Why is the covering of the Kaaba black? What chapters and verses are written on this covering?

Details of the Question
Why is the covering of the Kaaba black? What chapters and verses are written on this covering?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The cloth of the Kaaba is not made black at one time. First it is dyed in red, then green and then in black. There are black woven embossed embroideries on the covering. There are the 99 names of Allah, kalima at-tawhid and tasbihat in embroidery. There is a band of 47-meter long on the top one-third part of the covering. There are Quranic verses related to hajj on the band. Those verses are woven with silver threads dipped in gold water.

The Kaaba has always maintained its identity of a holy shrine that arouses religious enthusiasm and tranquility in the spirits of Muslims. Therefore, looking at the Kaaba is regarded as a kind of worshipping. The place of the Kaaba in the universe is resembled and compared to the place of the heart in the human body. In other words, the Kaaba is the heart of the universe. The Muslims that circumambulate around the Kaaba in waves express the beating of that heart. Each Muslim that circumambulates the Kaaba feels some, whether little or much, enthusiasm and grandeur. Al-Batanuni expresses his feelings about it in his book called ar-Rihla al-Hijaziyya as follows:

“The whole congregation gathered with a feeling of the deepest awe in front of the grandiose dominance and lofty splendor, in front of which the greatest spirits felt themselves as nothing. If we had not seen the movements of the bodies during the prayer (salah) and the raising of the hands during the supplication, had not heard whispering of the words uttered and the beating of the hearts in the presence of that endless grandeur, we would have thought that we had been transferred to another realm and life. In fact, we were in a different realm, then. We were in the house of Allah and in the presence of Allah.  Our heads were bent down; our tongues were tied. Our hands were turned upwards; our eyes were full of tears; our hearts were full of awe and our inner selves were full of good and clean feelings.”

In another place, he also said, “Makkah is the peak of His power and will and the place where His revelation was sent down; the Kaaba is His shrine and the place of His grandeur and help.”

The feeling of respect toward the Kaaba became manifest by putting the covering around it. There are different narrations about who put the first covering around the Kaaba. Although it is reported that Hazrat Ismail (Ishmael) (pbuh) put the first covering around the Kaaba, it is more widely accepted that As’ad Abu Karib, a Yemeni King, put the first covering around the Kaaba. According to a narration, once As’ad Abu Karib traveled to Makkah and stayed there for six days; he sacrificed animals and gave the meat away to the people of Makkah and to the poor.  While he was in Makkah, he saw in his dream that he put a covering around the Kaaba. In the morning, he realized what he saw in his dream and put a covering from the fabric that he saw in his dream around the Kaaba. On the second night, he saw in his dream that he put a covering from another fabric around the Kaaba and on the third night yet another covering. Every morning, he realized what he saw in his dream. Thus, he was known as the first person to put a covering around the Kaaba. Therefore, Our Prophet (pbuh) said, “Do not curse Tubba (As’ad Abu Karib) because he is from the People of Oneness.”

There are several narrations that Hazrat Prophet (pbuh) put a covering around the Kaaba. According to the narrations, the Kaaba was covered by woolen fabrics during the Era of Ignorance. Hazrat Prophet (pbuh) covered the Kaaba with a covering of Yemeni fabric. Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Uthman covered it with thin Egyptian fabric. The narrations agree that the Prophet covered the Kaaba but there are different narrations about the type of the fabric. However, the scholars explaining hadiths say that it is possible that the Messenger of Allah put coverings of different fabrics at different times around the Kaaba.

During the Era of Bliss and the Four Caliphs, the covering was changed every year. Hazrat Muawiyah changed it twice a year, and Mamun changed it three times a year.

He covered it with a red fabric on the day of Tarwiyah, one day before the day of Arafah, a fabric called Qabati on the first day of the month of Rajab and a white fabric on the twenty-seventh day of the month of Ramadan. During the Era of Fatimis, a white covering was put around the Kaaba. Sultan  Mahmud Sebuk Tekin put a yellow covering around the Kaaba. During the time of Abbasid Caliph Nasir, the Kaaba was covered with a green covering. Then, during the time of the same Caliph, it was changed to black.  From then on, the covering of the Kaaba is black.  During the history of Islam, the covering of the Kaaba was never ignored; in Hijri 750, Salih Ismail bin Nasir set up a foundation in a village near Cairo, and he allocated that village for the covering of the Kaaba; the covering of the Kaaba was renewed every year with the income of that foundation.

