In Islam, Hajj is an annual pilgrimage made to the Kaaba, the ‘House of God’ in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Kaaba is covered in a Kiswah — a black silk cloth embroidered in gold.
Find out more about the Kaaba & the art of the Kiswah…
Muslims do not worship the Kaaba, but it is Islam’s most sacred site because it represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of Allah in Islam. Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during their five daily prayers.
Muslims believe the Kaaba was built by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) & Ismail as a house of monotheistic worship thousands of years ago. Over the years the Kaaba was reconstructed & attracted different kinds of pilgrims including early Christians who lived in the Arabian Peninsula.
Meaning cube in Arabic, the Kaaba is a square building unlike almost any other religious structure. It is fifteen meters tall and ten and a half meters on each side; its corners roughly align with the cardinal directions.
The Kiswah is the cloth that covers the Kaaba. The term Kiswah means ‘robe’ and is also known as the ‘Ghilaf’. Hanging the Kiswah, a huge piece of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the Kaaba symbolises the start of the Hajj pilgrimage season.
The creation of a new Kiswah every year involves more than 200 specialist fabric workers. The outer layer of the Kiswah is made of 47 pieces of silk imported from Italy, each 98 centimetres by 14 metres. The inside of the Kiswah is a cotton lining which helps preserve the silk.
Approximately 120kg of silver & gold threads that come from Germany are used to emboss the Quranic verses on the Kiswah. Gold thread adorns the black silk, spelling out Quranic passages as well as phrases such as “no God but Allah", and "glory to God"
The Kiswah has a belt section that wraps round to hold it in place. It is 46 metres long and 95cm wide, made from 16 pieces and also embroidered with Quranic verses. One of the pieces on the belt features a dedication naming the date the Kiswah was made.
Specialist embroiders & artisans create the embroidery of the belt of the Kiswa Al Ka'aba with gold thread. 114 people work on this step for the 16 parts of the belt. According to current stats, it costs around £3.4m to make the Kiswah
The Kiswah includes the curtain of the Kaaba door. The embroidered curtain was put on the Kaaba gate for the first time in 1300-1396 (819 in the Hijri calendar). The door of the Kaaba is now made of solid gold; it was added in 1982.
The curtain has a sentence of dedication and many verses and religious phrases embroidered with silver threads plated with gold. It is 23 feet high and 13.1 feet wide with the entire surface covered with verses from the Qur’an embroidered in gold-plated silver thread.
The Kiswah Al Kaaba factory in Makkah has been making the Kiswah for almost 45 years. It takes the whole year to produce the cover; 6-8 months of that is taken up by embroidery alone. The factory opened in 1977 & has about 200 employees, 114 of whom work solely on embroidery.
With a steady & sturdy hand, a calligrapher’s passion & commitment to the art of the written word can be displayed through various mediums, but none more honorable than displaying that passion on the Holy Kaaba’s Kiswa.
Writing on the Kiswah requires strong skills & long hours of training. A challenging part for the calligrapher is the compound & overlapping texts, which should be beautiful & with the logical order of words, combining the elements of the traditional artform.
The methods of writing on the Kiswa have developed over the years. Previously calligraphers used chalk to write the script on the silk cloth. In later years, silk-screen printing was introduced which allows the calligrapher to save the script & preserve it on a computer.
Creating the Kiswah is a four-step process. First, the raw silk, imported from Italy, is dyed black over a 22-hour period, then woven mechanically into plain black sheets. These are then separated — some will be embroidered in gold and silver, others in black.
After this process, the material is tested for resistance & density, then printed with a pattern to be embroidered over. 54 pieces of cloth are created, then sewn together to fit the Kaaba on one of the world's largest sewing machines with a 16m by 14m sewing table.
As the new Kiswah is attached, the old one is lowered from beneath after loosening the supporting robes. When the new Kiswah is fully in place, the individual pieces are sewn together to form a complete encasement.
Every year, the old Kiswah is removed, cut into small pieces, and given to certain individuals, visiting foreign Muslim dignitaries and organizations. You can find pieces of the Kiswah in museum collections across the globe.
The Kiswah used to be produced in Egypt but in 1927, King Abdulaziz ordered that the production of the Kiswah should take place in Makkah. It was made of a fine quality black velvet backed with a heavy-duty lining. Curtain for Door of the Ka‘bah, Cairo, Egypt Dated 1846–7 AD.
In 1928 the first workshop for Kiswah-making was opened, where 12 manual looms were brought from India & 60 specialist technicians were hired. From then until the late 1950s the kiswah was made in Egypt or Saudi Arabia Since 1958 the kiswah has been manufactured in Makkah.
The colour of the Kiswah has evolved during the reigns of various rulers & Caliphs. It used to be white during the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), it was then changed to red, then green & finally black as of today. Sitara for door of the Kaaba, Cairo, 1606AD
Tawaf (Arabic: طواف) is one of the principal rites of the Hajj pilgrimage and refers to circumambulating or walking in circles around the Kaaba in an anti-clockwise motion. Seven complete circuits, with each one starting and ending at the Hajar al-Aswad, constitute one Tawaf.
The Tawaf is an act of devotion intended to spiritually bring the pilgrim closer to God
The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said that in each of the seven heavens there is a Kaabah which is frequented by the angels. The Kaabah of the first heaven is called Bayt al-‘Izzah and that of the seventh heaven is called al-Bayt al-Ma’mur.