• Kiswah

    The Kiswah (Arabic: كسوة الكعبة; kiswat al-kaaba) is the black silk cloth adorned with verses from the Quran embroidered in gold thread that covers the Kaaba. This sacred covering is replaced annually during the Hajj season, specifically on the morning of the Day of Arafat, which falls on the ninth of Dhul Hijjah. Initially, the Kiswah featured a striped pattern. Over the centuries, it has been regarded as a prestigious and sacred duty for rulers to finance its renewal. They have ensured that only the finest silk, often sourced from places like Yemen and Egypt, is used for the Kiswah. It is also known as the Ghilaf (Arabic: غلاف; “Covering”).

    Wisdom Behind the Kiswah

    Covering the Kaaba with the Kiswah is considered one of the significant Islamic rituals, following the practice established by Prophet ﷺ and his Companions M. Historical records indicate that after the conquest of Makkah in 8 AH, the Prophet ﷺ, during the Farewell Pilgrimage, covered the Kaaba with Yemeni cloth. Initially, the existing Kiswah was retained until it was accidentally burned by a woman, prompting the Prophet ﷺ to replace it with Yemeni cloth.

    Subsequently, the Rightly Guided Caliphs continued this tradition. Abu Bakr and Umar L covered the Kaaba with Coptic and Yemeni brocade, while Uthman ibn Affan I was the first to use two layers of Kiswa. During Ali’s I caliphate, no significant changes to the Kiswah were documented, likely due to the political turmoil of the time.

    After the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, successive Islamic kings and sultans maintained the tradition of covering the Kaaba, ensuring its continuation through various historical periods.

    In Islam, covering the Kaaba is considered mustahabb as it is part of venerating the Sacred House of Allah. This practice is supported by the Quran, which states:

    ذَٰلِكَ وَمَن يُعَظِّمْ حُرُمَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌۭ لَّهُۥ عِندَ رَبِّهِۦ ۗ وَأُحِلَّتْ لَكُمُ ٱلْأَنْعَـٰمُ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ ۖ فَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ ٱلرِّجْسَ مِنَ ٱلْأَوْثَـٰنِ وَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ قَوْلَ ٱلزُّور
    All this [is ordained by God]: anyone who honours the sacred ordinances of God will have good rewards from his Lord. Livestock have been made lawful to you, except for what has been explicitly forbidden. Shun the filth of idolatrous beliefs and practices and shun false utterances.
    [Surah al-Hajj; 22:30]

    History of the Kiswah

    Before Islam

    Historical accounts suggest that Adnan, a forefather of Prophet ﷺ, was among those who initially covered the Kaaba. However, the most widely accepted narrative credits As’ad Abu Kurayb al-Himyari, known as Tuba, king of Himyar (modern-day Yemen), was the first to completely cover the Kaaba in 220 BH (408 CE). After visiting Makkah, Taba’ al-Himyari made significant contributions. He installed a door, provided a key for the Kaaba, and covered it with a thick cloth. His successors continued this tradition, using different materials.

    Throughout the pre-Islamic era, covering the Kaaba was seen as a religious duty, and multiple layers of coverings were placed one over the other. When these coverings became too heavy or worn out, they were removed, divided, or buried. The practice saw further organization under Qusayy ibn Kilab, the fourth grandfather of Prophet ﷺ. Qusayy unified the tribes of Makkah, encouraging them to collaborate in covering the Kaaba and other communal responsibilities like providing water. This cooperative effort, known as the al-rafada (Arabic: الرفادة), involved tribes contributing according to their abilities.

    Abu Rabia Abdullah ibn Amr al-Makhzumi, a wealthy merchant from the Quraysh tribe, later suggested an arrangement where he would cover the Kaaba for one year, and the Quraysh collectively would cover it the next. This equitable approach earned him the nickname “justice” among the Quraysh. He maintained this practice until his death.

    The Quraysh traditionally covered the Kaaba, a practice that continued until the time of Prophet ﷺ. At the advent of Islam, the Kaaba remained covered as it had been in pre-Islamic times. The Kiswah that the polytheists adorned the Kaaba with remained on the structure until the conquest of Makkah. Saeed ibn al-Musayyab I reported that during the year of the conquest, a woman accidentally burned the Kaaba’s covering, which at that time was still the Kiswah of the polytheists. Following this incident, Muslims began to cover the Kaaba, a tradition that has continued from the year of the conquest to the present day.

