Lit. “A robe.” The covering of the Ka’abah, or cube-like building, at Makkah. [KA’BAH.] When Captain Burton visited Makkah in 1853, he found it to be a coarse tissue of mixed silk and cotton, and of eight pieces, two for each face of the building, the seams being concealed by the broad gilt band called the hizam. It is lined with white calico, and has cotton ropes to secure the covering to metal rings at the basement. But on the occasion of Captain Burton’s visit, the kiswah was tucked up by ropes from the roof. The whole is of a brilliant black, with the gold band running round it.
The burqa, or veil; is a curtain hung before the door of the Ka’bah, also of black brocade, embroidered with inscriptions, in letters of gold, of verses from the Qur’an and lined with green silk.
According to Burton, the inscription on the gold band of the kiswah is the ninetieth verse of the third Surah of the Qur’an: “Verily, the first House founded for mankind was surely that at Bakkah, for a blessing and a guidance to the worlds.” The whole of the kiswah is covered with seven Surahs of the Qur’an, namely, XVIIIth, XIXth, IIIrd, Ixth, Xxth, XXXIXth, and LXVIIth (i.e. al-Kahf, Maryam, Alu-Imran, at-Taubah, Ta Ha, Ya Sin, and al-Mulk). The character is the ancient Kufic, and legible from a considerable distance.
Mr. Lane says that the kiswah is made of a mixture of silk and cotton, because the Prophet expressly forbade silk as an article of dress.
The kiswah and burqa’ are now manufactured at Cairo, at a manufactory called the Khurunfish, and is made by a family who possess the hereditary right, and who are called the Baitu ‘s-Sa’d. When they are completed, they are taken to the mosque known as the Sultan Hasan, and there kept until they are sent off with a caravan of pilgrims to Makkah. This usually takes places a few days after the ‘Idu ‘l-Fitr, generally about the 6th day of the month of Shawwal, and two or three weeks before the departure of the regal canopy or Mahmal [MAHMAL.] The procession of the kiswah is similar to that of the Mahmal, and therefore requires no separate description.
According to Muslim historians, the Ka’bah was first dressed with a kiswah or robe by a Himyarite chief, named Tubba’u ‘l-Arqan. From the time of Qusaiy it was veiled by subscriptions collected from Pagan Arabs, until Abu Rabiyah ibn al-Mughirah ibn ‘Abdi ‘llah provided the covering whereby he obtained the title of al-‘Adl, “the Just.” When Muhammad obtained possession, he ordered it to be covered with fine Yamani cloth, and ordered the expense to be defrayed from the public treasury. The Khalifah ‘Umar chose Egyptian linen, and ordered the robe to be renewed every year. Khalifah ‘Usman, being a man of eminent piety ordered it to be clothed twice a year. For the winter it had a robe of brocade silk, and in the summer a suit of fine linen. Mu’awiyah, the Umaiyah Khalifah, was the first to establish the present kiswah of silk and linen tissue, but being reminded of the Prophet’s well-known dislike to silken robes he changed it again to the more orthodox covering of Yamani cloth. The Khalifah Ma’mun (A.D. 813) ordered the dress to be changed three times a year, the fine Yamani cloth on the 1st of Rajah, white brocade on the 1st of Shuwwal, for the pilgrimage two months later, and rich red brocade on the 10th of Muharram. The Khalifah al-Mutawakkil (A.D. 847) sent a new robe every two months. During the Abbaside dynasty, the investing of the Ka’bah with the kiswah was regarded as a sign of sovereignty over the holy places. The later Khalifahs of Baghdad are said to have sent a ksiwah of green and gold. The Fatimide Khalifahs made the kiswah ar Cairo of black brocade of mixed silk and cotton; and when Sultan Salim assumed the power of the Khalifate (A.D. 1512), the kiswah still continued to be supplied from Cairo, as is not the case under the Ottoman rule.
(Burckhardt’s Arabia, Lane’s Egyptians, Ali Bey’s Pilgrimage, Burton’s Mecca and Medina.) [KA’BAH, MASJIDU ‘L-HARAM.]
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam