The Kabah (The Cube)
Symbol Of Truth For Mankind

It was, indeed, the will of the One who “possesses the highest attribute”[1] that the content of the Qur’ān should be congruent with the innate disposition of the messenger who thus became a living embodiment of its guidance and its laws. He moved among men on earth as a living, revealed book comprising morals, sayings and deeds from which even the illiterate and those unable to speak his language could derive benefit, for “the Messenger of God (SWT)[2] is a good example for everyone who hopes for God (SWT) and the last day, and who greatly remembers God (SWT).”[3]

God (SWT) – may He be exalted – has bestowed upon mankind “many facets to every kind of lesson” with respect to the innate disposition of the Prophet (PBUH),[4] and these correspond fully to the many-faceted lessons stated in His divine Revelation as a whole. As He says “Thus indeed we have given in this Qur’ān many facets to every kind of lesson designed for the benefit of mankind. However, man is, above else, always given to contention.”[5] He did this, so that form and content, word and meaning should fully coincide. The Prophet (PBUH) therefore becomes a living mirror reflecting the essence of divine mercy which is also the ultimate purpose of the message sent down in the Qur’ān. “And thus, O Prophet, we have sent you as a mercy for all the worlds.”[6]

Taken together, the Qur’ān as word of God (SWT) and Muḥammad as messenger of God (SWT) to mankind[7] exist in parallel with another dual entity, namely the order prevailing in the cosmos and the capacity for the perception and generation of order which exists in the collective human intellect.[8] This is a phenomenon of the profoundest significance, especially if we take into account that the conformity between the two types of order – the cosmic and the intellectual – represents the essence of knowledge in its objective sense. Indeed, without this compatibility no objective knowledge of any kind would be possible for man to attain. However much our knowledge, our ways of thinking and our understanding of the universe change and develop, this essential conformity between the order of the cosmos and the order of the intellect remains an unaltered fact. While objective knowledge of physical reality arises on account of this congruence, the knowledge of what is absolute and certain emanates from that other proven congruence, that between the Qur’ān and Muḥammad (PBUH). Both types of knowledge, the objective and the absolute, are but two aspects of one single knowledge whose source is the All-knowing Creator, Originator of both the universe and the intellect, who bestowed the Qur’ān and despatched His messenger.

One of the Prophetic Ḥadīth which occupies an absolutely pivotal position in Islam is the one concerning the Divine names (Attributes): “God (SWT) has ninety-nine names, one hundred minus one, for he is singular and loves singularity;[9] whoever enumerates them enters Paradise.”[10]

When analysing the words of this Ḥadīth in their context we are confronted with a number of pressing questions which require to be answered, especially if we accept the premise that the Prophet (PBUH) did not “speak out of fancy” in all he said, not excepting even a word or a letter. As space is limited we will restrict ourselves to the following issues:

  1. Why the mention of ninety-nine?
  2. What is meant with the expression “one hundred minus one”?
  3. Does the reality of ninety-nine differ from that of one hundred minus one?
  4. What is the meaning of “God (SWT) is singular and loves singularity” in this context?
  5. What is the meaning of “enumeration” here and why does the Ḥadīth link enumeration with entry into Paradise?

One Hundred Minus One in the Qur’ān

Before attempting to answer this question, we must turn to the Qur’ān in order to examine verses 21 to 25 of Sura Ṣād (38). This is the sole quranic passage which narrates an event that concerns the relationship between ninety-nine and one, and thereby also sheds light on the relationship between these numbers and the concept of cosmic justice. The text is as follows:

(21) And yet has the story of the litigants (khaçmān) come within thy ken – [the story of the two] who surmounted the wall of the sanctuary [in which David prayed]? (22) As they came upon David and he shrank back in fear of them, they said: “Fear not! [We are but] two litigants. One of us has wronged the other: so judge thou between us with justice, and deviate not from what is right, and show [both of us] the way to rectitude. (23) Behold, this is my brother: he has ninety-nine ewes, whereas I have only one ewe – and yet he said, ‘Make her over to me’, and forcibly prevailed against me in this [our] dispute”. (24) Said [David]: “He has certainly wronged thee by demanding that thy ewe be added to his ewes! Thus behold do many kinsmen (khulaṭāͻ ) wrong one another – [all] save those who believe [in God (SWT)] and do righteous deeds: but how few are they!” (25) And [suddenly] David understood that we had tried him: and so he asked his Sustainer to forgive his sin, and fell down in prostration and turned unto him in repentance.[11]