It is reported in narrations that the covering of the Kaaba was renewed every year during the time of Hazrat Umar and that the covering that was removed was divided among hajis. Those who go to Makkah from Jeddah using the old motorway today see separate buildings in an area of 100.000 square meters just before entering Makkah. In those building, about 300 workers and artisans work on a very blessed thing. They manufacture “Kiswa”, the great fabric that covers the Kaaba.

Until 1962, the covering of the Kaaba was manufactured in Egypt. Then, King Saud had a factory to produce Kiswa built in Makkah. Today, the covering of the Kaaba is woven and produced in that factory by skillful artisans, weavers, calligraphers and technical experts.  Every year, 24 million riyals (according to 1988) are allocated for Kiswa.  670 kilograms of pure white silk and 720 kilograms of dye and acid are used for the covering.  Kiswa consists of 47 parts. Each part is 14 meters long and 95 centimeters wide. The total are of the covering is 650 square meters. The chapter of al-Ikhlas is embroidered with gold on each corner. Other verses are woven on the panels under the band. 120 kilograms of gold and silver were used on the silk dyed black. The ratio of gold to silver is 1 to 4. The weaving, dyeing and embroidering process of Kiswa takes about 1 year. Kiswa is completed one month before Hajj and it is delivered to the family of ash-Shaibi. When the Kaaba is washed for the second time, the old covering is removed and the new one is placed. The old covering is cut into pieces and distributed to Muslims.

Note: We advise you to read the following article on the chapters and verses written on the covering of the Kaaba and in Masjid an-Nabawi.


Decorating various works of art especially historic buildings with verses is an important part of our Quranic culture. Verses, hadiths and aphorisms are quoted in both literature and works of art; it is thought that these phrases shine like a jewel on the building and add an artistic quality and value to it.

What things are taken into consideration when verses are quoted from the Quran and works of art and especially buildings are decorated with verses?We will seek answers to this question related to Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi.

Verses and chapters about whose virtues there are hadiths

Verses and chapters about whose virtues there are hadiths are seen on the buildings in the holy land as they are seen in almost all buildings; along with Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, which is seen at the beginning of chapters and verses as well as independently, ayat al-kursiyy, and the chapters of al-Ikhlas and al-Fatiha are seen almost everywhere.  

The chapters of al-An’am, al-Kahf, Maryam, al-Muzzammil, Muddaththir, Yasin, ad-Duha, al-Jumu’a, ar-Rahman, ash-Shams, al-Layl, al-Mulk, an-Naba’, al-Inshirah, at-Takathur, al-Fath, al-Qadr, al-‘Alaq, al-Ikhlas, al-Mu’awwizatayn, al-Fatiha, , the first five verses of al-Baqara and Amanar-Rasulu (verses 285 and 286 of al-Baqara) are written on the skirting of the dome of the old part of Masjid an-Nabawi.

The chapters of an-Nasr, al-Waqi’a, al-Jumu’a, al-Mulk, Muhammad, Yasin, ad-Duhan, al-Hujurat, al-Inshirah, al-Ikhlas and al-Mu’awwizatayn are written on the bands of the new part of Masjid an-Nabawi.

Some verses of the chapter of al-Fath, the chapters of al-Hujurat, al-Jumu’a, Yasin, al-Qadr and ar-Rahman, verse 34 of the chapter of Ibrahim, the chapters of an-Nasr, al-Asr and al-Kawthar are written on the skirting of the dome of Masjid Quba, and Ayat al-Kursiyy, the last three verses of the chapter of al-Hashr (Huwalluhulladhi) and the last two verses of the chapter of al-Baqara (Amanar-Rasulu) are written on its walls.   

These three mosques are interesting in that they include almost all of the verses and chapters about whose virtues there are hadiths. In the buildings in Turkey, let alone all of them, even only the whole chapter of al-Fath is rarely seen to be written because they cover a lot of space. 

The verses about the Quran can also be evaluated in this context; for instance, the verses starting with Dhalika min anbail-ghayb nuhiha ilayk… (Aal-i Imran, 3/44), Fa-idha qara’tal-Qur’ana... (an-Nahl, 16/98), La ya’tihil-batilu min bayni yadayhi wa la min khalfih… (Fussilat, 41/42) on the façade of Rawda al-Mutahhara.

