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Islamic Piety Images
from the Maghreb to India
Hartford Seminary Library
Islamic Piety Images
from the Maghreb to India
Cover illustration: Indian poster of Mecca and Medina (see p. 23-24).
Copyright © 2016, Yahya Michot.
All rights reserved.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition Islamic Piety Images, from the Maghreb to India,
September 30, 2016-October 12, 2016, organized by the author in the Library of Hartford Seminary.
Revised and enlarged e-version.
Hartford, Mu!arram 1438 / October 2016
“There are many that hate painting; but such men I dislike. It
appears to me as if a painter had quite peculiar means of
recognizing God; for a painter in sketching anything that has life,
and in devising its limbs, one after the other, must come to feel
that he cannot bestow individuality upon his work, and is thus
forced to think of God, the Giver of life, and will thus increase in
Akbar (d. 1014/1605)1
The Scottish Presbyterian Islamicist Duncan Black Macdonald taught at the Hartford Theological Seminary
from 1892 until 1932. In a letter to his student Murray Titus, a missionary newly installed in India, he wrote
on November 18, 1918: “I suggested to you that you should gather for your own guidance all the popular
literature of non-Christianized speakers of Urdu which you could find. I meant by that popular stories,
poems, plays, books and pamphlets on saints, magic, medicine, sexual things generally. Whatever the names,
buy and read [them] for themselves. Much will, without doubt, be most abroad to you and even repellent and
disgusting. That does not matter if it is popular. Books with native illustrations are especially valuable. I
asked you at the same time if you would be so good as to make a similar and parallel collection for me.”2
Ten years earlier, while he was on sabbatical leave in Egypt, D. B. Macdonald had already been interested in
Islamic “native illustrations.” In his Cairo diary, he indeed wrote on Thursday May 28, 1908: “Found a man
selling native coloured lithographs – scenes from romances etc – bought ten for ten piastres. He wanted 20.”3
Some Egyptian “native coloured lithographs” in D. B. Macdonald’s Hartford house (undated photograph) 4
Myself, I started travelling in Muslim countries in 1971. At the time, I did not even know of D. B.
Macdonald, I was not a missionary, and it would take thirty-seven more years before I was appointed at
Harford Seminary as a Muslim professor of Islamic studies. I nevertheless started collecting such “native
illustrations” during my first trips in the D!r al-isl!m and I have not stopped doing so. The incentive for
collecting these illustrations must have been, I assume, the passion for popular arts, Islamic or related to
AB! L-FA"L ‘ALL#M$ (d. 1011/1602), "’#n-i Akbar#, trans. H. BLOCHMANN, vol. I, p. 108.
Hartford Seminary Library, D. B. Macdonald Archives, no 149968.
Hartford Seminary Library, D. B. Macdonald Archives, no 55808, p. 149.
Hartford Seminary Library, D. B. Macdonald Archives, Photos album, no 131; see also p. 41.
Muslims, that also drove me to study the frescoes of the pilgrims’ houses in Egypt1 and, more recently, antiUsama Bin Laden memorabilia in the United States.2
The chromos and posters reproduced in the present booklet were selected from the numerous ones I was
able to acquire over the years. In September-October 2016, they were displayed in an exhibition I organized
in the Hartford Seminary library as one of the events of the hARTsem Days celebrating the arts and
spirituality. The accompanying texts were also written on the occasion of this exhibition. Of the rich universe
of Islamic popular imagery, only six dimensions could then be explored, a number corresponding to that of
the library tables on which the exhibits were spread. Similarly, the number of prints illustrating each of these
dimensions was determined by the size of the tables as well as of the documents. Each section of the present
publication is devoted to one of these dimensions. Beyond God and His Messenger, The Holy Cities, Stories
of the Prophets, The Twelve Im!ms, The Friends of God, and Epic Days, dimensions like The Qur’!n,
Prayer and Piety, or Magic would surely also have deserved to be covered.
A seller of Islamic piety images, Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fna square (Photo: Y. Michot, January 2007)
Discovering the print of Adam and Eve reproduced below3, one of my Muslim students wondered how
such a chromo could possibly have ever been drawn by a follower of the Qur’%n and the Prophet, and what
religious scholars thought of such an image. There is no need to reopen here the question of the lawfulness of
figurative representations of animated beings in Islam, especially of the Prophets. It is the object of a number
of excellent studies.4 Moreover, if ever there was a religious ban, the number of such representations, from
See Y. MICHOT, Frescoes, Fresques, Bedevaart, Sanctuaire.