    One notable individual who covered the Kaaba was Nutayla bint Janab, the wife of Abdul Muttalib and the mother of Abbas M. She made a vow to cover the Kaaba alone if her lost son Abbas returned to her, and upon his return, she fulfilled this vow. Nutayla thus became the first woman in history to cover the Kaaba independently.

    The Prophetic Era

    Before the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet ﷺ did not participate in covering the Kaaba, as the Quraysh did not permit him to do so. After the conquest, the Prophet ﷺ retained the existing covering until it was accidentally burned by a woman who intended to perfume it with incense. The Prophet ﷺ then replaced it with Yemeni cloth. The tradition was continued by the Rightly Guided Caliphs: Abu Bakr and Umar L covered the Kaaba with Coptic cloth, while Uthman ibn Affan I used both Coptic and Yemeni brocade, making him the first to place two coverings on the Kaaba simultaneously. Historical records do not indicate that Ali I covered the Kaaba, likely due to the political strife during his caliphate.

    From the year of the conquest to the present day, Muslims have been solely responsible for covering the Kaaba. Initially, the Kiswah did not have a special arrangement or funding from the state treasury. People contributed what they could, using various pieces of cloth without restriction to a specific colour. This practice continued from pre-Islamic times when the Kaaba was traditionally covered on the Day of Ashura. Aisha J reported:

    The people used to fast on Ashura (the tenth day of the month of Muharram) before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day, the Kaaba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, ‘Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so.’
    [Narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari]

    Ibn Hajar commented on this tradition, highlighting that even in pre-Islamic times, the Kaaba was venerated by covering it. According to Al-Azraqi, the Kaaba was covered on the Day of Tarwiyah with a garment typically made from brocade fabric, and on Ashura, another garment was added.

    During the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Abu Bakr I covered the Kaaba with Coptic cloth from Egypt. Umar I continued this practice and decreed that the Kiswah be funded from the Muslim treasury (Bayt al-Mal), with the cloth woven in Egypt. Uthman I followed this tradition and was the first to decide on covering the Kaaba with two Kiswahs: one with brocade on the Day of Tarwiyah and another with Qabati cloth on the 27th of Ramadan.

    There are no records of Ali I covering the Kaaba, not due to neglect, but because he was preoccupied with conflicts aimed at maintaining Muslim unity. Since the early Islamic period, the cost of the Kiswah has generally been borne by the state, though in some years, wealthy individuals, high-ranking officials, or rulers of Islamic countries have funded it.

    The Umayyad Era

    During the Umayyad dynasty, the caliphs paid considerable attention to the Kiswah. Under the reign of Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan I, the Kaaba received special consideration with two Kiswahs per year: one on the day of Ashura and another at the end of Ramadan in preparation for Eid al-Fitr. These coverings were meticulously crafted from the finest fabrics and sent from Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad caliphate, to Makkah.

    The significance of this covering extended beyond mere practicality; it symbolized the grandeur and magnificence associated with the pilgrimage to Makkah. The Hajj caravan departing from Damascus attracted pilgrims from various parts of the world.

    Muawiyah’s devotion to the Kaaba extended beyond its physical covering. He also initiated the practice of perfuming the Kaaba during the Hajj season and in the month of Rajab.

    The Abbasid Era

    The Abbasid caliphs exhibited an unprecedented dedication to the covering of the Kaaba, benefitting from advancements in weaving, dyeing, and embroidery. This era saw significant improvements in the quality and craftsmanship of the Kiswah, surpassing the achievements of previous dynasties.

    The Abbasids sourced the finest silk from the Egyptian city of Tinnis, renowned for its exquisite textiles. Skilled weavers in Tinnis and the villages of Tuna and Shata produced luxurious black silk coverings adorned with intricate embroidery.

    In 160 AH (777 CE), Caliph al-Mahdi performed Hajj and was informed by the custodian of the Kaaba that the numerous coverings had weakened the structure. Concerned about the building’s integrity, al-Mahdi ordered the removal of the excess coverings, mandating that only one Kiswah be used, a practice that continues to this day. He also ordered the entire Kaaba to be perfumed with expensive fragrances like musk and amber. Two years later, he commissioned another covering from Tinnis, Egypt.

