When the Kaaba’s Kiswa came from Egypt

Celebrations centered on the Mahmal convoy began in Egypt about a month before Hajj. (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2019

When the Kaaba’s Kiswa came from Egypt

  • For centuries, every year during Hajj the silk cover for the Kaaba arrived on a camel's back from Egypt
  • The passage of the Mahmal carrying the Kiswa through hundreds of miles of desert was an integral part of Hajj

CAIRO, JEDDAH: For centuries, every year during Hajj the Kiswa for the Kaaba arrived on a camel’s back all the way from Cairo to Makkah, following a precarious journey inside a ceremonial litter known as the Mahmal.

From the reign of Al-Zahir Bebrus until the era of King Fuad of Egypt in the 1920s, the passage of the Mahmal through hundreds of miles of barren desert was an integral part of Hajj.

Residents of Cairo would be dazzled by the celebrations marking the Mahmal’s departure. Egyptians knew that the production and transportation of the Kiswa was an honor given only to them by a succession of sultans and caliphs. Research conducted by Doris Behrens-Aboseif of the University of Munich has traced the origin of the Mahmal to Shajarat Al-Durr, wife of As-Salih Ayyub, the last Egyptian sultan of the Ayyub dynasty (13th century). 

Other researchers say the tradition of the Mahmal began in the 14th century during Fatimid rule.

According to Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, professor of Islamic history at Cairo University, during the era of Ottoman Gov. Muhammad Ali Pasha and his children, celebrations centered on the Mahmal convoy began about a month before Hajj.

Dar Al-Khoronfosh, a workshop set up in the early 19th century in Cairo’s Al-Gamaleya district, had been selected for the task of making the Kiswa. That role lasted until 1962.

A triangular dome embroidered in gold, silver or silver gilt wires and colorful silk appliques preserved the Mahmal’s precious cargo. It was adorned with the name of the caliphate, sultan or pasha on the side, and a verse from the Qur’an on the front of the Mahmal’s cover.

Before the start of the journey, streets and shops were ceremonially decorated as the Mahmal convoy toured Cairo for three days. 

The camel carrying the Kiswa was accompanied by a caravan of camels lugging supplies and pilgrims’ luggage, alongside soldiers who guarded the procession all the way to Hijaz.

Sufi worshippers would walk just behind the Mahmal, beating drums and holding aloft banners, accompanied by clowns known as Afarit Al-Mahmal. The occasion was a major annual event, with Cairo’s governor and his deputy or their representative in attendance.

In Cairo’s Castle Square, soldiers would line up with their weapons on the arrival of the invitees: Renowned scientists, royals, dignitaries, merchants, and senior officials of the khedive’s office.

The official ceremony was followed by the firing of 21 rounds of artillery and the playing of the anthem of the khedive, who would stand and salute.

After that, the convoy’s leader followed behind the Mahmal in his horse along with his successor.

According to Ibrahim, the Kiswa procession toured Mohammed Ali Street and the Selah market, then headed to Bab Zuwailah Road and parts of old Cairo, and ended at Al-Hussain Mosque.

The actual journey to Makkah began with the Mahmal convoy’s departure from Cairo in the direction of the Red Sea and onward to the city of Suez, where ships docked at the port welcomed the cavalcade of pilgrims, soldiers and camels.

Once Hajj had been completed, the Mahmal returned to Cairo bearing the Kaaba’s used Kiswa.

The fabric was typically cut into pieces and distributed to nobles and princes. Some of these pieces can still be found in the tombs of royal family members, where their presence is regarded as a form of blessing.

Global tech giant Samsung switched on to ‘new opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

Updated 12 min 34 sec ago

Global tech giant Samsung switched on to ‘new opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

  • Lee on Sunday reviewed the progress of the Riyadh Metro Project which is being led by Samsung C&T

SEOUL: The heir to South Korea’s tech giant, Samsung Group, who is currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia, has stepped up efforts to grow business links in the Kingdom’s “land of opportunities.”

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, wants to open up new business channels and diversify the economy on the back of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, officials told Arab News on Wednesday.

In his first visit to an overseas construction site, Lee on Sunday reviewed the progress of the Riyadh Metro Project which is being led by Samsung C&T, the construction and trading arm of the tech conglomerate.

Under a consortium with Spanish and French firms, Samsung C&T is responsible for building six subway lines covering 168 kilometers. Initiated in 2013, the project will be Saudi Arabia’s first public transportation construction work to be completed by 2020. During his site tour, Lee spoke to workers, calling the Middle East “a land of opportunities in the 21st century.”


Samsung chief moves to grow business links, diversify economy under Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Leading the multinational group in place of his bedridden father, Lee Kun-hee, the tech chief added: “I’m very proud of you working on the site even during the Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving) holiday apart from your family members. I’m really proud of you. I’m confident your efforts will bear valuable fruit in the future.”

On Wednesday, Lee met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss measures for expanding business opportunities in a variety of fields, including technology, construction and energy, which are key to the Kingdom’s plan to build smart cities, a Samsung official told Arab News.

It was Lee’s second meeting with the crown prince in three months after the Saudi royal visited Seoul for talks with President Moon Jae-in and South Korean business leaders. During his trip, the crown prince signed an $8.3 billion (SR31.1 billion) economic cooperation pact in the fields of energy, automotive, and others.

“Vice chairman Lee met a range of Saudi officials to discuss issues of bilateral cooperation,” the official said. “The bottom line is Samsung is very much interested in Saudi’s economic reform plan from the traditional oil-dependent economy to a tech-based one and exploring fields of potential business opportunities based on the company’s state-of-the-art technology.”

Samsung C&T, in particular, has a competitive edge in so-called smart construction technology, which is expected to be suitable to Saudi’s roadmap to build smart cities. The official added that the engineering affiliate had applied Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to its new apartment complex in South Korea to add convenience, security and wellness to the living place.

Samsung has also been pitching its 5G wireless technology to Middle Eastern customer nations. Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of implementing a 5G network across the Kingdom in line with the Vision 2030 initiative. 

The up-to-date communication technology is believed to be more than 10 times faster than 4G.

Saudi Arabia has constructed 1,000 5G base stations and the fifth-generation network is expected to support 45 million IoT devices in the country.

“Samsung is at the forefront with global operators in bringing 5G benefits to consumers, industries and societies by helping them deliver 5G commercial networks,” said Jeon Jaeho, executive vice president and head of research, development, and networks business at Samsung Electronics.

Samsung’s investment in the Saudi-backed Vision Fund was also on the agenda for discussion, another Samsung source told Arab News. Japan’s SoftBank launched its first Vision Fund in 2016 after signing a deal with the crown prince to create the world’s biggest buyout fund. SoftBank has unveiled a second investment fund with the Saudi Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment on board.

The tech firm has also upped efforts to expand its foothold in Middle East markets and woo deep-pocketed customers amid flagging demand for premium smartphones worldwide.

In February, Lee met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. When the crown prince visited Samsung’s manufacturing facilities outside the capital, Lee showcased Samsung’s technologies of the 5G mobile communication network, semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

Under the strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution adopted in 2017, the UAE plans to build a nationwide 5G infrastructure before the Expo 2020 in Dubai.