See Y. MICHOT, Dix ans.
See p. 34.
See for example Th. ARNOLD, Painting, p. 1-40; T. BURCKHARDT, Art, p. 29-32; O. GRABAR, Formation, p. 75-103;
R. IRWIN, Art, p. 79-84.
the Umayyad era until the dawn of modernity, suffices to prove how widely it was disobeyed. More
interesting might be to underline the importance of the social and cultural change that the phenomenon of
modern Islamic piety imagery is a witness of. For centuries, contemplating miniatures remained the privilege
of an elite rich enough to commission or buy them. As for the lower or poorer classes of Muslims, they had
almost no access to painted marvels.1 Things somehow changed with the introduction of the printing press
into Muslim societies, which enabled ordinary people to acquire mass-produced, cheap printed images, and
to display them in their homes or workplaces. There is however a deep discontinuity between the old and the
new imageries as, generally, the craftmen creating the latter were themselves commoners without access to
the treasures of the pre-modern Islamic arts of the book, now kept in official libraries or museums, often in
non-Muslim countries.2 Therefore there is no wonder why these popular artists often drew their inspiration
from sources more easily available to them – in other words, from Western publications or, even, Christian
iconography. Because these artists were debutants, pioneers with no roots in the high culture of illustrated
Islamic manuscripts, a second feature of their art apparent in the prints reproduced in the present booklet also
becomes less surprising: their often naïve, if not primitive, character.
What did the ordinary Muslims purchasing these images find appealing in them? What was their purpose
in bringing them into their homes or workplaces and displaying them there? One is allowed to imagine
various reasons – decorative, educative, recreational, emotional, etc. One should however also think of the
religious power, of the baraka which many of these prints might have been considered to possess in some
degree. The Arabic script being the visual vehicle of the word of God revealed in the Qur’%n, this is obvious
for all the Arabic calligraphies appearing on the prints, and even more so for the name of God – All!h –, for
that of His Messenger – Mu$ammad –, and for every quote from the Holy Book… The caption under the
calligraphic portrait of the Prophet (hilye) reproduced below3 explicitly speaks of its apotropaic essence.
Similarly for chromos with the hand of F%&ima, the evil eye, and other “magical” signs like the one apparent
on the Marrakech photography above,4 next to the big black calligraphy All!h: such images are undoubtedly
recognized to have some capacity to benefit or to protect. As for depictions of the sanctuaries of the holy
cities, of Prophets, Im%ms, Friends of God, historical or legendary heroes, they can also be assumed to
possess for many believers – and not just the illiterate or the poorly educated – some supernatural energy. As
people do not pray to them, it would however be a mistake to liken them to Christian icons. The influence
expected from them is rather of a talismanic type.
The explanations given below about each image and poster are not by an art historian and have more to
do with a phenomenology of religion than with aesthetics. In contradistinction to most Christian sacred
paintings, the message of Islamic piety images is generally made of both their pictorial content and scriptural
quotations. All the main calligraphies and inscriptions have thus been translated, and the Qur’%nic verses and
prophetic traditions referenced. When the subject of these images is not obvious, an effort was made to find
out and expound precisely which story they tell. The size and the nature of the material support of each print
are recorded but not the printing and colouring techniques used to produce them, as I do not have the
expertise needed to identify them. Suffice it here to say that, apart from a few exceptions, these images
belong to a pre-computer era. A few chromos and posters only are dated and signed. Despite being published
in different countries, some of them clearly copy others or constitute variations on a common template.5
From this viewpoint at least the Umma is indeed a geographical reality. As for time, the reprints of images
The situation was somehow different in Sh'‘' communities (Iran, India…) where popular imageries appeared, in
relation to the often dramatic sacred history of the Im%ms, to the national Persian epic of the Sh!hn!meh, or to the
rich Indian pictorial traditions, long before the global spread of the printing press and in less discontinuity from the
classical Islamic arts of the book.
Miniatures from pre-modern manuscripts have been added at the head of each section of the present booklet to
illustrate this discontinuity.
See p. 12.
See p. iv.
Variants of several of the chromos and posters reproduced here can be found in P. CENTLIVRES & M. CENTLIVRESDEMONT, Imageries.
originally created decades earlier seem to indicate its flowing slower in this popular art than, for example, in
The smaller images were scanned and the larger ones photographed with a personal camera, not with
professional equipment; hence the distortion sometimes affecting them, for which I apologize.
