Dozens of craftsmen are hard at work in a factory in Makkah preparing the embroidered black and gold Kiswah to cover the Kaaba.
The Kiswah cloth is woven from silk and cotton and adorned with verses from the Qur’an. Saudis make a new one annually and place it on the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque during hajj. This year hajj will begin next wednesday.
Many of the craftsmen have worked in the factory in the Oum al-Jood district all their lives but they will retire soon, so a new generation will carry on the trade.
General manager Mohammed bin Abdullah Bajuda said that next year they will replace all the machines which have been automating the process during the last 30 years.
“He also called for a new cadre of manufacturers to take the place of the current one,” Bajuda told Stephen Kalin of Reuters during a visit to the factory on Saturday.
The Kaaba’s black stone was revered even before the birth of Islam. Muslims believe prophet Abraham has built it, on the site of the first house of worship built by Adam. It has since been rebuilt more than once.
The kiswah was manufactured in Egypt until 1962. There have been red, green or white coverings in centuries past, but now it’s always black with embroidered gold calligraphy.
The Egyptian-made kiswah was transported in the procession for hajj made with the worldwide famous ‘Mahmal’ from Cairo.
Nearly 670 kg of silk, enough to cover the Kaaba’s 15 metres high and 12 metres long, is imported from Italy. Quantities of 25 kg of silver and 120 kg of gold-plated thread comes from Germany.
The kiswah’s belt measures 47 metres, and consists of 16 embroidered calligraphic panels, four on each side of the Kaaba.
But the kiswah is embroidered and stitched together in Saudi Arabia and paid for by the kingdom each year at a cost of $6 million.
Asked about that expenditure at a time of austerity in the kingdom, Bajuda said: “This glorifies the house of God. The Kaaba more than deserves this honor.”
Waleed al-Juhani has worked at the factory, which opened in 1977, for 17 years. “Thanks to God we are working to serve the holy Kaaba. This is a great blessing,” he said, while embroidering a Qur’anic verse that takes 60 days to complete.
“When we succeed in our work, we are glad that Muslims will celebrate a new cover for the Kaaba. This is the best feeling,” he told Kalin.
At the end of hajj, the old kiswah will be cut into pieces to be distributed to dignitaries and religious organizations. Recipients regard the fragments as heirlooms. This year’s kiswah is complete, but the workers have already started on the next one.