Verses directly related to the building, the construction of the building or its function

The most beautiful examples of writing verses that aredirectly related to the building are as follows: the verses about the construction of the Kaaba, its being the first temple, its being the qiblah, the obligation of hajj and entering the Kaaba in safety and security are written on the covering (kiswa), lock and keys of the Kaaba; The verse Inna fatahna… (al-Fath, 48/1), in which the verb “to open” is mentioned, and the verse ‘Indahu mafatihul-ghayb… (al-An’am, 6/59) in which the word “key” is mentioned are written on thelock and keys of the Kaaba; the verse innas-Safa wal-Marwata…(al-Baqara, 2/158) is written on the Ottoman porticos and on the skirting of the new dome at the exit of Safa-Marwa; the verse wattakhidhu min maqami Ibrahima musalla… (al-Baqara, 2/125) is written on Maqam Ibrahim; the verse la-Masjidun ussisa ‘alat-taqwa…, which is related to Masjid Quba, (at-Tawba, 9/108) is written on the mihrab (niche) of this mosque and on a stone column outside; the verse Qad nara (al-Baqara, 2/144) written on the mihrab (niche) of Masjid Qiblatayn.

Verses directly or indirectly related to the person who caused the building to be constructed or a person who lived or was buried there

Examples: The verses related to Hz. Ibrahim’s calling people to the Kaaba and constructing the Kaaba with his son are written on the covering of the Kaaba; on the gates of Majid al-Haram –the ones remaining from the Ottoman period or previous periods -, the verses related to the people who had them made are written; on the wall of the qiblah of Masjid an-Nabawi and on the coverings of the Room and altar, etc., the verses related to the Prophet (pbuh) (about his prophethood, his being a model for the ummah, that it is necessary to show respect to him by uttering salawat, etc.) especially the verses including the words Muhammad and nabi are written; on the back door of the Room, the verse Wasiqalladhinattaqaw Rabbahum ilal-Jannati zumara (az-Zumar, 39/73) is written; on the front wall of Rawda, the verse Muhammadun rasulullah walladhina ma’ahu…, (al-Fath, 48/29), which is related to the Prophet and the Companions who laid the foundations of the Islamic state in this mosque, is written; on Qayitbay and Qanuni niches, the verse at-Taibunal-‘abiduna…, which mentions the properties of the Companions (at-Tawba, 9/112), is written; on the gate of women of Masjid an-Nabawi,  the verses Wa man yaqnut minkunna… (al-Ahzab, 33/31-34) are written,on the gate of Jibril, the verse Fa-innallaha huwa mawlahu wa Jibril… (at-Tahrim, 66/4) is written.

One of the most beautiful examples of it is the verse Innahu min Sulaymana wa innahu Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim written on the magnificent altar sent to the Kaaba as a present from Qanuni Sultan Sulayman. In fact, the phrase Innahu min Sulaymana … is related to the letter written by Hz. Sulayman to the queen of Sheba but the verse is quoted in the sense of “This altar is a present to the Kaaba from Qanuni Sultan Sulayman” by changing the reference of the pronoun hu (it). Asit is known, when a verse/hadith is written somewhere – like the quotations in literature –, the original meaning of the sentence does not have to be meant.

Verses related to the function of any unit of a building

Examples: The verse Qad nara… fa-walli wajhaka.. (al-Baqara, 2/144), which is the verse of the qiblah, is written on the three niches in Rawda al-Mutahhara; the verse Kullama dakhala alayha Zakariyyal-mihrab (Aal-i Imran, 3/37), which includes the word mihrab (niche) is written on Qanuni and Qayitbay niches there.

Secondly, it became a tradition to write kalima at-tawhid (La ilaha illalah), which reflects the basic creed of the state, on the doors of altars since altars have a political property because sermons are delivered on behalf of the sultan/caliph there. Kalima at-tawhid is written on the entrance of Murad III altar in Masjid an-Nabawi. The purpose of writing verses from the chapter of al-Jumua related to Friday (Jumua) prayer on altars is understood when the connection of altars with Friday prayer is considered; similarly, the purpose of writing the verse Innallaha wa malaikatahu yusalluna ‘alan-Nabiyy… (al-Ahzab, 33/56) on altars is understood when it is considered that salawat is uttered for the Prophet (pbuh) in the sermons delivered in altars.  

