The Holy Kaba represents the qibla, or the direction which Muslims all around the world face to perform their five daily prayers. It is the first House which God has designated on Earth, and which He has ascribed to Himself.
The covering of the Holy Kaba is known as the kiswa, and it is one of the most important signs of respect and veneration for the House of God, and its history is part of the history of the Holy Kaba itself. Since the Kaba was first built by Abraham and his son Ismail, the kiswa passed through many stages, and it was not always as we see it today. Throughout its long history, the form and design of the kiswa were the result of numerous social and economic factors related to particular historical periods. Nevertheless, the common factor has always been veneration for the House of God, even in the pre-Islamic period.
During Islamic times, the provision of the kiswa for the holy Kaba has been the prerogative of different Islamic states; it was usually provided by the state which had political control of Makkah al-Mukarramah at the time. Provision of the kiswa was seen as a material manifestation of the care and protection given by that particular state to the Kaba, the Holy Mosque, and to the pilgrims.
The Kiswa during the Saudi Era
In continuation of the care of the Messenger Muhammad PBUH, his caliphs and Muslim rulers throughout the ages, a new transition in the manufacturing of the Kiswa took place in the Saudi era. On July 1, 1927, King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of a special factory to be devoted to the manufacture of the kiswa in the Ajyad district in Makkah al-Mukarramah. This factory, which was built on an area of 1500 square meters, was the first of its kind ever established in the Makkah Al-Mukarramah since the start of the K?bah kiswa until today.
During the time it building the kiswa factory, Saudi Arabia undertook to procure all the materials needed to manufacture the kiswa, including silk, dyes and looms, and to recruit the necessary workforce.
In 1962 King Saud ordered that a house for manufacturing the kiswa be established in Makkah al-Mukarramah.
The Kiswa factory at Umm al-Jud
On Saturday March 8, 1977, the new kiswa factory at Umm al-Jud in Makkah al-Mukarramah was inaugurated during the reign of King Khalid although the ground breaking took place during the era of King Faisal. This new factory incorporates departments devoted to the various operations involved in the manufacture of the kiswa, including dying and weaving the silk, embroidering the inscriptions with which the kiswa is adorned, and assembling the separate sections of the kiswa. Approximately 200 artisans combine their talents to manufacture the kiswa, in addition to the factory's administrative staff, which was placed under the supervision of the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques in 1993.
Description of the kiswa of the Holy Kaba
The kiswa is woven of around 670 kilograms of pure silk, which is then dyed black. The thickness of the sik cloth is 1.37 mm, and it is lined on the inside by strong white cotton cloth.
Various inscriptions are woven into the fabric of the kiswa in black such that they encompass its complete surface; they include: "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God"; "To God be glory and praise"; "Glory be to God the Highest"; "O Compassionate! O Benefactor! O God!" Verses from the Holy Quran and expressions mentioning the date of the kiswa are also woven onto it in gold thread.
At the present time, the exterior kiswa of the Kaba is replaced once a year. The interior of the Kaba is also adorned with a green kiswa which is only replaced occasionally, as it is not exposed to the elements, which ensures its preservation for a longer period of time.