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Makers of ‘House of God’ drape sew heavenly reward

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th January 2008 03:00 AM

PAINSTAKINGLY careful, Khaled handles the black silk cloth and the gold-and silver-plated thread both with familiarity and reverence.

PAINSTAKINGLY careful, Khaled handles the black silk cloth and the gold-and silver-plated thread both with familiarity and reverence.

“There is heavenly reward in this work, I would not leave here even if I got a better paying offer,” he said as he worked on the covering for the Kaaba, revered by Muslims as the house of God.

Khaled, 42, has been sewing the precious threads to the silk cover for the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure at the heart of Mecca, for the past 15 years.
The drape which engulfs the Kaaba is formally called Kiswa and is changed every year at the culmination of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, when the hajjis have left Mecca to go to Arafat, the starting point of their hajj journey.

Muslims believe the Kaaba was the first building on earth and was originally constructed by Adam. According to them, it was rebuilt by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael some 4,000 years ago.

During prayers, Muslims throughout the world face toward the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine.
Pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque normally greet the Kaaba by walking around it seven times, and pilgrims must encircle the Kaaba on arrival and before departure.

Kiswa has been made in this special factory in the city of Mecca for more than 30 years. Made of pure silk, the gold- and silver-plated threads embroider it with Arabic calligraphy from verses of the Koran and special Islamic features.

At 14 metres (42 feet) high and 47 metres wide, and with a total weight of about 650kg (1,400 pounds), the drape is worth around $5.3m (3.7 million euros). Before being made in Saudi Arabia it was given as a gift from Egypt and India.

The Kiswa is comprised of five pieces, four to cover the sides of the Kaaba and the fifth piece to cover the door high up on one side, which opens into a bare room containing three pillars.
The Mecca’s Kiswa factory employs scores of Saudis.

“I was pursuing calligraphy sewing as a hobby and fortunately am here and doing this work,” Khaled added while meticulously pushing the needle into the silk.

“Each of us is given a piece of silk cloth and a verse to sew. We first sew the words and shapes in cotton and then we use the gold or silver plated thread to sew over it,” he explained.

His colleague Othman, working sitting opposite him, said: “The work one sees here now is for next year. The work here goes on non-stop. Usually it takes us 10 months to finish it here in our sections.”
Othman who has worked in the factory for the past eight years, said: “The old drape is returned here, cleaned and then cut into pieces and given to Muslim states and officials.”

The interior of the Kaaba is also draped with embroidered Islamic features made from silk and made here.
“The drape inside the Kaaba is green, like the colour of Saudi Arabian flag,” said Mohammad, who explained the traditional way which the cloth was woven before the advent of computer-linked weaving machines in the other hall of the factory.

“In the old days each of the hand operated machines would have woven around half of metre of the black silk cloth for the exterior of the Kaaba,” he added.
Mohammad said: “I was drawn to it since the Kaaba is so sacred and working with it is working in the path of Allah.”

Makers of ‘House of God’ drape sew heavenly reward

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