Unveiling the Veil: The Annual Changing of the Kiswat Al Kaaba

Clock Icon Jun 25, 2023
Changing Al Kiswa happens once a year, specifically on the 9th day of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the day before the start of Haj. (Source: Pexels)

Changing Al Kiswa happens once a year, specifically on the 9th day of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the day before the start of Haj. (Source: Pexels)

The annual replacement of the Kiswa, the covering of the Kaaba, is a significant event in the Islamic calendar, which takes place in the month of Dhul Hijja. In this post, I will discuss the history and details of this process. The Kiswa, or the ceremonial covering of the Kaaba, is more than just a cover. It imparts a distinctive elegance to the Kaaba and symbolizes its importance in Islam.

The practice of covering the Kaaba with a cloth predates Islam, with various Arabian tribes contributing to this tradition. After Islam was accepted by the people of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad introduced the idea of shrouding the Kaaba with a black cloth to distinguish it from other buildings.

The Kiswa is an enormous piece of cloth, approximately 14 meters high and 47 meters wide. It is made from black silk and adorned with verses from the Quran embroidered in gold and silver thread.

These verses relate to the Hajj and Umrah and refer to Mecca and the completion of Islam. Before the Kiswa is changed, the Kaaba is ceremonially washed in the first month of the Islamic year. The Kiswa itself is replaced annually on the Day of Arafah, the 9th day of Dhul Hijja, during the Hajj pilgrimage.

The Day of Arafah is of special significance because it is the day on which Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon, announcing the perfection of the Islamic faith. The Kiswa begins to be partially removed from the first day of Dhul Hijja, symbolizing unity with the pilgrims.

In Arabic, this is expressed as "The Kaaba is in Ihram," Ihram being the state of sanctity pilgrims enter when embarking on the Hajj.

The process of changing the Kiswa is meticulously planned and executed by a team of skilled technicians under the supervision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The old Kiswa is respectfully removed and cut into smaller pieces, which are then given to individuals selected by the government. Making the Kiswa is a labor-intensive and costly process, undertaken in a specialized factory that opened in 1977. This factory employs over 200 skilled artisans who work year-round to produce the Kiswa.

The production cost of a single Kiswa runs into millions, underscoring the importance attached to this religious symbol. Historically, the Kiswa was provided by various Muslim rulers, notably those of Egypt, a region recognized for its superior textiles and skilled artisans.

After the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 CE, Egyptian craftsmen were often commissioned to create the Kiswa under different Islamic dynasties, including the Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamluks, and Ottomans.

However, in 1926, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, established the Kiswa Factory in Mecca, symbolizing Saudi Arabia's control over the rituals of Hajj, including the creation and maintenance of the Kiswa. Since then, the Kiswa has been produced annually at this factory.

For Muslims, seeing the Kaaba dressed in the Kiswa always evokes a sense of joy and fulfillment.

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