Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East


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The Kaaba (Arabic: الكعبة al-Ka‘bah; ) refers to

1. A stone about 12 inches in diameter, probably formed from a meteorite, in Saudi Arabia. It formed the basis of pre-Islamic worship as well as being a center of Islamic worship.

2. A large cuboid building located inside the mosque known as al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The mosque was built around the original Kaaba.

The Kaaba was the object of pre-Islamic pagan worship, threatened by the rise of Islam. The prophet Muhammad was apparently part of the priesthood of the Kaaba at one time. The Kaaba is the holiest place in Islam. The qibla, the direction Muslims face during prayer, is the direction from their location on Earth towards the Kaaba. It is around the Kaaba that ritual circumambulation is performed by Muslims during the Hajj (pilgrimage) season as well as during the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). Muslims hold that the Kaaba was the location of Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael, which they claim took place rather than the sacrifice of Isaac recorded in the Old Testament.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Jihadism, Muslim extremism

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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