Tag Archives: islam

Rolling censer

Pierced globe Incense Burner, Mamluk period (1250–1517), late 13th–early 14th century Syria, Damascus. British Museum.

Pierced globe Incense Burner, Mamluk period (1250–1517), late 13th–early 14th century. Syria, Damascus. British Museum.

Zayn al-Din. Incense Burner or Handwarmer. 15th - 16th c. gilded brass with silver inlay. Walters Art Museum.

Zayn al-Din. Incense Burner or Handwarmer. 15th – 16th c. gilded brass with silver inlay. Walters Art Museum.

Knowing my interests, my friend and remarkable scholar, Dr. Stephennie Mulder sent me the image of the gimbaled censer above. The link to the British Museum (which seems to be dead now) stated that the gimbals keep the incense cup from spilling its contents while swinging but this seems overly fussy to me considering the centrifugal forces of swinging itself solve that problem.

Another site suggested that these type of censers were used in games and rolled from one guest to another. I suppose this would work if it were a very low impact game but any amount of velocity or impact and I think the host’s carpet would suffer some damage from errant embers.

The description of “hand warmer” makes a lot more sense to me. In this case the mechanism would function perfectly. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that the Walters object is also gimbaled though it must have some kind of suspension for without it the orb would certainly be too hot handle with bare hands.

All these pragmatic issues aside, both of these objects are virtuosic expressions of master metal smiths and are a delight to they eyes. What a pleasure it would also be to hold one of these in my hands!

The Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi

To conquer the living by exalting the dead, Timur ordered a new shrine to be built atop the old tomb of the old mystic.

Masons, spared death in his campaigns, weave together the squares of earth that begin to spin Subhan Allah, Glorious is God, Subhan Allah, Glorious is God, all the way up to the edge of heaven’s dome and now as the bricks ascend on bent backs they grow lighter and lighter until the faithful below believe they see perfection; only those above know what compromises it takes to achieve the illusion of order; only they, clinging to the dome of heaven can see its faults: the azure tile is poorly centered and the blob of mortar dries out of place.

Death, in its own perfection, will find Timur too and at once they will all disperse leaving the vision perpetually incomplete.

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.  Ourplace.com

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.  Ouroyster.com

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.
Photo by Marysia Maciocha. You can read more on her blog, or connect with her on twitter.

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.  Archnet.org

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.

Quotation: Muhammad (570 – 632)

“The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

(Inspiration for Midterm study this weekend.)

Luxury to penitence

I was quite stuck today in class when I saw the the ivory casket of Abd al-Malik. I was reminded immediately of the Limoges enamel reliquary casket form. Looking into it a little more this evening I found the last image below where an Muslim made casket has had Christian enamel added.

Leyre Casket, Cordoba, c. 1005.

Enamel reliquary, Limoges, 1200-20.

Ivory casket with enamel decoration from Santo Domingo de Silos. Spain. 1026.

Urban planning with fire

In my readings for class this week we came across this awesome (and likely apocryphal) anecdote about the planning of the great walled city of Madinat al-Salam (Baghdad) in 762. I think I’ll use this technique the next time we have a spatially challenged director at work.

“When al-Mansu decided to build it he wanted to behold it with his own eyes, so he ordered that it be delineated with ashes. Then he began to enter from each gate and to walk through its passageways, its arcades, and its courtyards, which were a diagram in ashes… Having done that he ordered that cotton seeds be placed on those lines, and naphtha be poured on them; and he gazed at it as the fire was blazing up, and he comprehended it, and came to know its design; and he commanded that the foundation thereof be excavated according to the design. Then the work on it was begun.”

What Islam says about figurative art and the image of Muhammad

Here is the summary of a great article from ReligionFacts.com. I highly recommend the full article.

  • Judaism, Christianity and Islam all consider idolatry a heinous sin.
  • The Qur’an does not prohibit making images, only worshipping them.
  • Hadith clearly and consistently prohibits all images of any living being, with special mention of punishment for painters.
  • One exception to this rule is dolls for children, probably because children are not considered in danger of worshipping them as idols.
  • Neither the Qur’an nor hadith mention depictions of Muhammad.
  • The hadith prohibiting images are directed at Muslims only (e.g. Muslims are instructed not to enter buildings where there are images, not to demand their removal).
  • Muslim outrage against depictions of the Prophet does not usually extend to outrage against all images.
  • The hadith prohibiting images do not call for Muslims to take action against those who make images, but instead say that God will punish them severely at the Day of Judgment.
  • Muslims have applied the prohibitions against images in various ways throughout history and there is still some variation today.
  • Figurative art of Muhammad and other humans has been a significant part of late medieval Islamic art. But it was generally limited to secular contexts and elite classes who could afford fine art.
  • Shi’ites tend to be more open to religious images than Sunnis.
  • The main reason given for not depicting Muhammad is to avoid the temptation to worship the image.
  • Neither the Qur’an nor hadith say that viewing an image accidentally is a sin, but in the hadith the Prophet teaches Muslims to avoid them.
  • Don’t look now, it’s Muhammad

    The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq. Bukhara, Uzbekistan. 1514. 7.5″ x 5″
    image via Metropolitan Museum of Art