Kiswah (Arabic: كسوة الكعبة, kiswat al-ka'bah) is the cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is draped annually on the 9th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, the day pilgrims leave for the plains of Mount Arafat during the Hajj. The term kiswah is Arabic for 'pall', the cloth draped over a casket, and is a cognate of the Hebrew word kisui.
Every year the old Kiswa is removed, cut into small pieces and given to certain individuals, visiting foreign Muslim dignitaries and organizations. Some of them sell their share as souvenirs of the Hajj. In earlier times, Umar bin al-Khattab would cut it into pieces and distribute them among pilgrims who used them as shelter from the heat of Mecca. The present cost of making the kiswa amounts to SAR 17,000,000. The cover is 658m2 and is made of 670 kg of silk. The embroidery contains 15 kg of gold threads. It consists of 47 pieces of cloth and each piece is 14m long and 101 cm wide. The kiswa is wrapped around the Kaaba and fixed to the ground with copper rings. The manually designed embroidery of the Quranic verses are slowly being aided by computers, thus increasing the speed of finishing.
The Kiswah in the reign of Muhammad
The first time the Kaaba was clothed was during the rule of the Jurhm tribe of the Yemen during the visit of the king Tuba of Hymir present day Yemen. Muhammad and the Muslims in Makkah (Mecca) did not participate in the draping of the Kaaba until the conquest of the city at 630 AD (7 AH), as the ruling tribe, Quraish, did not allow them to do so. When Mecca was taken by the Muslims, they decided to leave the Kiswah as it was until a woman lighting incense in the Kaaba accidentally burned the Kiswah. Muhammad then draped it with a white Yemeni cloth.
Kiswah in the reign of the Caliphs
Many notable Caliphs have had their share of ruling over the kiswah. For instance, Muawiyah I used to drape the Kaaba twice a year, along with the help of Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, and Abd al-Malik. They brought the traditional silk covering into effect. Another Caliph is Al-Nasir, the Abbasid Caliph, notable to his contribution on starting the tradition of dressing the Kaaba with one Kiswah at a time, instead of the now out dated "Accumulation Kiswah", the process of putting new kiswahs on the older one. When the Abbasid Caliph performed Hajj in 160 AH, he saw that the accumulated Kiswah could cause damage to the Kaaba itself. He therefore decreed that only one Kiswah should drape the Kaaba at any one time, and this had been observed ever since. The Caliph Al-Ma'mun, draped the Kaaba three times a year, each time with a different color, red for the eighth Dhu al-Hijjah, white gabati on the first of Rajab, and another Red brocade on the twenty-ninth of Ramadan. Later on, Al-Nasir the Abbasid draped the Kaaba with green, both Al Nasir and Al-Ma'mun disagreed on the frequent color changes and switched to black, and black it remains to this day.
Location of the manufacture of the Kiswah
From the time of the Ayubids, precisely during the reign of the As-Salih Ayyub, the kiswa was manufactured in Egypt. It was sent in a huge annual parade before the hajj season. Material for the kiswah was brought from Sudan, India, Egypt and Iraq. The tradition continued until 1927, when its manufacture was moved to Saudi Arabia.
Kiswah in the Saudi reign
- Islamic Voice article Kiswa: Dressing up God's Abode Vol 14-02 No:158 * FEBRUARY 2000 / Shawwal 1420H