Despite the fact that this quranic story on the relationship between the ninety-nine and one appears in a context which is rather less abstract than the that of the aforementioned Ḥadīth of the Prophet (PBUH), the true intent of its meaning still remains mysterious. David clearly states that it is a matter of injustice to request that to the ninety-nine be added a further one, to make up the figure 100. What, however, is the basis of this judgment with which David settles the dispute between the two litigants? While the text does not enlighten us on his reasoning, we cannot ignore the fact that it is a matter of grave consequence, especially if we take account of the quranic verse that follows directly upon this story: “O David! We have made thee [a Prophet (PBUH) and thus our] vice-regent (khalīfa) on earth; judge then between men and do not follow vain desire lest it lead thee astray from the path of God (SWT)”.[12]

Taken as a whole, the story explains to us what is really meant by the fact that God (SWT) appoints man as His vice-regent on earth. It shows that there is an indissoluble link between the realisation of this regency on the one hand, and just rule among mankind in keeping with the Truth and in conformity with the dictates of cosmic justice on the other. The latter are manifest, however, in the abiding, god-given laws and significations contained in the cube, i.e. the Kacba, to which the story makes covert reference as we shall presently explain.

If we examine, as a first step, the properties of the square as a geometrical figure we notice that it is representative of equality in two dimensions, length and breadth, since the four lines and four angles it consists of are, respectively, all exactly equal in size (see fig.1). This equality remains flawless and unchanged no matter how large the surface area encompassed by the square. Since the cube can be considered a manifestation in the third dimension of all the properties of the square, it exhibits the same type of equality, but in three, instead of two dimensions, and this no matter how large its actual size might be (see fig.2). The laws upon which it is based are inherently stable, whether it is large or small.

fig. 1
fig. 2

This enduring stability is a characteristic which distinguishes the cube from all other regular solids.[13] Moreover, the six sides of the cube are equivalent to the six cardinal directions – forwards, backwards, left, right, up and down. On account of these singular characteristics Aristotle considered the cube as representative of the ideal or Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil). As he stated in his discourse on happiness, “Man is in reality good and a perfect cube.”[14] These words are indicative of the enduring and pervasive solidity of this structure which does not display any irregularity or alteration no matter what angle it is observed from. As such the cube itself is a sign of the solidity of the Perfect Man who remains unchanged in all circumstances since his being is a constant affirmation of the names and attributes of God (SWT). Before Him, all conditions, all opposites and pairs are fused into one, since the Outer and the Inner, the Manifest and the Hidden are but two sides of one single reality. His names are indicative of this fact, for He is – may He be exalted – both the One Who Grants Life (al-Muḥyi) and the One Who Brings Death (al-Mumīt), the One Who Takes Away (al-Qābiḍ) and the One Who Gives Abundantly (al-Bāsiṭ), the One who Raises to Honour (al-Mucizz) and the One Who Humiliates (al-Mudhill), the First before Whom there is nothing (al-Awwal) and the Last after Whom there is nothing (al-Ākhir), and so on. It is this conflation of opposites in the One which is meant by the phrase “He is singular and loves singularity” in the above mentioned Ḥadīth. He is the sole entity in whom all polarities and all opposites become one through the reality of His absolute justice. Consequently He also loves all those who strive to attain the condition in which the meaning of their regency on earth is fully realised in accordance with the demands of the true God (SWT).

