Egypt household retains custom alive behind hajj centerpiece

Beneath the regular hum of a ceiling fan, Ahmed Othman weaves golden threads via black material, creating Quranic verses, a century after his grandfather’s work adorned the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. A ceremonial hanging of the kiswa, large items of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the cubic construction that’s the centrepiece of the Grand Mosque symbolizes the launch of the hajj annual pilgrimage, which begins this week.

Othman’s household was once honored with the duty of manufacturing the kiswa. His household’s creations can be dispatched in a camel caravan to Islam’s holiest website in western Saudi Arabia in direction of which Muslims the world over flip to wish. Now, Othman retains the custom alive in a small workshop, tucked above the labyrinthine Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in central Cairo, the place mass-produced souvenirs line the alleys.

An embroiderer sews with gold thread – a verse from the Holy Quran onto a reproduction of the Kiswa, the material used to cowl the Kaaba on the Grand Mosque within the Muslim holy metropolis of Makkah, to be offered as a memento for vacationers visiting the historic district of Al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt’s capital.

The world is traditionally residence to Egypt’s conventional handicrafts, however artisans face rising challenges. Supplies, largely imported, have turn into costly, notably as Egypt faces financial woes and a devalued foreign money. Plummeting buying energy makes prime quality hand-crafted items inaccessible to the typical Egyptian, whereas grasp craftspeople discover it onerous handy down their expertise as younger individuals flip to extra profitable jobs.

This wouldn’t be the case “if there was good cash within the craft”, Othman sighed, hunched over one of many many tapestries that fill his workshop. Sheets of black and brown felt are lined in verses and prayers, delicately embroidered in silver and gold. Each sew echoes the “sacred ritual” Othman’s grandfather was entrusted with in 1924. “For a complete 12 months, 10 craftsmen” would work on the kiswa that covers the Kaaba which pilgrims circumambulate, utilizing silver thread in a prolonged labor of affection.

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman El-Kassabgy sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Quran onto a reproduction drape to be offered as a memento to vacationers.

Sprinkled rosewater

From the thirteenth century, Egyptian artisans made the enormous material in sections, which authorities transported to Mecca with nice ceremony. Celebrations would mark the processions via cities, flanked by guards and clergymen as Egyptians sprinkled rosewater from balconies above.

Photograph reveals a fraction of the Kiswa – the material used to cowl the Kaaba on the Grand Mosque within the Muslim holy metropolis of Makkah.

Othman’s grandfather, Othman Abdelhamid, was the final to oversee a totally Egyptian-made kiswa in 1926. From 1927, manufacturing started to maneuver to Mecca within the nascent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which might totally take over manufacturing of the kiswa in 1962. The household went on to embroider army regalia for Egyptian and overseas dignitaries, together with former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

“Along with our work with army rank embroideries, my father began embroidering Quranic verses on tapestries,” after which reproducing entire sections of the kiswa. Purchasers started flooding in for “actual replicas of the kiswa, right down to the final element”. Although in the present day they provide small tableaus for as little as 100 Egyptian kilos (about $5), huge custom-made orders go for a number of thousand {dollars}, reminiscent of replicas of the Kaaba door, which Othman proudly claims are indistinguishable from the originals in Mecca.


However the household has not been resistant to the financial turbulence that started with the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated small companies and craftsmanship in Egypt. Since early 2020, they’ve offered round “two items per 30 days”, whereas earlier than they might promote at the least one tapestry a day. Othman worries {that a} sense of “worldwide austerity” makes enterprise unlikely to bounce again. At the moment, there would possibly solely be a dozen or so craftsmen whose work he considers genuine, with many artisans leaving the craft for faster money flows.

“They’ll make 200 to 300 kilos a day,” ($10-$16) driving a tuktuk motorized rickshaw, or a minibus, Othman stated. “They’re not going to sit down on a loom breaking their backs all day.” However nonetheless, a century and a half after his nice grandfather left his native Turkey and introduced the craft with him to Egypt, Othman says he has stayed loyal to methods learnt as a toddler when he would duck out of faculty to observe his father work. “It’s on us to uphold the craft the identical means we realized it, so it’s genuine to the legacy we inherited,” he stated. – AFP


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