New Kiswa made of 670 kg of raw silk, 120 kg of gold threads and 100 kg of silver threads
MAKKAH, August 21, 2018 – Early Monday morning, one of the most beloved events of Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah, took place when most pilgrims were not present to witness it. The Kiswa, the finely embroidered cloth that covers the Kaaba, the cube-like structure at the center of the Grand Mosque in Makkah (Al-Masjid Al-Haram) which pilgrims are required to circumambulate counterclockwise seven times, was replaced, as it always is, every year on the second day of the pilgrimage when the majority of worshippers have made the trek to Mt. Arafat.
Those who stayed in the Grand Mosque stood transfixed as they witnessed an event that has taken place on this very same day for hundreds of years. They watched as some 160 technicians and manufacturers supervised the replacement of last year’s Kiswa with a newly minted version that will stay in place until the second day of next year’s Hajj.
The tradition of the Kiswa, it is generally believed, began with Taba’ Alhemyari, king of a civilisation that existed in Yemen from 1000 BC to 550 CE. Making a pilgrimage to pre-Islamic Makkah – a common practice even before the advent of Islam — he made the decision to cover the Kaaba with a crude cloth, thus beginning a tradition that continues today. Today’s Kiswas, however, are anything but crude.
The Director General of the King Abdulaziz Complex for the Kaaba Kiswa, Ahmed Al-Mansouri, said that the Kiswa consumes approximately 670 kg of raw silk dyed black, 120 kg of gold threads and 100 kg of silver threads. It is manufactured in Makkah at a cost of more than SAR22 million (US$5.9 million) and weighs more than 1 tonne in total.
To complete the Kiswa, 47 pieces are sewn together to create five separate parts of the covering. For each of the 4 sides of the Kaaba, a part of the Kiswa is custom-made and measured as the Kaaba, not being a geometrical cube, has sides with different dimensions. Once completed, the pieces are sewn together. The fifth section covers the Kaaba’s door.
The final Kiswa is about 1 meter wide and 14 meters high. On top is a 95cm-wide belt that comprises 16 pieces of Islamic embroidery. Selected verses of the Quran are written under the belt, and also cover every side of the Kaaba. These embroideries are carefully sewn using gold-plated silver thread.
Once removed, the retired Kiswa has traditionally been cut up into pieces that were distributed among special dignitaries at Hajj or gifted to Muslim countries. Today, the King Abdulaziz Complex for the Kaaba Kiswa accepts formal requests from museums and others for a piece of the Kiswa and approves those requests based on clearly stated regulations.
As far back as the 5th century, the Prophet Mohammad’s great-great-great grandfather, Qusay ibn Kelab united his tribe by involving everyone in financing the Kiswa according to their financial ability. Later, according to one well-known story, a rich businessman realized that the powerful Quraish tribe, which made Makkah its home, was in financial difficulty. He suggested that he care for the Kiswa in alternate years, allowing the tribes in the region to care for it in the other years. The plan proved to be both popular and effective, and stayed in place until the death of the businessman – dubbed by Quraish with the honorific, Al Adil, or ‘Justice’.
Another popular story involves the first woman in history to dress the Kaaba, Nutaila bint Jinab. She was separated from her son and vowed to care for the Kiswa should she reunite with him. She did, indeed, find her son and, fulfilling her vow, dressed the Kaaba.