If we examine the abstract reality represented by the cube in real depth we come to understand that it encapsulates many-layered proofs indicative of a range of significations which affirm its singular qualities and which help us understand why the most sacred edifice of Islam, the Kacba, is structured in this shape. Indeed, the cube deserves, more than any other regular solid body, to serve as physical image and symbol of divine unity for mankind everywhere. As the Qurān says, “God (SWT) made the Kacba (the cube), the Sacred House, a symbol for mankind” (see fig.3).[15] Nothing singles out the special status of the Kacba more forcefully than the fact that God (SWT) Most High described it quite literally as “my house.”[16]

fig 3. "God made the Ka'ba (the cube), the Sacred House, a symbol for mankind". Sura 5, verse 97

One of the remarkable features of the Qurān which researchers have so far paid little attention to is the existence of 13 verses which mention the number 1000 or its multiples,[17] as though this was a basic unit of measurement which God (SWT) Most High uses to elucidate the ratio upon which He based the decrees that govern the diverse phenomena of His creation. What has not been sufficiently realised so far is that 1000 is the cube number of 10 (i.e. 10×10×10). The number ten, however, has, for a number of reasons, a status that is unique among all numbers. The Pythagoreans considered it the perfect number, not because it results from the simple sequence from one to ten, but because it is a unit which contains within itself the separate attributes of its ten constituent numbers;[18] at the same time it has the peculiar quality of being “complete at four”, as stated in the “well-known Pythagorean paradox based on the simple cumulative progression of 1+2+3+4=10.[19] Since mathematical and geometrical realities are also cosmic realities it is not surprising that the Qurān  quite literally associates perfection with the number ten when it states the words “this is a perfect ten” (tilka cashratun kāmila).[20]

Indeed, we may safely conclude that the term Kacba as used in the Qurān does not refer to any cube-like structure but to an archetypal or ideal cube, the length, width and height of which are each composed of ten equal units.

Let us then observe the special features of the cube divided 10×10×10 as represented in figure 4a. It has six sides, eight corners and 12 diagonals, facts that in themselves appear simple and straight forward. Once we examine their properties more closely, however, we find ourselves embarking on a veritable voyage of discovery into the complex reality hidden within that shape.

cube fig. 4a
fig. 4a
cube fig. 4b
fig. 4b

Mapping the Proof

We notice, for a start, that each of the eight corners[21] of the cube can be made to form part of a pyramidal shape. Its base is contiguous with three of the cube’s diagonals which together form an equilateral triangle (see fig. 4b).

fig. 5a
fig. 5b
fig. 5c
fig. 5d

By opening this segment in the manner illustrated in figures 5a – 5d, we find that the total number of constituent inner cubes appears to amount to 100. Upon closer inspection however, we find that one of these 100 cubes does not in fact belong to this particular group but to another one which is hidden from the eye. This would appear to be the very cube which the Prophet (PBUH) referred to in his phrase “one hundred minus one”, more than fourteen centuries ago.

cube fig. 6
fig. 6

The proof of this can be derived from the 12 external diagonals of the cube. It is clear that they consist of two sets of six diagonals which are perpendicular to each other and intersect each other six times, i.e. once on each of the six sides of the cube (see fig. 6). When counting the number of constituent cubes which make up the 12 diagonals we find them to number 104 in total,[22] meaning that each of the two sets of six diagonals is made up of 52 cubes (see fig. 7a and 7b).

fig. 7a – 52 cubes
fig. 7b – 52 cubes

This in turn means that every set of three diagonals such as the one which delineates the pyramidal segment mentioned above consists of no more than 26 cubes (see figs 7c-7f). It follows that each set of three diagonals cannot comprise more than two corner cubes.

fig. 7c – 26 cubes
fig. 7d – 26 cubes
fig. 7e – 26 cubes
fig. 7f – 26 cubes

From this it becomes clear that the corner cube which appears at the base in figure 8a, namely the one where the top of the opened pyramidal segment meets the baseline from which it has been lifted, is the odd one out: it does not belong to the other 99 cubes but to a different set and must therefore be discounted from their number. This, then, is the cube intended by the Prophet’s words “one hundred minus one” in the afore-mentioned Ḥadīth; it is also the one represented by the single ewe in the story of David. The status of this base line corner cube thus clarifies to us the criterion which the Prophet David (PBUH) relied upon to determine that it would be a matter of injustice for the owner of the ninety-nine to request ownership of the single one.

