MECCA - More than 200 men have been labouring in a Saudi factory for eight months to produce the gold-embroidered, black-dyed Kiswa, a silk cover for the square building called the Kaaba that is a focal point of the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
The ornate protective covering produced at the Mecca factory will be draped over the Kaaba at the start of the haj, which this year is expected to begin on October 14.
Muslims associate the Kaaba with the prophet Ibrahim, the Biblical Abraham, who is viewed by Muslims as the founder of a pure monotheism which slowly declined until revived in the 7th century by Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.
The stitching of Islamic calligraphy in gold threads onto the silk is a skill that has been passed on from generation to generation, said Hussanian al-Sharif, head of the embroidery department who has worked at the factory for 37 years.
"No one outside this factory knows how to do the embroidery that we do, so that's why our old workers have to train the newcomers for a three-month period before they start," he said.
At the haj's end, the Kiswa, produced at a cost of $6 million provided by the Saudi authorities, will be cut into pieces to be distributed to dignitaries and religious organisations. Recipients regard the fragments as heirlooms.
Nearly all of the 210 workers come from the city of Mecca and most of them have worked there all their lives.