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The Middle East As Net Exporter of Religion

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The Ka’ba, Mecca, ca. 1910

The Ka’ba, Mecca, ca. 1910

The Ka‘ba (“cube”) is a pre-Islamic cultic center in the prophet Muhammad’s hometown of Mecca in western Arabia. Under Muhammad’s guidance, the Ka‘ba became the focus for Muslims’ monotheist worship. Wherever they may be, Muslims perform their ritual prayers facing the qibla, or the direction toward Mecca; Muslims who can afford to and whose physical condition allows it are enjoined to perform the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca and its environs at least once in their lifetimes. The visitation specifically to the Ka‘ba, called the ‘umra, involves saying prayers, circumambulating the Ka‘ba several times, touching the black stone embedded in one corner of the building, and performing other rituals—rituals sanctified by Muhammad himself, and designed to keep Muslims mindful of the oneness of God. The ‘umra can be performed at any time, but the broader hajj, or “greater pilgrimage,” can only be performed during certain days in the 12th month of the Muslim calendar. Today, with relatively easy transport available, several million Muslim pilgrims flock to Mecca during the proper season each year. Historically, the hajj helped unify Islam’s religious and legal traditions, as scholars from distant lands gathered there and often studied with one another.

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