When reading any text, it's important to put it into its historical, social, and cultural context. This is true of the Qur'an. It was written and compiled in 7th century Arabia (in the towns of Mecca and Medina) under very specific circumstances. Muhammad, the prophet of the emerging faith, constantly struggled against powerful Meccan leaders who were polytheistic. Muhammad's revolution was to turn a formerly polytheistic culture into a monotheistic one. This struggle is reflected throughout the Qur'an, like the 14th surah, entitled "Abraham."
This surah gets its title from the figure of Abraham from the Old Testament, a figure whom Jews, Christians, and Muslims see as a spiritual forefather. According to Muslim tradition, Abraham once lived near Mecca, where the Ka'aba existed. In Abraham's day (as in the time of Muhammad), the Ka'aba was a site of polytheistic worship--the ornate black cube housed idols of several different Arabic dieties. It was Abraham who, through divine revelation, tried to convince his family and community to shun polytheism/idolatry and embrace monotheism. Muhammad's task was, in many ways, the same.
Like Abraham, Muhammad succeeded. Today, the Ka'aba is the destination of millions of Muslim pilgrims every year. It is perhaps the most powerful symbol of Muslim monotheism.
|The Ka'aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia|