his son Ismael – who in Muslim belief is an ancestor of Muhammad – to build a new temple, the Kaaba, into which the stone was to be embedded.
Another tradition says that the Black Stone was originally an angel that had been placed by God in the Garden of Eden to guard Adam.
The angel was absent when Adam ate the forbidden fruit and was punished by being turned into a jewel — the Black Stone. God granted it the power of speech and placed it at the top of Abu Qubays, a mountain in the historic region of Khurasan, before moving the mountain to Mecca.
When Ibrahim took the Black Stone from Abu Qubays to build the Kaaba, the mountain asked Ibrahim to intercede with God so that it would not be returned to Khurasan and would stay in Mecca.
According to some scholars, the Black Stone was the same stone that Islamic tradition describes as greeting Muhammad before his prophethood.
This led to a debate about whether the Black Stone’s greeting comprised actual speech or merely a sound, and following that, whether the stone was a living creature or an inanimate object. Whichever was the case, the stone was held to be a symbol of prophethood.
A hadith records that, when the second Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (580–644) came to kiss the stone, he said in front of all assembled:
“No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can neither harm anyone nor benefit anyone. Had I not seen Allah’s Messenger kissing you, I would not have kissed you.”
In the hadith collection Kanz al-Ummal, it is recorded that Ali responded to Umar, saying:
“This stone (Hajar Aswad) can indeed benefit and harm. … Allah says in Quran that he created human beings from the progeny of Adam and made them witness over themselves and asked them, ‘Am I not your creator?’ Upon this, all of them confirmed it. Thus Allah wrote this confirmation. And this stone has a pair of eyes, ears and a tongue and it opened its mouth upon the order of Allah, who put that confirmation in it and ordered to witness it to all those worshippers who come for Hajj.”
Muhammad Labib al-Batanuni, writing in 1911, commented on the practice that the pre-Islamic practice of venerating stones arose not because such stones are “sacred for their own sake, but because of their relation to something holy and respected“.
In recent years several literalist views of the Black Stone have emerged. A small minority accepts as literally true a hadith, usually taken as allegorical, which asserts that:
“the Stone will appear on the Day of Judgement with eyes to see and a tongue to speak, and give evidence in favor of all who kissed it in true devotion but speak out against whoever indulged in gossip or profane conversations during his circumambulation of the Kaaba”.
The nature of the Black Stone has been much debated. It has been described variously as basalt stone, an agate, a piece of natural glass or—most popularly—a stony meteorite.
Paul Partsch, the curator of the Austro-Hungarian imperial collection of minerals, published the first comprehensive analysis of the Black Stone in 1857 in which he favored a meteoritic origin for the Stone.
Robert Dietz and John McHone proposed in 1974 that the Black Stone was actually an agate, judging from its physical attributes and a report by an Arab geologist that the Stone contained clearly discernible diffusion banding characteristic of agates.
A significant clue to its nature is provided by an account of the Stone’s recovery in 951 AD after it had been stolen 21 years earlier; according to a chronicler, the Stone was identified by its ability to float in water.
If this account is accurate, it would rule out the Black Stone is an agate, basalt lava or a stony meteorite, though it would be compatible with it being glass or pumice.
Elsebeth Thomsen of the University of Copenhagen proposed a different hypothesis in 1980. She suggested that the Black Stone may be a glass fragment or impactite from the impact of a fragmented meteorite that fell 6,000 years ago at Wabar, a site in the Rub’ al Khali desert 1,100 km east of Mecca.
A 2004 scientific analysis of the Wabar site suggests that the impact event happened much more recently than first thought and might have occurred within the last 200–300 years.
The meteoritic hypothesis is viewed by geologists as doubtful. The British Natural History Museum suggests that it may be a pseudometeorite, in other words, a terrestrial rock mistakenly attributed to a meteoritic origin.
The Black stone has never been analyzed with modern scientific techniques and its origins remain the subject of speculation.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.