    Harun al-Rashid, another prominent Abbasid caliph, continued this tradition in 190 AH (806 CE), ensuring the Kaaba was covered twice a year. Caliph al-Ma’mun introduced a more frequent covering schedule in 206 AH (821 CE), covering the Kaaba three times annually:

    1. Red brocade on the Day of Tarwiyah.
    2. Qabati (Coptic) cloth in Rajab.
    3. White brocade on the 27th of Ramadan.

    Caliph al-Mutawakkil, upon learning that the red brocade would wear out before Rajab due to constant touching and wiping by pilgrims, ordered new coverings every two months. Later, al-Nasir chose a black covering, establishing the tradition of the black Kiswah that persists to this day.

    The Abbasid era also marked the introduction of inscriptions on the Kiswah. Caliphs began inscribing their names, along with the name of the place of manufacture and the date, a practice that continues today.

    The Abbasid caliphs’ efforts ensured that the Kaaba was not only covered with the finest materials but also that its covering reflected the caliphate’s devotion and advancements in textile craftsmanship.

    The Fatimid State

    With the rise of the Fatimid state, the Fatimid rulers ensured the annual dispatch of the Kiswah from Egypt to the Kaaba. Notably, during the Fatimid era, the Kiswah was white.

    The Mamluk State

    During the Mamluk period, Sultan Baybars emphasized the importance of sending the Kiswah from Egypt, viewing it as an honour worth defending, even to the point of conflict. In 751 AH (1350 CE), the Yemeni Sultan, al-Mujahid, attempted to replace the Egyptian Kiswah with one from Yemen. The Emir of Makkah, upon learning of this, alerted the Egyptians, who then arrested the Yemeni Sultan and transported him in chains to Cairo.

    Attempts to claim the honour of covering the Kaaba were also made by Persia and Iraq, but the Mamluk sultans staunchly defended their exclusive right. To solidify this honour, Sultan al-Salih Ismail of Egypt established a special endowment in 751 AH (1350 CE) for the black Kiswah covering of the Kaaba. Two villages in Qalyubia Governtate, Basus and Abou El-Gheith, were commissioned to support the production of the Kiswah. This system persisted until the era of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

    The Ottoman Era

    After the fall of the Mamluk state and Egypt’s incorporation into the Ottoman Empire, Egypt maintained the honour of covering the Kaaba. Sultan Selim I prioritized the production of the Kaaba’s covering, along with the coverings for the Prophet’s ﷺ tomb in Madinah and the shrine of Prophet Ibrahim S in Palestine.

    During Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s reign, the endowment for the Kaaba’s covering was expanded with the addition of seven more villages, bringing the total to nine villages to support the production of the Kiswah. This practice continued annually, with the Emir of Hajj transporting the Kiswah with the Egyptian Hajj caravan. The Ottoman sultans had a deep reverence for Makkah, and they seized every opportunity to show their love and respect for the city and its people, especially those of the Prophet’s ﷺ family.

    During Muhammad Ali Pasha’s rule, Egypt temporarily ceased sending the Kiswah following a clash between the followers of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and the Egyptian Hajj caravan in 1222 AH (1807 CE).

    After the fall of Diriyah to Muhammad Ali Pasha’s forces and the restoration of Ottoman Egyptian sovereignty over the Hijaz, Egypt resumed sending the Kiswah in 1228 AH (1813 CE).

    In 1233 AH (1818 CE), a dedicated facility for manufacturing the Kiswah was established in the al-Kharanfash neighbourhood in Cairo. The facility operated until 1381 AH (1962 CE), when Egypt ceased sending the Kiswah, passing the honour to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    The Saudi Era

    The tradition of sending the Kiswah of the Kaaba from Egypt to the Hijaz continued for centuries, except for short interruptions due to political reasons. Every year during Hajj, the Kiswah for the Kaaba was transported from Cairo to Makkah, arriving on a camel’s back after a long and precarious journey. This journey was part of a grand ceremonial procession known as the Mahmal. It was permanently stopped in 1381 AH (1962 CE). Since then, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been responsible for manufacturing the Kiswah.

