Quranic Reflection No. 431. Ayat 3:97 – Distinctness of the Ka‘bah
فِيهِ آيَاتٌ بَيِّنَاتٌ مَّقَامُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ۖ وَمَن دَخَلَهُ كَانَ آمِنًا ۗ وَلِلَّـهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا
Fīhi āyatun bayyinātun maqāmu Ibrāhīma waman dakhalahu kāna āminā walillāhi ‘alan-nāsi hijjul bayti mani-statā’a ilayhi sabīlā
In it are manifest signs; Ibrahim’s Station, and whoever enters it shall be secure. And it is the duty of mankind toward Allah to make pilgrimage to the House—for those who can afford the journey to it.
(Sūrat Āli Imran, No 3, Āyat 97)
When Allah subhānahu wa-ta‘ālā talks about the Ka‘bah, He says there are clear signs in it. A sign usually points towards something. The Ka‘bah points towards the Majesty of Allah ‘azza wajall and leads towards Him. It is a reminder of the worship of One God and of the Divine-human connection which has remained through the ages despite the plotting of enemies against it. It is also a lasting symbol of the great monotheist Prophet Ibrahim (a).
This verse classifies three significant qualities of the Ka’bah which make it unique. These three phrases are independent sentences that each describe a sign of the greatness of the Ka‘bah. Each of these signs connects to Allah:
1) Maqāmu Ibrahim – This place has the stone with the imprint of the footstep of Prophet Ibrahim (a). This stone is now placed in a golden cylinder located 13 meters away from the Ka‘bah. The original location of Ibrahim’s (a) station was right next to the Ka‘bah. The place is a reminder of the value of sincerity, sacrifice and unity. Believers have been asked to pray at this holy place. The Quran says: Appoint for yourselves a place of prayer on the standing-place of Ibrahim (Q 2:125).
According to Hadith Prophet Ibrahim stood on a stone and called people to Hajj as God had ordered him to do and his footprint remained on the stone. Other Hadith say that his footprint remained on this stone when he stood on it while raising the walls of the Ka‘bah. When praying with his son Ismail (a), they placed this stone between themselves and the Ka‘bah. This stone and al-Hajar al-Aswad are considered among holy stones from Heaven. Prophet Muhammad (s) prayed on it when he was in Makkah.
2) Security of the place – When Prophet Ibrahim (a) built the Ka‘bah he asked God to make it secure for people – And when Ibrahim said: My Lord! make this city secure and save me and my sons from worshiping idols (Q 14:35). Allah (swt) answered his prayer and made the city a place of spiritual peace and a sanctuary for the people who visited it. This is a legislative law in Shariah. No-one can be attacked in the holy place. This right of safety in the Ka‘bah was recognized even by the Arabs before Islam.
3) Obligatory pilgrimage to it for those who can afford it – The visit to the Ka‘bah or Hajj was ordained as a law which was obligatory once in a lifetime for those who could afford. The Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam and those who perform it are the guests of God. It is an annual pilgrimage that promotes social equality and unity and creates awareness of social and political issues.
Let this verse remind you of the sanctity of the holy place and the signs that make it so unique. Millions of Muslims pay testimony to it while performing the rites of Hajj.
Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh