JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ A leading member of the Saudi ruling family led the ritual washing of the Kaaba, the ancient stone structure in Mecca that is sacred to Muslims.

Prince Majed, a brother of King Fahd and governor of Mecca, performed the ceremony Monday on behalf of the Saudi monarch.

The Kaaba _ a cube-shaped stone structure attributed to the Prophet Abraham and revered in Islam _ is washed once a year with perfumed water.

The world's one billion Muslims turn toward the Kaaba in Mecca during their five daily prayers.

The ritual is usually carried out by King Fahd, who bears the title ``Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines'' in Mecca and Medina. But he has not been well since suffering a stroke in November 1995.

The washing ritual occurs in advance of Ramadan, Islam's holy fasting month. Ramadan begins in late December.