Name of Object:
Piece of the kiswa (cover) of the Ka’ba
Islamic Museum, al-Aqsa Mosque / al-Haram al-Sharif
Date of Object:
Hegira 13th century / AD 19th century
Museum Inventory Number:
م/ أ/ 36
Material(s) / Technique(s):
Silk embroidered with silk thread.
Length 142 cm, width 68 cm
Period / Dynasty:
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.
View Short Description
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.
How date and origin were established:
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.
How Object was obtained:
Al-Sayyid Tahir Sayf al-Din, about whom nothing is known, donated the kiswa fragment to the Islamic Museum in 1937.
How provenance was established:
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.
Citation of this web page:
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'beh