Iranian Kaaba replica built for hajj preparation

As Muslims around the world embarked on the annual hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, a video made the rounds in Facebook and TikTok posts that misleadingly claimed it showed Iran had built its own Kaaba to "compete" with the black cubic structure at Islam's holiest site. The footage in fact shows pilgrims walking around a replica of the Kaaba in Tehran in May 2023 to train for the physically demanding rituals involved in the hajj.

"Iran built its own Kaaba to compete with the Kaaba," read Urdu-language text on a TikTok video shared on June 2, 2024.

The video, which was viewed more than 17,800 times, shows people dressed in white circling a large black cube in what appears to be an indoor arena.

It was shared before the start of the annual hajj on June 14, which sees pilgrims complete a series of rites over four days in Mecca and its surroundings in Saudi Arabia.

The circumambulation of the Kaaba, the "tawaf", marks the beginning of the pilgrimage -- one of the five pillars of Islam that must be performed at least once by all Muslims who have the means to do so.

Screenshot of the misleading TikTok video, captured on June 14, 2024

The footage was shared with similar claims on Facebook here and here, where it was viewed more than 40,000 times in total.

The posts appeared to reflect the major division in Islam between the Sunnis, who are in the majority in most Muslim countries, and Shiites, who are the majority in Iran. The differences were compounded by a years-long spat between Iran and the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Iranian pilgrims said they finally felt welcome during the hajj after a landmark reconciliation between the two powers in March 2023.

But the video does not show a Kaaba that Tehran built to "compete" with the one at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Hajj simulation

Reverse image and keyword searches on Google led to the same footage on a verified YouTube channel of The Associated Press (AP) as well as on the news agency's website (archived links here and here).

The video is titled, "Iran trains pilgrims for annual hajj rituals", and was filmed on May 16, 2023.

The description says: "A replica of the Kaaba was set up at Azadi sports hall in Tehran where the actual pilgrimage was simulated to prepare pilgrims for the ritual in Mecca later in the year."

Below is a screenshot comparison between the misleadingly shared video (left) and the AP video (right):

Screenshot comparison between the misleadingly shared video (left) and the AP video (right)

Images of the event were also shared by Iran's Mehr News Agency here (archived link).

AFP has reported on similar "practice runs" held in Malaysia for children here and here that involve them marching around a model version of the Kaaba. Video of the events were also posted on YouTube here and here.

Practice runs are also held in Indonesia, with footage of people circling a replica Kaaba posted on YouTube by local media (here and here).

AFP has also previously debunked a similar claim that worshippers in Nigeria performed the hajj against Islamic customs.

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