The city of Mecca is unequalled in the world, and stands as the most beloved place of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. It is the city in which the masjid al Haram stands, where Muhammad (pbuh) was born, and where he spends the early part of his blessed life.
Mecca was a central point on the caravan routes running over the Arabian peninsula at the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It was revered as a holy city even before the first revelations came to him.
Macca is enclosed by the Valley of Ibrahim, which is surrounded by two nearby mountain ranges to the east, west and south. The northern range comprises the Al-Falaq and Qu'aqi'an mountains, while the southern range consists of Abu Hudaidah mountain to the west, Kuday to the south and Abu Qubais and Khindimah to the south-east.
The Quran talks about Bakkah (the older name of Mecca) being the first house of worship appointed for mankind. It also addresses this place as Umm ul-Qura' (Mother of the Settlements):
'The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings. In it are clear signs: the station of Ibrahim. Anyone who enters it shall be granted safe passage. The people owe it to God that they shall observe Hajj to this shrine, when they can afford it. As for those who disbelieve, God does not need anyone.'[ale- Imran; 3: 96-97]
The city of Mecca contains the most revered masjid in Islam - the Masjid al Haram (The Grand masjid).
The Masjid al Haram is the mosque surrounding the Kaba. It is the place of journey (hajj) for the worship of Allah subhanahu wa Ta'ala that is renewing and filled with rewards. The Ka'bah itself is the qibla (direction) for the whole Muslim world.
At the advent of Islam the believers lived close to the masjid. For that matter, the courtyard of the house of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is believed to have been the first gathering place for the early reverts (converts). It should be pointed out that also, at that time, the Kaba was being maintained by pagans; it housed pagan idols for which were celebrated pagan rituals and ceremonies, and the inhabitants of Macca would circumambulate the Kaba naked. Many idols were worshipped, the most notable of which were called al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat.
Much like the protest of Prophet Ibrahim (alayhis salam) who pointed out to his people that the idols were not gods; the early Muslims protested these corrupted and false acts and were persecuted culminating in their eventual hijrah from Macca to Medina. When they returned to Macca in 8 A.H. they purified the Kaba and re-established the worship of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, alone, the one true God.
The actual structure of the Kaba has been demolished and rebuilt several times in the course of its history. Around the Kaba is a restricted area, the haram, extends in some directions as far as 12 miles, into which only Muslims may enter.
In 709, extensions of the Haram in Mecca were made by Umayyad Caliph Al Walid ibn Abd al-Malik. Over the years, the Haram has undergone numerous other extensions and renovations, being built and rebuilt, the most recent renovation being in 1996.
To show significant, this masjid is one can just look at the number of rewards gained in one prayer offered in it; worth one hundred thousand prayers than any other prayers offered elsewhere.
Literally, Kaba in Arabic means a high place with respect and prestige. The word Kaba may also be a derivative of a word meaning cube.
Some other names of the Kaba include: Bait ul Ateeq which means, according to one meaning, the earliest and ancient. According to the second meaning, it means independent and liberating. Both meanings could be taken.
The Kaba is the qibla (direction) for salah/namaz. Also a birth place of Imam Ali (as), the first Imam of Shia sect and the fourth Caliph of Sunni sect.
The base of the Kaba is 10.5 x 12 meters, and 15 meters high, and is standing on a marble base which is 25 cm high. It is built of grey stones from the hills around the city of Mecca. The door of the Kaba is in the northeastern wall, and is 2 meters above the ground. Inside the Kaba, three wooden pillars hold the roof up. The roof can be accessed by a ladder. The floor is covered by marble, and there are no furniture, except gold and silver lamps.
The Kaba is covered by the kiswa, a black curtain produced in Egypt, and changed annually at the time of hajj. In an interim period, lasting a little bit more than two weeks, the Kaba is covered by a white covering, and it is at the end of hajj that the new kiswa is presented.
Traditionally, the kiswa came in different colors, including; yellow, green, and black and white. Though today the kiswa remains black.
The doorkeepers of the Kaba are still the family Banu Shayba, which were appointed by Muhammad (pbuh).