Curtain for the Door of the Ka‘bah

black silk, with coloured silk appliqués, embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire; canvas backing

510 x 234cm

The sitarah (or curtain) for the door of the Ka‘bah – known also as the burdah or the burqu‘ – was by far the most elaborate part of the kiswah and was replaced annually. Since Mamluk times, sitarahs were made in Egypt, and left Cairo with the kiswah accompanied by the caravan of pilgrims amidst great pomp and circumstance.

 Although the basic design of the sitarah changed over the centuries, Qur’anic verses always played a prominent role in its decoration. They were embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire over padding, so they stood in relief. They are arranged in panels, friezes and cartouches and are mostly in thulth script. At the centre is a square panel with the name and titles of Sultan Abdülmejid I, who ordered the sitarah, and the governor of Egypt, who presented it in the year 1272 AH (1855–6 AD).

The inscriptions, starting at the top, consist of: surah al-Ikhlas (CXII); surah al-Naml (XXVII), verse 30 and surah al-Isra’ (XVII), verse 80; the basmalah, in mirror script in four cartouches; surah al-Fath (XLVIII) verse 27 in the wide panel, with the ayat al-Kursi above and below it; surah al-Ikhlas (CXII) in radiating script within two roundels, with the names of God and Muhammad at their centres, flanking the square dedication panel; surah Quraysh (CVI); surah al-Ikhlas (CXII) around the upper part of the door opening, with the shahadah ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Prophet of God’ to either side, follwed by ‘There is no god but God, the King, the Truth, who makes all things manifest’ and ‘Muhammad is the Prophet of God, true to what he promised, worthy of all trust.’ The verses of surah al-Fatihah (I) are in the side borders while the small roundels contain the words ‘God is my Lord’ and ‘God suffices me.’ The lower border of stylised palm trees and vases is characteristic of sitarahs from this period.

J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.404, pp.340–41.