Verses/phrases reflecting the basic creed of Islam

Kalima at-Tawhid, which can be seen almost anywhere, emphasizes the Islamic character of the state; The names Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, which we see on the covering of the Kaaba, porticos of Masjid al-haram, etc., and especially the phrase Radiyallahu ‘an Abi Bakr wa Umar wa Uthman wa Ali wa ‘anis-sahaba ajma’in (May Allah be pleased with Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali and all of the Companions) on the covering of the Kaaba, which embraces all Companions without excluding any of them, reflects the Sunni character of the state.  

It is stated by the verse Qul kullun ya’malu ‘ala shakilatih… (al-Isra, 17/84), which we see on the bands of the Kaaba among writings, that all religions have a qiblah, that everybody acts in accordance with their own value judgments and that only Allah knows who is on the right path. 

Verses mentioning the things that the building can be likened.

If the building is likened to something as a whole, and if there is a verse about it, this verse can be written on this building. Nice examples of this are as follows: The verse Wa saqahum Rabbuhum sharaban tahura (al-Insan, 76/21), which is related to Allah’s treating ‘a clean drink’ to the people of Paradise is written on Zamzam Well;  The verse Udkhuluha bi-salamin aminin (al-Hijr, 15/46), which asks the people of Paradise in Paradise, is written on all of the gates of the new part of Masjid an-Nabawi, which is likened to Paradise.

Another example is the verse Rabbi adkhilni… (al-Isra, 17/80), which can be read and written at the entrance of any place, and the verse Fi buyutin adhinallah... (an-Nur, 24/36-38), which is about mosques, written on the gate of Babussalam of Masjid an-Nabawi.

Firstly, if it is taken into consideration that the verse (prayer) Rabbi adkhilni … (al-Isra, 17/80) was advised upon the attempts of the polytheists to expel the Prophet (pbuh) from Makkah or to kill him (al-Isra, 17/76), it is clear that the places mentioned as “mukhraj sidq” and “mudkhal sidq” in the prayer is Makkah and Madinah respectively. Then, the secret of this prayer to be written on the first gate of the general headquarters in Madinah, that is, Masjid an-Nabawi is understood.

Secondly, the relationship between buyut (masjids) where Allah’s light shines brightly and Allah’s name is mentioned and rijal (men) who glorify him in the morning and evening and Masjid an-Nabawi and the Companions is clear.

Verses related to the construction and improvement of the building

For instance, it is understood that the verses Wa ma taf’alu min khayr… (al-Baqara, 2/197), Ulaika yusari’un… (a-Mu’minun, 23/61), Masalulladhina yunfiquna … (al-Baqara, 2/261-263), Inna la nudi’u ajra man ahsana ‘amala (al-Kahf, 18/30) and especially Innama ya’muru masajidallah… (at-Tawba, 9/18) are written on buildings indicating that the charity was done for the sake and consent of Allah.

Verses giving various messages to visitors

In fact, there is a certain message in all of the examples above but the message is more intense in the examples below:

The verses Ya ayyuhalladhina amanu la tarfa’u aswatakum… (al-Hujurat, 49/2-3) written on the Room of the Prophet (pbuh) asks believers “to be quiet”.

The verses Wa sari’u ila… wal-kazimina‘l-ghhayza wal-afina ‘ani’n-nas wallahu yuhibbul-muhsinin (Aal-i Imran, 3/133-35) on the Safa gate of Masjid al-Haram do not only remind people for whom Paradise is prepared but also include a very appropriate and befitting warning for a place  where furious, intolerant and unpleasant deeds can be committed.

Allah’s vast mercy is emphasized and despair is rejected by the verses Nabbi’ ‘ibadi… (al-Hijr, 15/49), Wa idha saalaka ‘ibadi… (al-Baqara, 2/186), Wa bashshiril-mu’minina… (al-Ahzab, 33/47), Man ya’mal suan… (an-Nisa, 4/110), Wa inni la-ghhaffar.. (TaHa, 20/82) on the covering of the Kaaba along with the verses Qul ya ‘ibadiyalladhina asrafu… (az-Zumar, 39/53), Ghafiridh-Dhanb, qabilit-tawb (Ghafir, 40/1-3), Kataba Rabbukum ‘ala nafsihir-rahma (al-An’am, 6/54) on the gate of the Kaaba.

