Colour print of the Mahmal leaving Egypt for Mecca, second half nineteenth century. Colour print of the Mahmal leaving Egypt for Mecca, second half nineteenth century. © Trustees of the British Museum, London, acc. no. 2012.7020.86.

The mahmal is an embroidered palanquin (a form of travelling tent), specifically associated with the (symbolic) transport of the kiswa, the covering of the Ka`aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. A mahmal in its more general meaning was a covered construction perched on the back of an animal, usually a camel, and used to carry people, especially noble ladies and brides, who required a degree of privacy.

Since the late thirteenth century, ceremonial mahmals were used for the annual Hajj caravans to Mecca. These mahmals, however, were empty and no longer used as a method of transport. Instead, they were a symbol of the authority and the protective role played by the ruler of the Holy Places.

The Hajj mahmal was normally covered in a silk cloth that was embroidered in silver and gold-plated silver wire, with arabesques and scrollwork designs and inscriptions from the Qur`an. In particular, the name and date of the donor who commissioned the mahmal cover were usually embroidered in the front of the mahmal's pyramidically shaped roof. This band normally had Qur`anic verses.

See also: Ka`aba key bag


  • JOMIER, Jacques, ‘Mahmal,’ Encyclopaedia of Islam, VI.44b, Leiden: Brill (digital version).
  • LANE, Edward, 1895. An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, London: John Murray.
  • PETERS, F. E., 1994. The Hajj: the Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • PORTER, Venetia (ed), 2012. Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, London: The British Museum Press, p. 140, fig. 95.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016). 'Snapshot: The Kiswa,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 151-158.

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 26 June 2016).


Last modified on Monday, 03 October 2016 18:35
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