fig 8a. - Static-Cube_01
fig. 8a
fig 8b. - Static-Cube_02
fig. 8b

The true measure of David’s justice only becomes fully apparent, however, when we take into account that this single cube or “ewe” does not, in fact, stand alone. Being an integral part of the larger cube, it belongs to the hidden set of 99 cubes of another pyramidal segment which may be opened in the manner illustrated in figure 8b. Both litigants, therefore, in fact own an equal number of ewes: 99 each. The only difference between them is that one set of 99 is apparent whereas the other is hidden, except for one. Neither litigant is thus favoured or disadvantaged. Were we to think otherwise, it would merely be the fruit of our deficient awareness, our lack of comprehension of the balanced relationship between the visible and the hidden. According to most of the commentators, the two “litigants” who suddenly appeared before David were angels sent to bring home to his conscience the essence of the truthful reality which governs cosmic justice.

The Cosmic Treasury

It is worth mentioning that the cube which we discussed shares a number of features with the Arabic language.[23] Once it is realised that the cube with its tenfold division comprises in its breadth, height and width 28 constituent cubical slots whose number thus equals the number of letters in the Arabic alphabet. This is illustrated in figure 9a which displays the letters on the cube in accordance with the numerical value assigned to them by the Arabic alphabetical system or the “science of Arabic letters” as it is sometimes called. The letters of more ancient Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic also carry similar numerical values, but only Arabic has a sufficient number of letters to count up the number 1000 (compare figs. 9a and 9b).[24] It is, indeed, not coincidental that the Arabic language reached its state of maturity, by which it became the seal of all Semitic languages, at the same time as the Qurān was revealed to the Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH) as seal of all Prophets.

fig. 9a
fig. 9b

There is no more eloquent hint at the relationship between the combined properties of the cube and the Arabic language than the multiple meanings contained within the name of the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, namely alif. The numerical value of this letter is the number one which is in itself a primal cubical number since 1×1×1=1. The name of this letter is, furthermore, closely related to the Arabic word for 1000 which is alf. One thousand is, however, the cubical number of ten (10×10×10), some of the special properties of which we have mentioned and discussed above. No less significant are the meanings carried by the words composed of the three root letters that together make up the word alif. These include ulfa, meaning ‘state of union’, ‘alliance’, ‘congruity’; iͻtilāf meaning ‘familiarity’, ‘fellowship’ and also ‘harmony’; and mucallif meaning literally ‘combiner’ and, by extension ‘author’, ‘composer’. In Arabic, these meanings bring about further associations with concepts such as tasāwuq (‘harmonisation’, ‘complementarity’), tarwīḍ (‘taming, regulating’), tajānus (‘homogeneity) and, last but not least, tawḥīd, a key term which simultaneously conveys the notion of ‘making something into a state of oneness’ and ‘professing the unity of God (SWT)’.

cube fig. 10 (zoom)
fig. 10

We can safely conclude at the end of this brief overview of some of the cosmic signs treasured in the cube that ‘99’ is meant to present a numerical reality while ‘one hundred minus one’ points at a cosmic reality, the dimensions of which are beyond enumeration. This should be realised if we consider that each one of the small inner constituent cubes can be opened up just like the larger initial cube – and this in eight different ways as we noted above! – to reveal 99 yet smaller cubes, each one of which exhibits all the properties and realities of the larger cubes (see fig. 10). The nature of the secret carried by each of them changes, however, in accordance with its position which determines the level of knowledge and insight it contains. As each cube is opened up in turn, the realities it contains give expression to a store of secrets which become ever more sublime and more exalted as the chain of openings progresses to infinity. In the end, we are no longer able to discern it as our sight reaches its limits. Then everything vanishes in front of our eyes, and not even the most powerful microscope can be of help.[25] The perceptive heart alone is capable of following this infinite chain of realities and of thus comprehending some of the secrets implied in these words of His – may He be exalted: “Behold, God (SWT) does not disdain to make a parable of gnat, or something even less than that.”[26]

Dr Ahmed Moustafa, London 2007

This essay has been extracted from ‘The Attributes of Divine Perfection’, 2007 edition, published by Fe-Noon Ahmed Moustafa (UK) Ltd, London.