On the gate of women of Masjid an-Nabawi, the verses Wa man yaqnut… (al-Ahzab 33/31-34) give some advice to the wives of the Prophet in particular and believing women in general and the verse Lir-rijali nasib... (an-Nisa, 4/33) in the same place advises women and men to act as women and men and not to resemble the opposite gender; On Masjid Quba, the verses Alif Lam Mim dhalikal-kitab… (al-Baqara, 2/1-5) indicates who will attain salvation and the verse Wa sari’u ila maghhfiratin min Rabbikum wa Jannatin (Aal-i Imran, 3/133) on the outer windows encourage people to worship; the verses at-Taibunal-‘abidun… (at-Tawba, 9/112), Qul sadaqallah… (Aal-i Imran, 3/95) and Inna awlan-nas... (Aal-i Imran, 3/68) on Qanuni and Qayitbay niches and the chapter of Quraysh on the covering of the Kaaba remind the visitors the characteristics that a believer needs to have and that they should worship Allah by following the way of Hz. Ibrahim.

In conclusion,

It is seen that in the tradition of quoting from the Quran in architecture, short, concise and impressive verses are preferred except for writings on the bands. These verses generally describe Allah concisely, summarize the Quran and reflect the basic faiths of Islam concisely.

In this tradition in which nice connections are established between a verse

1. and a building or the function of any unit in a building and

2. the person who caused the construction to be built or the people buried there, it is not necessary for the original meanings of the verses to be meant.

As for the verses and chapters written on Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi, theyare mostly on Masjid al-Haram, Hz. Prophet, the qiblah, hajj, prayers, Allah’s vast mercy and Hz. Ibrahim. Nice connections are established between the verses and the building; the people who come to the sacred places are taught certain things by reminding them that it is possible to repent of any sins.  

This tradition was continued by the authorities of Saudi Arabia, not in Masjid al-Haram, but in the other buildings. The phrases Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, La ilaha illallah and Muhammadun rasulullah are written in kufi form separately on the main gates of Masjid al-Haram like King Fahd and King Abdulaziz, which are among the 95 gates of Masjid al-Haram, an on any suitable places on the walls, especially in places where porticos meet.

Turkish calligraphers wrote verses and chapters on the walls of the new parts of Masjid an-Nabawi, on the walls and skirtings of domes of Masjid Quba.However, the writings to be written in the middle of the dome necessitates a more skilled/circular arrangement of the letters;  not all versesabout whose virtues there are hadiths have circular arrangements; forming those arrangements will be difficult; skirtings of domes will allow more verses to be written; therefore, the tradition of writing inside the dome and on the ceiling was not continued. It is seen that different verses were preferred for the gate, covering and key of the Kaaba from time to time.

It is known that the name of the Prophet, that is, “Muhammad” (in addition, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali) is written with the word Allah almost in all places. As a matter of fact, this is seen in the covering and porticos of the Kaaba, Masjid an-Nabawi, etc. However, in Masjid Quba, the verse Latifun bi-‘ibadih… (ash-Shura, 42/19) is written in smaller letters under the word “Allah”, which is written in big letters, and under the name "Muhammad", which is written in big letters,  the verse Rasulullah walladhina ma’ahu ashidda’u ‘alal-kuffari ruhamau baynahum (al-Fath, 48/29) is written with smaller letters so as not to regard the names of others as equal to Allah, who has a completely different ontological structure from them; thus, the impression that the words that are written side by side and with the same size are not the names of Allah and the Prophet but the verses in which these names are mentioned. The traces of the same faith can be seen in the transformation of the phrases Ya Allah Ya Muhammad into Ya Allah Ya Majid, which were written during the time of Sultan Ahmad, on the front wall of the room where the Prophet is buried.

(Assoc. Prof. Murat SÜLÜN, Haremeyn’deki Belli Başlı Mâbedlerde Yazılı Âyetlere Dâir Mülâhazalar - 1, MÜ.İlahiyfat Fakültesi Dergisi, 2003/1)

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