A seller of Islamic piety images, Delhi (Photo: Y. Michot, March 2012)
Due to deplorable recent societal developments in a number of Muslim countries, it is to be feared that
the type of popular religious art to which the present booklet is devoted is threatened with extinction, just
like many other masterpieces of Islamic architecture, sculpture, music, and applied arts of a glorious past. In
this dark age, some light is fortunately still shining, as Islamic piety images are now attracting the attention
of afficionados1 and collectors2, academics3 and institutions.4 Beside prints, multiple are the forms taken by
modern Islamic popular imagery: reverse glass paintings, tile panels, coffee-house paintings, photo studio
backdrops, pilgrimage frescoes… and each of them is similarly fascinating. May God, Who is Beautiful and
loves beauty, also protect them for the greatest enjoyment of future generations.
The idea of an exhibition might come from one individual, but its concretization always entails the
support and encouragement of a number of people. I am very thankful to Heather Holda, Executive Assistant
to the President of Hartford Seminary, for welcoming the exhibition Islamic Piety Images, from the Maghreb
See S. STOCCHI, Stampe (with colour reproductions of more than seventy posters).
See for example P. CENTLIVRES & M. CENTLIVRES-DEMONT, Imageries (with colour reproductions of hundred
posters); H. GROS & A. GHOZZI, Livres, p. 78-85, lots 144-163: Imagerie populaire en Islam - Pèlerinage à La
Mecque; CHRISTIE’S, Arts, p. 96, lot 207: Three coloured prints of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
See M. AND, Drama; I. FLASKERUD, Visualizing; C. GRUBER, Logos; M. A. NEWID, Islam.
See notably the Islamic piety images digitized by the University of Chicago Library, Middle Eastern Posters
Collection 1970s-1990s, https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.MEPOSTERS
to India as one of the events of the September 30 - October 1 hARTsem Days. I feel a particular gratefulness
towards our Library Director, Rev. Dr. Steven Blackburn, both for accepting this exhibition to be set in the
library’s main room and for reading and correcting my script. I am also deeply indebted to Awad, Marie,
Mustafa, Usman, and my wife, Louise: in their various capacities, but with the same patience and dedication,
they have each contributed to make this exhibition a success and the present publication a reality.
The Ennobled Mecca (Makkah mukarramah), c. 1900?1
Hand-coloured lithograph on paper, 68.5 cm x 48.7 cm, purchased in Cairo in 1974; the oldest print of my collection.
The angel Gabriel and the Prophet (Tabriz, 714/1314)1
Miniature from the World History (J!mi‘ al-taw!r"kh) of Rash!d al-D!n (d. 718/1318), Edinburgh University Library,
Or. MS 20, folio 45v; see D. TALBOT RICE, Illustrations.
God and His Messenger
Anonymous calligraphy in Maghrib! script. The name of God is accompanied by some Qur’"nic verses – the
basmalah (al-F!ti#ah - 1:1: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”), the verse of the Throne
(al-Baqarah - 2:255), s#rah al-Ikhl!$ - 112 – and various religious sentences, including: “And Mu$ammad is
His servant and His messenger.” The rectangular frame lists the most beautiful Names of God, starting in the
lower right corner with those mentioned in Qur’"n, al-%ashr - 59:23: “All"h is He, besides Whom there is no
other god – the King, the Holy, the Peace…”
Cardboard, 44.2 cm x 32.8 cm
Marrakech, Morocco, c. 2007
2. GOD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL NAMES
The ninety-nine most beautiful Names traditionally given to God are here displayed in the shape of a mosque
with two minarets and a dome adorned with a calligraphy of All!h. They are introduced by the Qur’"nic
verse al-A‘r!f - 7:180: “God’s are the most beautiful Names; so call on Him by them!” Also quoted is a
prophetic tradition reported by al-Tirmidh! (d. 279/893) and Ibn M"ja (d. 273/887) from the Companion Ab#
Hurayra: “God, Mighty and Majestic is He, has ninety-nine Names (hundred excepting one). Verily, God is
Odd [He is one, and it is an odd number] and He loves odd numbers. He who enumerates them will enter the
See AL-BUKH%R&, &a#"#, Da‘w!t, vol. viii, p. 87; MUSLIM, &a#"#, Dhikr, vol. viii, p. 63; IBN M%JA, Sunan, Du‘!,
vol. ii, p. 1269, no 3861; AL-TIRMIDH&, Sunan, Witr, vol. v, p. 191-192, no 3573; trans. ABU KHALIYL, J!mi‘,
vol. vi, p. 220, no 3506.
