Islam’s most holiest site, the Kaaba at the centre of the Great Mosque in Mecca, was given a new £4.5m silk cover today as part of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
More than 150 artisans and technicians, with the help of two cranes, put the black cloth, known as the Kiswa, over the four sides of the Kaaba.
The cloth is split over five pieces up to almost 50ft in length and is made of high-quality silk and embroidered with gold and silver.
It costs £4.5million to make and is traditionally embroidered and stitched together in Saudi Arabia.
The cloth covers the Kaaba – the most sacred site in the Islam faith and the spot Muslims face when they say their prayers five times a day.
Every year the Kiswa is replaced as part of the five-day pilgrimage which this year has been restricted for just 10,000 people to participate in due to coronavirus.
Stringent protocols were in place today, including the wearing of face masks with the job carried out by staff of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.
Deputy head Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Mansouri said each of the four parts of the Kiswa was separately raised and tied at the top in preparation for stretching the cloth down.
Then, the old cloth was removed from the bottom and the new one remained.
Among the workers, photographers took pictures as the new cloth was unveiled this morning.
The Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God in Islam.
Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its peaceful organisation of hajj.
Over the years, the kingdom has spent billions of dollars on making one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings safe.
This year it has faced the challenge of making hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it and a major source of income for the government, safe from Covid-19.
For the first time in modern history it has dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims to ensure social distancing measures are adhered to.
The hajj minister said in June the number of pilgrims would be limited to around 1,000, but no official number has been given for those performing the rituals this week. Some local media cited a figure of around 10,000.
Saudi healthcare and security professionals, on the frontlines of the battle against the disease, make up about 30 per cent of the total, with the remainder coming from 160 nationalities residing in the Kingdom.
Mask-wearing pilgrims circled the Kaaba in small groups of 50 people yesterday, each keeping a safe distance apart and accompanied by a health professional monitoring their movements.
In past years, a sea of pilgrims dressed in white terrycloth garments would start to gather at Mount Arafat, or hill of mercy as it’s known, before dawn and remain there until nightfall, spending the day in deep contemplation and worship.
It is common to see pilgrims with tears streaming down their faces, their hands raised in worship on the slopes of the rocky hill where the Prophet Muhammad called for equality and unity among Muslims.
This year, the sliver of pilgrims performing the hajj arrived at Mount Arafat before noon by bus today.
They are travelling in small groups of 20, following strict guidelines around social distancing, and have undergone tests for the Covid-19 disease and were in quarantine before the hajj.