    In Muharram 1346 AH (1927 CE), King Abdulaziz ordered the establishment of a dedicated house for manufacturing the Kiswah in the Ajyad area of Makkah, opposite the Ministry of Public Finance. This establishment, built within the first six months of 1346 AH, was the first institution dedicated to producing the Kiswah in the Hijaz since the pre-Islamic era. During the construction, the Saudi government worked diligently to procure the necessary materials, such as silk, dyeing materials, and looms, and to recruit skilled technicians.

    The first locally manufactured Kiswah was completed and used in 1346 AH (1927 CE). The Kiswah House in Ajyad continued to produce the Kiswah until 1358 AH (1939 CE), after which it was closed. An agreement was made with the Saudi government, and Egypt resumed manufacturing and sending the Kiswah annually until 1381 AH (1962 CE). Due to political differences between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Egypt ceased sending the Kiswah that year.

    In response, the Saudi government reopened a facility in the Jarwal neighbourhood of Makkah, located in front of the former Ministry of Hajj and Endowments. This temporary factory produced the Kiswah until 1397 AH (1977 CE). Subsequently, the production was transferred to the newly built Kaaba Kiswah Factory in Umm al-Joud, Makkah, where the Kiswah continues to be manufactured to this day.

    Description of the Kiswah

    The production of the Kiswah involves a dedicated team of 240 workers, employees, technicians, and administrators.

    The Kiswah is meticulously produced in large sections, each measuring 10 centimetres wide and 14 metres long. These pieces are intricately connected to form the covering for each side of the Kaaba, with separate sections tailored to fit the unique dimensions of each side. Here are the measurements for each side:

    1. Between the Hajar al-Aswad and Rukn al-Yamani: 10.29 metres (11 sections)
    2. Kaaba Door Side: 11.82 metres (12.5 sections)
    3. Hijr Ismail Side: 10.3 metres (10.5 sections sections)
    4. Between the Rukn al-Yamani and Rukn Shami: 12.15 metres (13 sections)

    Due to the weight of the door curtain, it is hung directly on the wall of the Holy Kaaba. Before changing the garment, a specialized committee from the factory reviews and installs the embroidered pieces, ensuring proper placement.

    The garment itself is made of pure natural silk dyed in black, intricately engraved with patterns and phrases such as “La ilaha illa Allah Muhammadun Rasul Allah” “Allah Jalla Jalaluhu” and “Subhan Allah wa bi hamdihi Subhan Allahil adheem,” among others.

    Key Features

    • Height: 14 metres
    • Kiswah Belt: This belt is located in the upper third of the garment and is 95 centimetres wide. It features Quranic verses surrounded by Islamic decoration embroidered with prominent gold-plated silver wire.
    • Belt Length: 47 metres, comprised of 16 pieces.
    • Door Curtain: Made of pure natural silk, measuring seven and a half metres in height and four metres in width. It is adorned with Quranic verses and Islamic decorations, intricately embroidered and covered with gold-plated silver wire.

    Materials and Cost

    • Natural Silk: 670 kilograms.
    • Gold and Silver Wire: 150 kilograms.
    • Total Area: 658 square metres.
    • Number of Rolls: 47, each 14 metres long and 95 centimetres wide.
    • Cost: Approximately 17 million Saudi riyals.

    Kiswah Changing Ceremony

    YouTube video

    The Kiswah is replaced annually during the Hajj pilgrimage. This ceremony coincides with the pilgrims’ journey to Arafat, during which Makkah’s residents gather at Masjid al-Haram for this significant event. The old covering is replaced with a new one to welcome the pilgrims on the next morning, which coincides with Eid al-Adha.

    Washing of the Kaaba

    The Kaaba is washed twice yearly: in Shaban and Dhul Hijjah. The cleaning process uses Zamzam water, oud oil, and rose water to cleanse and perfume the interior walls.

    Kaaba Door Curtain

    The final and most challenging stage in the process of changing the Kiswah is installing the curtain over the door of the Holy Kaaba. This task requires utmost precision and care to ensure it fits perfectly. Once this critical step is completed, the process of raising the Kaaba’s cloth is initiated. This act is known as the “Ihram of the Kaaba.”

    The old Kiswah is then handed over to the Saudi government. The government then divides it into small pieces, which are presented as gifts to distinguished guests, officials, religious institutions, international bodies, and Saudi embassies abroad.

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