Introduction: What is the Ka'aba?:
The Ka'aba (literally "the cube" in Arabic) is an ancient stone structure that was built and re-built by prophets as a house of monotheistic worship. It is located inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Ka'aba is considered the center of the Muslim world, and is a unifying focal point for Islamic worship.
The Ka'aba is a semi-cubic building that stands about 15 meters high and 10-12 meters wide. It is an ancient, simple structure made of granite. In the SE corner, a black meteorite (the "Black Stone") is embedded in a silver frame. Stairs on the north side lead to a door which allows entry to the interior, which is hollow and empty. The Ka'aba is covered with a kiswah, a black silk cloth which is embroidered in gold with verses from the Qur'an. The kiswah is re-done and replaced once a year.
According to the Qur'an, the Ka'aba was built by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael as a house of monotheistic worhip. However, by the time of Muhammad, the Ka'aba had been taken over by pagan Arabs to house their numerous tribal gods. In 630 A.D., Muhammad and his followers took over leadership of Mecca after years of persecution. Muhammad destroyed the idols inside the Ka'aba and re-dedicated it as a house of monotheistic worship.
Role in Muslim Worship:
It should be noted that Muslims do not worship the Ka'aba and its environs. Rather, it serves as a focal and unifying point among the Muslim people. During daily prayers, Muslims face toward the Ka'aba from wherever they are in the world (this is known as "facing the qiblah"). During the annual pilgrimage ("Hajj"), Muslims walk around around the Ka'aba in a counter-clockwise direction (a ritual known as "tawaf").