The Ka`bah is the first and the most ancient house of worship ever built for all mankind and it was dedicated to the worship of one God. So by facing toward the Ka`bah in our prayers, we are stressing the unity of mankind under the Lordship of the One and only God. Moreover, by facing toward the Ka`bah, we are stressing the concept of Allah, the Almighty being the centre of our lives.
Responding to the question in point, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:
Allah says in the Qur’an, (The first sanctuary ever built for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), a blessed place, a guidance to the peoples) (Aal `Imran 3: 96). Thus, by ordering us to face towards the Ka`bah, we are taken back to our Adamic roots. One of the most essential messages of Islam is to break the barriers such as race, language and ethnicity, etc. that separate human beings from one another by stressing their common origin in Adam and Eve. We need not emphasize the fact that racism is the scourge of humanity in all times. Thus, through its entire teachings, Islam cuts at the root of this menace. It is no wonder then that all of the Islamic rituals of worship stress equality and egalitarianism rather than division and distinction based on caste, clan or status. One of the last messages delivered by the Prophet during his farewell pilgrimage was, “O people, (through Islam) Allah has abolished from your hearts your boasting on your ancestors. Remember all of you are descended from Adam and Adam is created from the dust of the ground.”
Islam teaches us to worship one and only God. Unlike all other religions, which tend to revere their founders excessively often to the point of worshiping them, Allah makes the Prophet Muhammad to declare: “I am only a human being like you …”
Therefore, nothing is farther from the truth than stating that Muslims undertake the Pilgrimage (Hajj) to touch the black stone or the Ka`bah. They are going to undertake the Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
While it is true that while going around the Ka`bah, some pilgrims may touch the black stone, doing so is not an integral rite of Hajj. It is therefore totally absurd and incorrect to say that Muslims go to Makkah to touch the stone.
Touching the stone is a mere symbolic act; it is merely intended to symbolize the beginning of the ritual of circumambulation around the Sacred House. In this context, it is worth remembering what the Caliph `Umar said while touching the black stone: “I know for a certain fact that you are simply a stone; you have no power to benefit or harm anyone; if I hadn’t seen the Prophet touching you I wouldn’t have even bothered to touch you.”
We do not attach any importance to this stone other than the fact that it was placed there by Prophet Ibrahim by the order of Allah. So we are merely renewing our memory of the great Prophet, whose faith and sacrifice is celebrated in the rituals of Hajj.
If anyone is telling you otherwise, he is distorting Islam. Anyway, a non-Muslim is not the source to learn about Islam. The source for Islam is the Qur’an and the Sunnah and those who are well versed in these sources.
Finally, it is not true to say that Muslims always turn to the East; rather they always turn towards the Ka`bah while performing their prayers, and its precise direction may be different, depending on where we are located in the world.
The Ka`bah is the first and the most ancient house of worship ever built for all of humankind and dedicated to the worship of one God. So by facing toward the Ka`bah in our prayers, we are stressing the unity of humankind under the Lordship of the One and only God. Moreover, by facing toward the Ka`bah, we are stressing the idea of centrality of God in our life.