Egypt, circa  879 AD
Portion of a wooden frieze Portion of a wooden frieze
Sycamore or pine wood
11 3/4 x 47 3/4 in
Geneva, Jean-Paul Croisier collection
Nouveau Drouot (1985), lot 158, p. 39
In the 870's, Ahmad Ibn Tulun, the Iraqi governor of Egypt for the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad, began to build the Mosque named after him north of the capital, Fustat. Completed by 879 AD, this Mosque has ever since been considered one of the architectural wonders of the Islamic world. The ceiling, made of sycamore or pine wood, is carved in places with patterns similar to those found at Samarra, Iraq, from where many of the craftsmen appear to have come. These craftsmen were probably also responsible for the carved wooden frieze encircling the interior of the Mosque, just below the roof This exhibit is a rare portion of that frieze, one of only seven known detached fragments. Five are in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo (n°S 622-626) and one in the Louvre, Paris (A.OH.I.10). All inscriptions come from Surah II al-Baqarah, The Cow. This fragment contains part of verse 133:

"Were ye witnesses When Death appeared before Jacob? Behold, he said to his sons: What will ye worship after me ? They said: We shall worship Thy Allah and the Allah of thy fathers Of Abraham, Ismail, and Isaac - The one [True] Allah; To Him we bow [in Islam]."

The inscription is carved in low relief, between narrow borders. In the center of thc piece is a hole for a wooden peg which fixed it to the wall.

The Mosque is built on a site to which many legends are attached: it is believed that Noah's ark had landed here after the flood (the frieze, two kilometers in length, was made from wood taken from the ark). It is supposed to be the place where God had spoken to Moses and Moses had confronted Pharaoh's magicians.



Egypt, probably Cairo, circa  1360 AD
Portion of a wooden frieze Fragment of a taslimanic scroll (whole and detail)
Ink, gouache and gold on paper stuck on cardboard
3 1/2 x 36 1/2 inch
Malaysia, private collection
Certain verses of the Qur'an were regarded by many as being effective protection against calamity. Down to modern times, it has customary to inscribe them on paper on semi-precious stones, and to carry the paper in a small container, or wear the stone as jewelry. A vast folklore has grown up around this subject, which is dismissed by educated Muslim opinion as superstition, and it has barely begun to be examined by Western scholars.

The taslimanic scroll has always been one of the most popular amulets. Selected verses, or sometimes the entire Qur'an, were written - together with magic formulae and diagrams - on pieces of paper up to many feet long. Often the scroll was beautifully illuminated. This is one such example. It is only a small section, but enough to give an idea of the appearance of the original. The two oval cartouches contain familiar verses from the Surah LVI, Al-Waqi'ah, The Event, verses 77 - 79:

"That this is indeed
A Qur'an most honorable
In a Book well-guarded.
Which none shall touch
But those who are clean."

The decorative Kufic script on blue in which these two inscriptions are written is of a type found in Egypt Mamluk manuscripts. The other inscriptions in tiny gold letters comprise the text of Surah CXII, Al-Ikhals, Purity, which maintains the Unity of Allah, but is often mixed up in popular belief with superstitious practices.

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