Piece of the kiswa (cover) of the Ka’ba
Islamic Museum, al-Aqsa Mosque / al-Haram al-Sharif
Hegira 13th century / AD 19th century
م/ أ/ 36
Silk embroidered with silk thread.
Length 142 cm, width 68 cm
A piece of the Ka'ba kiswa (cover) which was probably produced in Syria, and was sent as part of the Shami mahmal (the Syrian Caravan carrying gifts for the Ka'ba) to Mecca to re-adorn the Ka'ba. Such a ritual occurred every year before the season of the Hajj, and included a venerated ceremony at which the commencement of the Hajj season was officially announced. It was and still is the case that the Ka'ba is washed, perfumed and purified every year and is then covered with a new kiswa. The fragmentexhibited here is made from red silk and embroidered with silver silken thread. The design includes two undulating bands which assume the form of a continuous chain made up of number “7”s. Both bands run from the beginning to the end of the cloth. Small, dispersed decorative elements are scattered between the two borders, as well as between the two undulating bands. Written inscriptions appear, the most prominent being: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet”, repeating in the middle of the kiswa between the two zigzag bands. The two expressions, “Ya Mannan” (“Oh Merciful”) and “Ya Hannan” (“Oh Compassionate”) are also repeated, and consist of flowery forms running along both edges. On the upper undulating band, there is a verse from the Qur'an, “al-Baqara” (“the Cow”, 2: 144). The lower undulating band holds another chapter from the Qur'an: Surat Al 'Imran “the Family of Imran” (3:96). At the top and the bottom of the piece there are two expressions: “Dhu al-Jalal” (“Possessor of Majesty”) and “Dhu al-Ikram” (“Possessor of Honour”). One can conceptualise the size of the complete kiswa by bringing to mind the enormous scale of the Ka'ba. It is likely that the forms and inscriptions on this piece were repeated on the kiswa in its entirety. The name of the donor, the date of production and the emporium where it was produced is not recorded; the evidence has probably been cut off.
It is worth mentioning that once used to cover the Ka'ba, the kiswa was cut into small pieces and sent as gifts to different capitals and cities in the Islamic world to bestow blessing on them. Ruling palaces and councils contained pieces of the kiswa, which were used to confer legality and sanctity.
Every year the Ka’ba is washed and covered with a kiswa (cover) marking the beginning of the Hajj season. This piece is of red silk and embroidered with silver silk forming fragmented zigzags that repeat from the beginning of the piece to its end. Small forms are scattered in different places within inscription bands.
This fragment was dated based on comparison with similar pieces in the museums of Istanbul, whose dates had been narrowed down to around the 13th / 19th century.
Al-Sayyid Tahir Sayf al-Din, about whom nothing is known, donated the kiswa fragment to the Islamic Museum in 1937.
It is likely that this piece was made in Syria, since it is reminiscent of other pieces in the museums of Istanbul known to have been produced in the region.
Nazmi Al-Ju'beh "Piece of the kiswa (cover) of the Ka’ba" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;pa;Mus01;37;en
Prepared by: Nazmi Al-Ju'behNazmi Al-Ju'beh
Nazmi Al-Ju'beh is an archaeologist and historian and Co-Director of RIWAQ, Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah, Palestine. He studied at Birzeit University in Palestine and at Tübingen University in Germany. He taught at Birzeit University and at al-Quds University. He was Director of the Islamic Museum, al-Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem, and directed various cultural heritage projects in Palestine, including surveys of archaeological and architectural sites. He was a major contributor to Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza (Vienna: MWNF, 2004) and is the author of numerous publications on the history, archaeology and cultural heritage of Palestine.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PA 37
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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