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Authorities in Saudi Arabia raised the Kiswah Al Kaaba in Makkah on Sunday evening, in preparation for the start of Hajj.
The kiswah, a large, black sheet of silk embroidered with gold patterns, covers the Kaaba (or "cube" in Arabic), the stone structure that forms the centrepiece of the Grand Mosque.
The kiswah was raised by three metres and the bottom section covered with a two-metre-wide white cotton cloth on all four sides, an annual practice to help prevent damage to the Kaaba before the Hajj pilgrimage.
Before the outbreak of the Covid-19, crowds were allowed to touch the kiswah. But since 2020, health and safety protocol has decreed that touch the centrepiece is prohibited.
Hajj will commence on July 7, when the pilgrimage will begin by performing Tawaf — the anti-clockwise circuit of the Kaaba.
Millions of Muslims around the world pray towards the Kaaba every day.
The kiswah is replaced every year during Hajj, after the pilgrims go to Mount Arafat.
At the dawn of the ninth day of Dhu Al Hijjah, the new covering is taken from the factory where it was made to the holy mosque to be hung.
As the new kiswah is attached, the old one is lowered from beneath by loosening the supporting ropes.
When the new kiswah is in place, the individual pieces are sewn together to form a complete encasement.
A new kiswah is prepared every year and involves more than 200 specialist fabric workers. It is created using 47 separate pieces and its outer layer is made from 670kg of silk.
Gold thread adorns the material, spelling out passages from the Quran, as well as phrases such as “no god but Allah", and "glory to God".
This year, after the introduction of mass vaccination, lower numbers Covid-19 cases, and relaxed social distancing and travel laws, authorities are eager to welcome people from abroad to perform Hajj.
Those travelling from overseas are expected to constitute 85 per cent of the total attendance.
Two years ago, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muslims from outside the kingdom were barred from performing Hajj as the country shut its borders in accordance with national health and safety measures.
This year, Saudi Arabia announced that people will no longer be required to wear face masks, as authorities dropped a series of measures designed to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, pilgrims will still have to wear masks when visiting the Holy Mosques.