Before Islam came, the Kaaba was a place of worship of the pagans

The Kaaba in 1907

Mecca was not a very flashy city in the 6th century, the time when Muhammad was born. The city was indeed crowded with merchants in certain seasons. They pitted profits by bringing various merchandise from several corners of the earth. But Mecca remained insignificant in the geopolitical context around the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Peninsula at that time.

The significance of Mecca is only seen in theological terms for adherents of spirituality, paganism, and the Abrahamic religions. In that city stands a large box-shaped stone building. The giant cube, according to the traditional historiographical version of Islam, is believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael.

For Muslims, the building was intended as "the House of God" by its two founders. But after Ishmael died, through a process for thousands of years, the House of God ended up being a kind of temple for the pagans.

In a certain period before the arrival of Islam, the building was also used by Christians, possibly the Copts and Ethiopian Christians, as a place of worship. This is evidenced by the paintings on the inside walls of the building depicting Jesus and Mary, the mother of Jesus. G. R. D. King's research entitled The Paintings of the Pre-Islamic Ka'ba, published in the Muqarnas journal, reinforces the evidence.

From the idol temple to the Qibla

Until now, there has not been found a definite source of information since when the building became a pagan temple. One of the oldest historiographies that opened up the possibility of this is The Book of Idols (Kitāb al-'Aṣnām) by historian Hisham ibn al-Kalbi written in the 8th century.

By relying on information from the book, Francis Edward Peters in The Hajj stated the fall of the building of Abraham into the hands of idol worshippers dated back to the early history of Mecca. Some of Ishmael's children were suspected of abandoning old beliefs and becoming idol worshippers. From there, the stone box built by their grandfather began to become a place of worship by the pagans.

So, after that, the idol-worshippers came and went. The gods they worshipped also changed.

But the time gap between the death of Ishmael, which is estimated in 1800 BC, and the Arabs of the Quraysh era is very far away. In that period, a lot of events were not recorded. Therefore, historians find it difficult to ascertain who actually made the building of Abraham as a place of worship of idols.

Today's Islamic historians, with historical sources more extensive than their predecessors, also cannot confirm that. Did one of the two ancient Arabs, Jurhum and the Banu Khuza'a, change it? Or, was it because of the influence of Greek and Roman paganism?

Among such questions, one thing that really stands out is the emergence of the stereotypical periodization of Islamic historians. For them, the decline of Mecca, both morally and spiritually, was caused by the fall of the city to the pagan pool, in this case: pre-Islamic Mecca.

This is clearly shown by, for example, the propagation of the "official" history of Islam which divides the periods in broad outline: Jahiliyyah (the Age of Ignorance) and the Age of Prophecy. The first mentioned period, of course, refers to the world of paganism in Mecca.

When the Prophet Muhammad was born, the giant cube that Abraham had built was completely occupied by the pagan Quraysh tribe. It even became a kind of "large temple" for the pagans throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

The site of Kaaba in 1880

At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, there were 360 idols arranged around the Kaaba, possibly representing the number of days in a year, noted Karen Armstrong in Islam.

For Muslims, the greatest goddesses of the Quraysh tribe: Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat, became symbols of moral and spiritual degradation. Therefore, when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers succeeded in conquering Mecca in 629, the three idols were the first targets to be destroyed.

Muhammad's prophethood and the birth of Islam later changed the religious landscape in the Arabian Peninsula. Today, we know the giant cube as the Kaaba and the Qibla of the Muslims.