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 Kiswa consumes about 670 kilograms of raw high-quality silk and 120kg of gold threads and 100kg of silver threads, the Deputy Head of the General Presidency for the Grand Mosque Affairs Dr. Saad bin Mohammad Al-Mohaimeed said in a statement to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
“The Kiswa of the Holy Kaaba is woven with silk threads weighing approximately 850 kilograms, lined with cotton, and decorated with golden inscriptions. The Kiswa silk threads are brought from Italy with a high quality grade of ‘A5’, and a thickness of 3 mm, which guarantees high smoothness and superior durability, great elongation and flexibility,” according to SPA.
A single silk thread goes through a number of tests, most notably the thread tensile strength, the twisting number test, the elongation tensile strength of ‘gold-silver’ wires, the thickness test, abrasion resistance, dyeing, color matching, digital thickness, washing resistance, and water distillation, it said.
A specialist work team at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswa supervised these tests, in order to ensure the quality of the covering of the Kaaba.
As many as 200 Saudi craftsmen are engaged in producing the black curtain at the King Abdul Aziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswa.
The cost of its production is estimated at nearly SAR 20 million, which makes it the most expensive cloth covering in history, according to SPA.
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.
The cladding is externally woven with inscriptions woven with black textile threads, with phrases such as ‘Ya Allah, ya Allah’ (‘O God, O God’) or ‘La Ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad Rasul Allah’ (‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God’), and ‘Subhan Allah Aladheem’ (‘Glory be to God the Great’), among others.
The Kaaba belt is made up of 16 pieces, in addition to six pieces, 12 lamps under the belt, four bumpers placed in the corners of the Kaaba and five lamps above the Black Stone, along with an outer curtain for the Kaaba’s door.
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. 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.