The holy Kaaba in the middle of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca is covered with a new kiswa each year on the 10th Dhu’l Hijja, coinciding with the Hajj. A tradition dating back to pre-Islamic times, its essential form and function has remained constant, though over the centuries much has changed in its detail and execution. In the time of the Prophet Muhammad and through to early Abbasid times it consisted simply of a plain white cloth. Nasr 'Abbasi (1160-1207) changed this to green and later to black, and from then on the tradition of using a black kiswa became fixed. The embroidered border, now so characteristic of the kiswa, was only introduced in 1340 by the Bahri Mamluk ruler of Cairo, Sultan Hassan.
Throughout the Mamluk period it was made in workshops in Egypt, from whence it was carried on one of the major routes to Mecca. The following year, this cover was taken down, cut into pieces and its epigraphic panels either kept by the Sultan or given as gifts to the elite. After the conquest of Cairo in AH 923/1517 AD, the Ottoman Sultan, as Caliph, had the honour of dressing the Kaaba, and it continued to be made in Egypt up to the early 20th century AD.
The fragments that are cut from the outgoing kiswa, especially the important ones such as the burqa' which covers the portal or the hizam, are kept as prized relics. Since in Ottoman times they were mainly given to Ottoman courtiers or kept in the possession of the Sultan, understandably the Topkapi Sarayi in Istanbul retains the greatest collection of Ottoman-period kiswa fragments.
Our textile is originally from the lower right hand corner of the burqa’, the textile that would have covered the principal face of the Kaaba in Mecca. A complete kiswa which shows where ours would originally have come from is in the Topkapi (Hülya Tezcan and Ahmad Mohammad Issa (ed.), Curtains of the Haramein Sharifein, Istanbul, 1997, no.18, p.66). That example bears a date of AH 1327/1909 AD. Stylistically it is very similar to ours, and it is likely that ours dates to a similar period.