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Haj, The Pilgrimage Articles

The Kiswa – (Kaaba Covering)

The Holy Kaaba has been draped over the ages…
Even today in Makkah the years old ritual is being practised with full enthusiasm. The holy Kaaba is covered with new kiswa (cover) every year on the 10th Dhul Hijjah, which coincides with Haj.

Every year the old Kiswa is removed, cut into small pieces and gifted to certain individuals, visiting foreign Muslim dignitaries and organisations. Some of them sell their share as souvenirs of Haj. Earlier Umar bin al-Khattab(radiyallahu anhu) would cut it in to pieces and distribute them among the pilgrims who used them as shelter from the heat of Makkah.

The present cost of making the kiswa amounts to SR 17 million. The cover is 658 sq. metres long and is made of 670 kgs of pure silk. For embroidery 15 kilos of gold threads are used. It consists of 47 pieces of cloth and each piece is 14 Metres. long and 101 cms broad. The kiswa is wrapped around the Kaaba and fixed to the ground with copper rings.

Traditionally the pattern of kiswa has not changed. The material is made up of silk and a gold embroidered band is sewn about three fourth the distance from the bottom. The part covering the door, which stands 2.13 metres above the ground on the north-east side wall, is covered separately with richly embroidered Quranic verses, leaving an opening for the black stone.

The colour of Kiswa kept changing during the reigns of different Caliphs and rulers. In earlier days the kiswa was changed on 10th of Muharamm but slowly it was shifted to 10th of Dhul-Hijjah. Amir Maawiya(radiyallahu anhu) started to cover it on 10th Muharram (first month of Muslim calendar) as well as on Idd ul-Fitr (Ramadan). In olden days different clans of Makkah would cover the Kaaba by turns yearly. Tribal leaders would also bring small drapes to cover the walls of Kaaba.

Once the grand mother of Prophet Mohammed (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) had offered a white Kiswa. Prophet Muhammed(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam)) used the Kiswa made of Yemeni cloth. Caliphs Umar(radiyallahu anhu) and Uthman(radiyallahu anhu) covered it with an Egyptian white cloth, Qubati. Haroon Al-Rasheed used a white Kiswa.

The cloth would come from Baghdad, Egypt and Yemen depending on whose influence was greater in Makkah. Viceroy of Egypt Mohammed Ali Pasha after splitting from the Turkey Empire, made making of the Kiswa the state responsibility. The Kiswa was brought by annual caravan from Cairo.

Nassir Abbasi (1160-1207) started using a green Kiswa and later shifted to black, since then the black kiswa has become the tradition. Earlier the Kiswas were plain. Only in 1340 the embroidery border tradition was introduced by the Egyptian ruler Hassan.

During World War I Turkey joined Germany and there were doubts that will it be possible to bring the Kiswa from Egypt. So Turkey organised a very grand Kiswa from Istanbul and by Hejaz Railway it was sent to Madinah. But the Kiswa from Egypt reached Makkah in time, so the Istanbul Kiswa was kept back in Madinah.

In 1923 when the relations of Sheriff of Makkah and Egypt were sour, the Egyptians called back their Kiswa which had reached Jeddah by that time. That year the Istanbul Kiswa lying in Madinah was utilised. Ibn Saud used the Kiswa made in Iraq.

In 1926 a factory was set up at Makkah by Late King Abdul Aziz to make the Kiswa. Initially all the craftsmen were brought from India. It took more than 100 craftsmen the whole year to weave the cloth on ancient wooden handlooms and to embroider it in magnificent calligraphy. In 1937 the factory was closed down due to non availability of modern machinery.

The factory was re-opened after a long gap in 1962. Making of the Kiswa is an interesting process and done in different stages. The best silk is imported from Italy and Germany. With the help of special detergents and special olive oil soaps the silk is washed to remove its protective wax.

The silk is exposed to high temperatures of 90c and washed several times to get its natural colour. The best results of dyeing are achieved on the natural colour. Ten years before, dyeing was done manually and now it is being done through specialised machines. Later weaving is done.

In the beginning the belt of the Kaaba had 8 pieces and later it was doubled. In 1971 two additional pieces of YA HAYYU and YA QAYUUM were introduced. The cover and inner layer are done in one department. Designing of Quranic verses is being computerised. Computerised designing has slowly replaced manual designing and increased the speed of work.

The Making of Present Day Kiswa

Silver and golden threads are used for embroidery. Embroidery threads are now made locally in Saudia Arabia, by the same goldsmith who made the door of Kaaba. Finished pieces under go strict quality control tests in the laboratory before being stitched together.

Engraved with verses from the Holy Quran, the Kiswa is intricately woven with gold and silver threads.The Kiswa is made in many stages. After the cover is designed by well-known artists, it is colored. Intricate work includes the design of decorations, the embroidered inscriptions on the belt and the Kaaba door curtain, and the decorations on Jacquard cloth for the outer and inner cover.

Next come the printing and dyeing stages. The Kiswa is later woven and embroidered. Manual weaving is done by experienced craftsmen and mechanical weaving on modern looms.

The unique embroidery is achieved in several stages. First by sewing cotton thread, on the inscriptions and decorations printed on the cloth. Then comes the embroidery threads of yellow cotton.

The embroidery is then covered with gold plated silver threads which protrude two centimeters above the cloth.

The New Kiswa is made of approximately 670 kilograms of pure white silk and 150 kg of gold and silver. It cost more than SR17 million and is considered one of the most exquisite works of Islamic art. It is manufactured at the factory of Kiswa at Ummal-Joud, a suburb of Makkah.More than 240 employees, work in the factory. Skilled craftsmen use a combination of the latest technology, ancient looms and artistic calligraphy to produce a work of exotic beauty. Usually the new cloth is to be ready two months before Haj.

Before placing the new dress, the old Kiswa is cut into pieces and presented to leaders of Muslim countries, diplomats and major institutions around the world. One such piece was presented to the United Nations.

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