The Black Stone is a sacred object to the Muslims. This stone forms the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba, a building located in the mosque of Masjid al-Haram and Islam’s holiest site.
Pilgrims come from around the world to worship at the Kaaba. This pilgrimage is required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford the trip. Although they are expected to go at least once in their lives, many make the pilgrimage, or Hajj, every year to celebrate this annual event.
Each pilgrim walks around the Kaaba in a counterclockwise direction, making seven compete circuits. Ideally, they kiss the sacred stone or touch it on every circuit, although when the crowds make this impossible, they may simply point at the stone on the way past.
Tradition states that the stone fell to earth many years ago, in the time of Adam and Eve. Originally pure white, the stone is now black because it has absorbed so many sins. It retains its ability to absorb the sins of supplicants, cleansing worshippers.
The Black Stone has been described as being made of different materials – agate, basalt lava, natural glass. Over its 1400-year history it has been handled a great deal, and not always gently. Yet it still survives, testament to the stone’s hardness.
The stone may have come from Wabar in the Rub’ al Khali desert. Six thousand years ago, a meteorite struck, blasting craters into the earth. Silica glass was formed in these craters due to the heat of the impact – often, the glass fused with beads of metal alloy (nickel and iron) from the meteorite. Some of those glass blocks contain gas-filled hollows that let them float on water.
An intriguing clue comes from an account, written in 951 AD, outlining the theft and subsequent recovery of this holy stone. In one of the tests performed to ensure this was the real stone and not a clever forgery, the stone was proven to float in water – crazy for most rocks, but quite normal for glass or pumice.
According to ancient legend, Wabar was once home to a famous city near a popular trade route. The king was very evil, and fire came down from the heavens to punish him. Could this be the meteorite impact that produced the Black Stone?
Over the years, the Black Stone has sustained damage during various battles and raids. In 683 AD, during the Siege of Mecca, a flaming arrow ignited the Kaaba. The resulting fire broke the stone into three large pieces and many smaller ones. In 930 AD, the stone was stolen, not to be returned until 951. This caused more damage, breaking it into seven fragments. Currently, a silver frame holds the Black Stone together.
The Kaaba was built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael) on the foundations of an older kaaba. The Black Stone occupied the eastern corner. By the time of Muhammad (570-632AD), the holy site had become a shrine to various Arabian tribal gods. Muhammad believed that the sacred Kaaba was being desecrated, and in 630 AD he and his followers re-conquered it as an Islamic place of worship.
Since the time of Muhammad, the Kaaba has undergone many changes. Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr’ (624-692 AD) demolished the temple, rebuilding it to include a semi-circular wall called the hatim. In 683, an ongoing war caused it to be partially destroyed. In 693, under the rule of Abdul Malik bin Marwan, the Kaaba was demolished once again. It was rebuilt on its original foundations, returning to a cube shape as in the time of Muhammad.
After all these years, the Black Stone remains, silently witnessing the covenant between man and Allah. Kissing and touching the stone is a sacred act of reverence. Those who have visited report that upon kissing the stone, they felt joy and peace radiating through them. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad said the stone was God’s right hand on earth.