at powerful, supernatural beings like Satan is a dangerous thing
to do. On 11 February, the danger was made obvious as 14 people
died in Mina, Saudi Arabia after a large crowd gathered there to
throw rocks at the devil.
Each year, Muslims
from all over the world make their pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, the
birthplace of the founder of Islam, and site of the Cube. The Cube
is a small building near the center of the Haram mosque. According
to legend, the Cube (the Ka'bah in Arabic) is the oldest house of
worship on earth. Legend has it that it was erected by the very
first man - Adam - and that it was rebuilt many years later by Abraham
and one of his sons. It is toward this Cube that Muslims around
the world pray five times each day.
Mounted on a wall
of the Cube is a stone that looks like black glass. It is called
the Black Stone, and it has its legends. One legend holds that the
stone was sent to Adam from Paradise above. It was brilliant white,
and it was to be a part of the first house of worship on Earth,
modeled after Al-baitul Ma'moor, the house of worship used by the
angels. Another legend holds that an angel gave the stone to Abraham
to install in the Cube. Yet another legend holds that the founder
of Islam settled a dispute about the stone. This was some time before
he had the revelations that would inspire him to reestablish the
one true religion - the religion of Abraham: Islam.
The Cube had been
destroyed by fire and was rebuilt. There was an argument as to which
tribe would have the honor of installing the Black Stone in the
rebuilt Cube. To settle the argument, it was agreed that the first
person who entered the courtyard around the Cube would be the judge.
That turned out to be Muhammad ibn 'Abdullaah, and he came up with
a plan. He set the stone in the center of a blanket lying on the
ground. He asked each tribe to elect one of its people. The elected
gathered around the blanket, lifted it, and carried the stone to
the wall. Then, Muhammad took the stone and mounted it himself.
One of the first
rituals performed each year by the millions of Muslims who make
their pilgrimage to Mecca is to walk around the Cube seven times
while chanting a prayer: "Labbayka Allahumma Labbayk," which means
"Here I am at your service, God; Here I am!" As they go around the
Cube, they touch the stone or kiss it. Legend has it that the stone,
originally a brilliant white, turned black as it absorbed the sins
of those who touched or kissed it.
The last ritual
of the Hajj is the ceremonial Stoning of Satan. It takes place in
Mina, a small village east of Mecca. The pilgrims throw seven small
stones at each of three pillars representing the devil and the temptations
it offers. This year, as in years past, the number of people exceeded
the amount of space available for them, and 14 were trampled to
death. In 1994, 270 died in this fashion; in 1998, 180 died, and
in 2001, 35 died.