opening cube of cubes

Ahmed Moustafa with the Cube of Cubes artefact at the Basuna Mosque (by Dar Arafa Architecture), Sohag, Egypt 2021


  1. “Unto God applies the attribute of all that is most sublime: for he alone is all-mighty, truly wise” (Sura 16, verse 60).
  2. Most Glorified in His sublimity (eulogy after the name of God).
  3. Sura 33, verse 21.
  4. Peace Be Upon Him. God bless him and grant him salvation (eulogy after the name of the Prophet Mohammed or any of the Ibrahamic prophets).
  5. Sura 18, verse 54.
  6. Sura 21, verse 107.
  7. “We have but sent you to mankind to be a bringer of glad tidings and a warner” (Sura 34, verse 28).
  8. See Dr. Muḥammad Kamāl Ḥusayn, Waḥdat al-Macrifa, Maktabat al-Nahḍa al-Miṣriyya, Cairo, 1972, p.1.
  9. Innahu witr yuibb al-witr; the Arabic term witr  literally means ‘odd’ or ‘uneven’ with respect to numbers.
  10. Ḥadīth recorded as sound by al-Bukhārī.
  11. Translation by Muḥammad Asad.
  12. Sura 38, verse 25.5.
  13. Johan Kepler considered the cube as the first born and father of all regular solids (for details see J.V. Field, Kepler’s Geometrical Cosmology, Athlone Press, London, 1988).
  14. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated by R. W. Browne.
  15. Sura 5, verse 97; see also Muḥammad Asad’s commentary on this verse with particular reference to the meaning of qiyām in The Message of the Qurān, The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration, Translated and Explained by Muammad Asad, The Book Foundation, Dubai, 2003, p.189, note 117. In this context see also sura 3, verse 97.
  16. See sura 22, verse 26 in which God orders Abraham, saying “purify my House for those who circum-ambulate it!”
  17. Sura 2, verses 96, 243; sura 3, verses 124, 125; sura 8, verses 9, 66, 65; sura 22, verse 47; sura 29, verse 14; sura 32, verse 5; sura 37, verse 147; sura 70, verse 4; sura 97, verse 3.
  18. According to Pythagorean thinking each of the ten numbers that make up the decade has distinct attributes which are all implicitly manifest in the number ten. See Robin Waterfield, The Theology of Arithmatic, Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, 1988, p.10-11.
  19. See R. Waterfield, Theology of Arithmatic, p.10-11, also p.112-113.
  20. Sura 2, verse 196.
  21. The corners are the points where three sides of the cube meet; since each cube has eight corners there are eight different possibilities of opening such pyramidal segments depending on which corner is chosen as the starting point.
  22. Note here the following Ḥadīth recorded by al-Bayhaqī: “The Prophet said: God sent down 104 books and deposited all their knowledge in four of these, the Torah, the Gospels, the Psalms and the Qur°ān; then he deposited the knowledge of the three former in the Qurān”. (Cited from al-Suyūī, al-Itqān fī cUlūm al-Qurān, al-Maktaba al-Thaqāfiyya, Beirut, 1973, volume 2, p.126, chapter 65 (fī al-culūm al-munstanbaa min al-Qurān).
  23. The Qurān was revealed “in the clear Arabic tongue” (Sura 26, verse 195; on this see also Muḥammad Asad, The Message of the Qurān, p. 638, note 82)
  24. The masters of wisdom assert that the secret of all created beings resides in the word and that the nexus of these secrets is concealed in the relationship between the letters and numbers they represent. This means that the letters of the alphabet are associated with numerical values that are deeply embedded in them, and that life pervades the nature of the letter forms when they are combined by linkage to form the shape of words. This is the basic principle of what is known as the “science of the alphabet” or the “science of the letters.” (On this see Ahmed Moustafa, The Geometrical Cosmos of Arabic Numerals, London, 2001, p. 32)
  25. “No human vision can encompass Him, whereas He encompasses all human vision” (Sura 6, verse 103).
  26. Sura 2, verse 26.