Ka'aba Key Bag

Ka'aba key bag, 1915. Ka'aba key bag, 1915.

The decorated Ka'aba key bag is used to hold the key to the Ka`aba, a sacred Islamic building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. 

The nineteenth century English Arabist, Edward William Lane (1801-1876) who lived in Egypt in the 1830's, gives some details about the key bag used in one particular year. In the following quotation, he describes the procession of the kiswa and other textiles from the (Egyptian) atelier where they were made prior to being moved to Mecca: "Behind … rode a Turkish military officer, holding upon an embroidered kerchief a small case, or bag, of green silk embroidered with gold, the receptacle of the key of the Kaabeh." (Lane 1895:478).

Sir Richard F. Burton, who travelled to Mecca in 1853, also refers to the bag for the key of the Ka`aba: " … Drawing forth from the press the key of the Ka'abah, he partly bared it of its green-silk gold-lettered etui." (Burton 1893, II:210).

In the accompanying footnote, Burton gives more details: "The cover of the key is made, like Abraham's veil, of three colours, red, black or green. It is of silk, embroidered with golden letters." (Burton 1893, II:210, fn. 2).

There are numerous surviving examples of Ka'aba key bags and they all have a verse from the Quranic Surah al-Nisa ('the Women', ch. 3, beginning of verse 58).

See also: mahmal


  • BURTON, Sir Richard, 1893. Travels in Arabia and Africa, London: Tylston and Edwards, 2 volumes.
  • LANE, Edward, 1895. An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, London: John Murray.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 8 July 2016).


Last modified on Friday, 24 February 2017 18:30