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By Rafiq Pasha

Even today in Makkah 5400 years old ritual is still practised with religious zeal enthusiasm. The holy Ka’aba is covered with new Kiswa (cover) every year on the 10th Dhu Al Hujah, which coincides with Haj. It was a custom started by the Prophet Ismail (Sallallaho alaihi Wasallam) 4000 years before origin of Islam.

India has the honour of presenting the Kiswa in 1974. In January 1983 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia presented such a swathe to the United Nations on behalf of the entire Islamic world
.Every year the old Kiswa is removed, cut into small pieces and gifted to certain individuals, visiting foreign Muslim dignitaries and organizations. Some of them sell their share as souvenirs of Haj. Earlier Umar bin al-Khattab would cut it in to pieces and distribute them among the pilgrims who used them as shelter from the heat of Makkah.
The present cost of making the Kiswa amounts to SR 17 million. It is 658 sq. metres cover of 670 kilograms of pure silk. For embroidery 15 kilos of gold thread is used. It consists of 47 pieces of cloth and each piece is 14 metres long and 101 centimetres broad. The Kiswa is wrapped around the Ka’aba and fixed to the ground with copper rings.
Traditionally the pattern of Kiswa has not changed. The material is made up of silk and a gold embroidered band is sewn about three fourth the distance from the bottom. The part covering the door, which stands 2.13 m above the ground on the north-east side wall, is covered separately with richly embroidered Qur’anic verses, leaving an opening for the black stone.
The colour of Kiswa kept changing during the reigns of different Caliphs and rulers. In earlier days Kiswa was changed on 10th of Muharam but slowly it was shifted to 10th of Dhu Al-Hijjah. Caliph Amir Maawiya (Radhiallahu anho) started to cover on 10th Muharram (first month of Muslim calendar) as well on Eid-ul-Fitr (Ramadan).
Asad al-Himairi from Yemen was the first person to cover the Ka'aba. In olden days different clans of Makkah would cover the Ka,aba by yearly turns. Tribal leaders would also bring small drapes to cover the walls of Ka’aba.
Once Grand mother of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaho alaihi Wasallam) had offered white Kiswa. Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaho alaihi Wasallam) used Kiswa made up of Yemeni cloth. Caliphs Umar and Uthman (Radhiallahu anhuma) covered it with an Egyptian white cloth, Qubati. Mamoon Al-Rasheed and Fatami Khalafa used white Kiswa.
The cloth would come from Baghdad, Egypt and Yemen depending on whose influence was greater in Makkah. Viceroy of Egypt Mohammad Ali Pasha after splitting from the Turkish Empire, made making of Kiswa the state responsibility. The Kiswa was brought by annual caravan of Cairo from Egypt.
Nassir Abbasi (1160-1207) started green Kiswa and later shifted to black, since then it has become the tradition of black Kiswa. Earlier the Kiswas were plain only in 1340 the embroidered border was introduced by the Egyptian ruler Hassan.
During World War I, Turkey joined with Germany and there were doubts that will it be possible to bring the Kiswa from Egypt. So Turkey prepared a very grand Kiswa in Istanbul and by Hejaz railway it was sent to Madina. Whereas the Kiswa from Egypt reached Makkah in time, so the Istanbul Kiswa was kept back in Madina.
In 1923 when the relations of Sherrif of Makkah and Egypt were sour, the Egyptians called back their Kiswa which had reached Jeddah by that time. That year the Istanbul Kiswa lying at Madina was utilised. The next few years Egyptians played hide and seek with the Kiswa. Ibn Saud used Kiswa made by Iraq.
In 1926 a factory was set up at Makkah by Late King Abdul Aziz to make Kiswa. Moulana Dawood Ghaznavi and Maulana Ismail Ghaznavi played a pivotal role in setting up the factory. Initially all the craftsmen were brought from India. It took more than 100 craftsmen the whole year to weave the cloth on ancient wooden handlooms and to embroider magnificent calligraphy on it. In 1937 the factory was closed down due to non-availability of modern machinery.
The factory was re-opened after a long gap in 1962. Making of Kiswa is interesting process and done in different stages. The best silk is imported from Italy and Germany. With the help of special detergents and special olive oil soaps the silk is washed to remove its protective wax.
The silk is exposed to high temperatures of 90% and washed several times to get its natural colour. The best results of dyeing are achieved on the natural colour. Until ten years ago dyeing was done manually and now it is being done through specialised machines. Later weaving process is carried out.
In the beginning the belt of Ka’aba had 8 pieces and later it was doubled. In 1971 two additional pieces of YAHAYYU and YAQAYUUM were introduced. The cover and inner layer are done in one department. Designing of Qur’anic verses is being computerized, which has slowly replaced manual designing and increased the speed of work.
Silver and golden threads are used for embroidery. This year onwards the embroidery threads will be made locally, by the same goldsmith who made the door of Ka’aba. Finished pieces undergo strict quality control tests in the laboratory before being stitched together.