black brocade cloth that covers the most sacred shrine of Islam, the Ka'bah (q.v.) in Mecca. A new kiswah is made in Egypt every year and carried to Mecca by pilgrims. On it is embroidered in gold the Muslim profession of faith (shahadah) and a gold band of ornamental calligraphy carrying Qur'anic verses. Each year during the major pilgrimage (hajj), the kiswah is replaced with a white cloth that corresponds to the white ceremonial robes of the pilgrims and signifies entrance into a sacred state (ihram). At the end of the hajj, the new kiswah is put in place, and the old one is cut into small relics that are sold to pilgrims. The custom of covering the Ka'bah is pre-Islamic; the yearly renewal of the covering is an innovation that is said to have begun during the caliphate of 'Umar I, when the Ka'bah almost collapsed under the weight of too many kiswahs.
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