updated 12/27/2006 1:55:48 PM ET 2006-12-27T18:55:48

A few days before the start of the hajj pilgrimage, dozens of workers were putting the finishing touches to an embroidered black cloth that will cover the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam.

Known as the kiswa, the cloth is woven from silk and cotton and adorned with verses from the Koran embroidered in gold.

About 200 people work at a factory in Saudi Arabia making a new one each year to be placed on the Kaaba during the hajj.

The annual five-day ritual, one of the biggest displays of mass religious devotion in the world, begins on Friday.

“When it arrives here it looks like this print and then we stuff it and then we embroider it with gold. It involves four stages,” said Saleh Zakzok, a worker at the factory.

“I thank God that I have been able to work on the covering of the Kaaba.”

A cube-shaped stone structure in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Kaaba is a focal point of the hajj, during which more than 2 million pilgrims walk around it in a mass ritual.

When Muslims anywhere in the world say their prayers five times a day, it is towards Mecca and the Kaaba that they face.

The Kaaba’s black stone was revered even before the birth of Islam in the desert kingdom. Muslims believe it was originally built by the prophet Abraham on the site of the first house of worship built by Adam. It has since been rebuilt more than once.

The kiswa used to be made outside Saudi Arabia and there have been red, green or white coverings in centuries past, but now it is always black with embroidered gold calligraphy.

The silk, enough to cover a structure estimated to measure about 50 feet (15 meters) high and between 35 and 40 feet (10 and 12 meters) long, is imported but the kiswa is embroidered and stitched together in Saudi Arabia and paid for by the kingdom each year.

Adnan Shesha, head of the factory, said about 20 million Saudi riyals ($5.33 million) were spent on making the kiswa each year, including the salaries of the workers.

“I’ve been working here now for five years and the work is going well,” said Hussein Yassin, who was helping sew the cloth.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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