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The sacred textiles of Mecca

Curtain for Door of Repentance (about 1900)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 271 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

The most iconic of the objects associated with the Hajj are the textiles offered to the Sanctuary at Mecca.

The sacred textiles comprise a number of different elements, including an overall covering (kiswa) and a belt (hizam) placed at about two-thirds of the height of the wall of the Ka‘ba. Over the door is a curtain (sitara or burqu‘). Inside the Ka‘ba are other textiles: a curtain to the door leading to the roof known as Bab al-Tawba, and red and green textiles with chevron designs on the inside walls. Within the sanctuary, the Maqam Ibrahim was also covered with a textile.


The cover for the Maqam Ibrahim (c. 1900. Cairo, Egypt)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 243 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

The Maqam Ibrahim (Abraham) where he is believed to have stood when rebuilding the Ka‘ba with his son Isma‘il (Ishmael), traditionally had its own decorated textile. The cover was made in four panels, of which this piece is the last. The fabric used is a piece of the kiswa of the Ka‘ba. The piece here is made of black silk and embroidered with gold metallic thread, silver-gilt strips and sequins and cotton thread padding. The lower part of each side is inscribed with the names of the Prophet’s family. Here, the names of his grandsons Hasan and Hussein can be clearly seen.


Curtain for the door of the Ka‘ba (1263/1846 –7. Cairo, Egypt)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 406 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

This sumptuous and heavily embroidered textile was made to be placed over the door of the Ka‘ba. The piece here is of black silk with red silk appliqués embroidered with silver and silver-gilt wire. It is lavishly decorated with bold arrangements of Arabic inscriptions from the Qur’an and other phrases. In the central black rectangle is the dedication in the name of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I (r. 1839 – 61). The curtain was made at the Dar al-Kiswa in Cairo, it was renewed annually, and was carried along with the mahmal as part of the Hajj caravan.

Diagram showing sections 1 and 2 on the curtain for the door of the Ka'ba
  1. Commissioning inscription

    ‘This honoured cloak was ordered by our lord the sultan king of the kings of the Arabs and Persians, lord of the Hijaz region, the sultan Abd al-Majid Khan son of Mahmoud Khan, son of Abd al-Hamid Khan son of the sultan Ahmad Khan, may his caliphate continue, 1263.’

  2. The Shahada

    ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.’

Diagram showing sections 1 and 2 on the curtain for the door of the Ka'ba
  1. The Throne Verse (Qur’an 2: 255-6)

    ‘Who is there that can intercede with Him except by His leave? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, but they do not comprehend any of His knowledge except what He wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth; it does not weary Him to preserve them both. He is the Most High, the Tremendous.’

  2. ‘God has truly fulfilled His Messenger’s vision: God willing, you will most certainly enter the Sacred Mosque in safety.’ (Qur’an 48:27)


The belt for the Ka‘ba (top) (1566 –74 and later. Cairo, Egypt)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 280 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

The hizam– or belt - is placed over the black kiswa on all four sides of the Ka‘ba, and at about two thirds of its height. This section, for one side, is nearly seven metres long. It is embroidered with silver and silver-gilt wire. It was made in Cairo and sent with the Hajj caravan. Although the sitara (the curtain for the door of the Ka‘ba) was replaced every year, the belts were sometimes returned and repaired before being sent back to Mecca. The red roundel on the left bears the name of the Ottoman sultan who commissioned it, Selim II (ruled 1566 –74). The central inscription is in thuluth script. It contains Qur’anic verses identifying the Ka‘ba as "the first House [of worship] appointed for all people"
(Qur’an 3 - Al ‘Imran).


Square panel (c. 1900 and later, Cairo, Egypt)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 292 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

Square embroidered panels were made to be placed over the kiswa at the four corners of the Ka‘ba below the belt. They are known as samadiyya because of the words from Chapter 112 of the Qur’an ‘Allahu al-Samad’, ‘God, the Eternal’, embroidered within the circle of text. They were also known as kardashiyya. This example was made of black silk with red silk appliqués embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire over cotton and silk thread padding.


The kiswa (c. 1900, Egypt or the Hijaz)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 38 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

This is a section of a kiswa or textile that was made to cover the Ka‘ba. Traditionally black and made from thirty-four pieces stitched together, the design consists of invocations to God and the Profession of Faith woven into the fabric. These are composed in a style known as jali thuluth, part of which is in mirror writing, where one side of the text echoes the other. The Ka‘ba is never left without a covering – as the old one is unfastened, the new one is immediately lowered from the roof.


Curtain for Door of Repentance (1311/1893-4, Egypt)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 0386 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

A special textile was made for the internal door of the Ka‘ba beginning in the mid-19th century. It is made of green silk with red and gold silk appliqués, embroidered in silver and silver gilt wire over cotton and sild thread padding. The inscription indicates that this was ordered by Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) and presented by Abbas Hilmi the Khedive of Ottoman Egypt (1874-1931).


Diagram showing sections on the Curtain for Door of Repentance
  1. Lines 1– 4 ‘In the name of God the Merciful the Compassionate. When those come to you who believe in our signs say peace be upon you. Your Lord has inscribed for himself mercy and if any of you did evil in ignorance and then repented and amended his conduct, he is most forgiving and merciful.’
Diagram showing sections on the Curtain for Door of Repentance

Left

  1. ‘This noble sitara was ordered by our lord the sultan Abd al-Hamid, may God grant him victory.’
  2. ‘Truly God our Lord and Creator, the Exalted, the Merciful has spoken the Truth, as has his messenger, the one who brings good tidings and warns from evil- sura.’
Diagram showing sections 1 and 2 on the curtain for the door of the Ka'ba

Right

  1. ‘In the name of God the Merciful the Compassionate. Remember we made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety and take the Station of Abraham as a place of prayer.’
  2. ‘Truly God our Lord and Creator, the Exalted, the Merciful has spoken the Truth, as has his messenger, the one who brings good tidings and warns from evil- sura’

Inside the Ka‘ba (c. 1935, Probably Mecca)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, TXT 460 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

The designs for the textiles placed inside the Ka‘ba, established in about 1600, continued with little variation for centuries. The bold inscription within the wide bands is the Profession of Faith.

In the narrow bands are verses that are specific to the importance of the Ka‘ba in Islam (Qur’an 3:96). In flask-shaped medallions and roundels are inscribed three of the Names of God. This textile is likely to have been made by Indian craftsmen in Mecca. A similar example is in the Museum of the Haramayn in Mecca.


Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council