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Rockin? the Kabaa??Sharifs Don?t Like It!
One year ago, on October 10, 2006 an Islamic website alerted Muslims to yet another of the seemingly endless litany of “insults to Islam.” The message claimed a cube-shaped building under construction in New York City, on Fifth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets in midtown Manhattan, bore a deliberate resemblance to the sacred Meccan “Kabaa”, and as such was meant to provoke Muslims. After taking liberties to contrive a resemblance between Apple’s (as in Macintosh computers) “Mecca,” and the actual Meccan Kabaa (see here), the Islamic website maintained the New York structure intended to be open 24 hours a day (alas, like the Kabaa), and moreover, contained bars selling alcoholic beverages—both blatant “insults to Islam.” The message further urged Muslims to disseminate this “alarming” information, in the hope that “Muslims will be able to stop the project.” As Robert Spencer observed aptly, at the time, “The only problem is that the project is finished, and the actual building doesn't look like the Kabaa at all, unless all cube-shaped structures are forbidden to infidels.”
Fast forward almost exactly one year, and a strangely delayed outpouring of “Kabaa outrage” was expressed on October 6, 2007—in Kashmir! As reported by the Iranian (Islamic Republic) News Agency, hundreds of Muslim college students in the Northern Kashmir city of Baramulla took to the streets in demonstrations, “to decry a bar built in the shape of the holy Kaaba in New York.” Proclaiming anti-American and pro-Islamic slogans, the students insisted that the putative construction of a wine-shop or a bar like the Kaaba was tantamount to the desecration of the holy sites of Islam. “Muslims all over the world should protest at this,” they stated. They also demanded that the “bar” be closed down immediately, accompanied by a “US apology” to the Muslim world for creating the Kaaba replica.
Ignoring the final constructed appearance of Apple’s New York City cube, and the fact that alcohol was never served there, what is the Kabaa, and why might any perceived insult to this Meccan structure arouse the ire, once again, of pious votaries of Islam?
The Kabaa is a black-gray, cube-like building located in the center of the mosque at Mecca which contains the black stone (the Hajaru ’l-Aswad). The bizarre and fantastic Muslim narrative—a melding of traditions from the core Islamic texts (including the Koran), and the inventiveness of Muslim writers—maintains that the Kabaa was originally constructed in heaven some 2000 years before the world’s creation (indeed, this heavenly model of it persists eternally, named the Baitu’l-Ma‘mūr). Adam purportedly erected the earthly Kabaa directly below the location its perfect model occupies in heaven. Although 10,000 angels were assigned to guard the Kabaa, as the Orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt observed, more often than not, they appear to have been remiss in their duty. Destroyed during the great flood, Abraham, assisted by his son Ishmael (who was then in Mecca with his mother Hagar) is said to have been instructed by Allah to rebuild the Kabaa. During this reconstruction, Ishmael, seeking a stone to mark the corner of the rebuilt structure, was given the famous black stone by the angel Gabriel. Following Ishmael’s death, the Kabaa passed into the possession of successive Arabian tribes, becoming a Pantheon for idols, even including figures of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus sculpted upon one of its six pillars nearest the entrance. At the outset of Muhammad’s prophetic career, the initial direction for prayer was Jerusalem, implying he was disinclined to the Kabaa as an ancient “superstitious” idol temple. Had the Jews not rejected Muhammad’s claim to teach the true monotheism of Abraham, abrogating that of Moses, Jerusalem, not the Meccan Kabaa would have been the object of Muslim reverence. When Muhammad finally vanquished the idolatrous Quraysh of Mecca, occupying the city by force of arms (in 630), the idols in the Kabaa were destroyed (excepting an icon of Jesus and Mary), and the “divine” rites of Islam enacted.
Might contemporary “Kabaa rage,”—directed, curiously, at a New York structure—be related to the Muslim world’s obsession with Jewish conspiracies against Islam, which date back to Islam’s foundational texts, and history? Koran 5:64, for example (“They [the Jews] hasten about the earth, to do corruption there”) reads like an ancient antecedent to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and was cited in this context during a January 2007 speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Furthermore, after Muhammad’s conquest of the Jewish farming oasis at Khaybar, the hadith and sira (early pious Muslim biographies of Muhammad) refer to an event which updates with impeccable logic the Koranic curse upon the Jews (2:61 /3:112) for having wrongfully slain Allah’s earlier prophets—a Khaybar Jewess is accused of serving the Muslim prophet poisoned mutton (or goat), leading ultimately to his protracted and painful death. And Ibn Sa‘d’s sira (Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir) focuses on the Jewish conspiracy behind this alleged poisoning of Islam’s prophet. An additional profoundly anti-Jewish motif occurring after the events recorded in the hadith and sira, put forth in early Muslim historiography (for example, by Tabari), is the story of Abd Allah b. Saba. An alleged renegade Yemenite Jew, and founder of the heterodox Shi’ite sect, he is held responsible—identified as a Jew—for promoting the Shi’ite heresy and fomenting the rebellion and internal strife associated with this primary breach in Islam’s “political innocence,” culminating in the assassination of the third Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman, and the bitter, lasting legacy of Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian strife.
Not surprisingly then, conspiratorial accusations against Jews in late 13th century Baghdad included plans to attack Mecca itself and convert the Kabaa to a heathen temple! The brief rise and calamitous fall of Sa‘d ad-Daula—which mirrored the experience of his Jewish co-religionists—took place during this Mongol epoch. Sa‘d ad-Daula was a Jewish physician, who successfully reformed the Mongol revenue and taxation system for Iraq. In recognition of these services, he was appointed by the Mongol emperor Arghun (who reigned from 1284-1291) to the position of administrative Vizier (in 1289) over Arghun’s Empire. Despite being a successful and responsible administrator (which even the Muslim sources confirm), the appointment of a Jew as the Vizier of a heathen ruler over a predominantly Muslim region, aroused the wrath, predictably, of the Muslim masses. According to modern historian Walter Fischel, this reaction was expressed, through and exacerbated by “…all kinds of [Muslim] diatribes, satirical poems, and libels”. Ibn al-Fuwati (d. 1323), a contemporary Muslim historian from Baghdad, recorded this particularly revealing example which emphasized traditional anti-Jewish motifs from the Qur’an:
In the year 689/1291 a document was prepared which contained libels against Sa‘d ad-Daula, together with verses from the Qur’an and the history of the prophets, that stated the Jews to be a people whom Allah hath debased…
Another contemporary 13th century Muslim source, notes Fischel, the chronicler and poet Wassaf, “…empties the vials of hatred on the Jew Sa‘d ad-Daula and brings the most implausible accusations against him.” These accusations included the claims that Sa‘d had advised Arghun to cut down trees in Baghdad (dating from the days of the conquered Muslim Abbasid dynasty), and build a fleet to attack Mecca and convert the cuboidal Kabaa to a heathen temple. Wassaf’s account also quotes satirical verses to demonstrate the extent of public dissatisfaction with what he terms “Jewish Domination.”
Drummer and lyricist for The Clash Joe Strummer composed a 1982 lyric protesting Ayatollah’s Khomeini’s ban on rock music. Updating Strummer’s words (“Sharif don't like it [he thinks it's not kosher]”), in reference to the Kabaa rage manufactured by today’s Islamic “Sharifs” (i.e., protectors of the Muslim super-tribe, and tribal assets), “Sharifs don't like it.” Given the living legacy of conspiratorial anti-Jewish animus in Islam’s foundational texts, and early history, these Sharifs of 2006/2007 may think Apple’s New York City “Kabaa” is all too “kosher!”