3. ALL!H, SUBLIME IS HIS MAJESTY - MU"AMMAD, GOD BLESS HIM AND GRANT HIM PEACE
The name of God is linked to the Ka‘bah, the House of God in Mecca’s sanctuary (“Mecca the Revered”),
whereas the name of the Prophet is linked to the mosque of Medina where he is buried (“Medina the
Illuminated”). These views of both Mecca and Medina date back to before the widening of the two holy
mosques by the Saudis. The flowers framing these images illustrate the deep veneration Muslims have for
the two sanctuaries. The Nilotic landscape used as background confirms the Egyptian origin of both posters,
despite their being printed in Syria.
Cardboard, 50 cm x 33.9 cm
Aleppo, Maktabat al-Ma‘"rif, c. 1970
4. MU"AMMAD, THE MESSENGER OF GOD&
Calligraphy signed Rif‘at and dated 1389[/1969].
Paper, 40.1 cm x 30.2 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Jand!, c. 1975
5. HILYE-I SAÂDET&
For centuries, calligraphies of the physical description of the Prophet, as reported in Arabic by some of his
Companions, have been more common in Muslim societies, especially Turkey, than pictorial representations
of him. They are called hilye (ar. : #ilya, “ornament”).1
This hilye presents a famous text going back to ‘Al!, the cousin, son in law, and fourth successor of
Mu$ammad, as transmitted by al-Tirmidh! (d. 279/893): “When ‘Al!, may God Most High be pleased with
him, described the Prophet, God bless him and grant him peace, he would say: ‘He was not extremely tall,
nor was he extremely short, and he was of medium height in relation to the people. The wave of his hair was
not completely curly, nor straight, but it was in between. He did not have a large head, nor a small head, his
face was round and a blended-white color, his eyes were dark black, his eye-lashes were long. He was bigboned and broad shouldered, his body hair was well-placed, and he had a Masrubah,2 his hands and feet
were thick. When he walked he walked briskly, he leaned forward as if he was walking on a decline. And if
he turned his head, his body turned as well, between his two shoulders was the seal of Prophethood, and he
was the seal of the Prophets. He was the most generous of people [in hand, and the most big-hearted of them]
in breast. He was the most truthful of people in speech, the softest of them in nature, and the most noble of
them in his relations. Whoever saw him for the first time would fear him, and whoever got to know him,
loved him. The one who tried to describe him would have to say: ‘I have not seen before him or after him
anyone who resembles him.’”3
‘Al!’s description of Mu$ammad is followed by this saying attributed to the Prophet: “He who sees my
#ilya after me, it is as if he had seen me. He who sees it while desiring me, God forbids the Fire from
[burning] him, safeguards him from the trial of the grave, and he will not be resurrected naked on the Day of
resurrection and decision.”4 Then comes the conclusion: “My God, bless, and grant peace to, the Prophet of
mercy and intercessor of the community, Mu$ammad, his family and his Companions, all together! Copied
by Y#suf of Erzincan from Mu$ammad Shawq!, may God forgive both of them and whoever examines it.
This hilye follows a standard layout which includes the basmalah, the names of the four rightly-guided
caliphs, and the verse al-Anbiy!’ - 21:107: “[O Mu$ammad!] We have only sent you as a mercy for the
worlds.” The small circular calligraphy at the centre of the main circle contains the words All!h,
Mu#ammad, and the Qur’"nic verse al-A#z!b - 33:56: “Verily, God and His angels shower blessings on the
Prophet. O you who believe, bless him and grant him peace abundantly.”
The two lines in Turkish at the bottom of the hilye point to its function as an amulet or talisman: “No
accident, nor catastrophe, nor calamity, will hit anyone in whose house or workplace this invocation (dua;
Ar. du‘!) is found.” A number of other Islamic piety images can be considered to have a similar apotropaic
Cardboard, 69.2 cm x 49.1 cm
Bought in Istanbul, c. 2010
See M. ZAKARIYA, Hilye.
“Al-Masrubah is the faint hair which appears as a line from the chest to the navel” (AL-TIRMIDH&, Sunan, Man!qib,
vol. v, p. 261, no 3718; trans. ABU KHALIYL, J!mi‘, vol. vi, p. 334, no 3638).
See AL-TIRMIDH&, Sunan, Man!qib, vol. v, p. 260, no 3718; trans. ABU KHALIYL, J!mi‘, vol. vi, p. 332-333, no 3638.
This saying is not found in any of the six canonical collections of Sunn! #ad"th.
6. THE “YEAR OF THE ELEPHANT” - THE ENNOBLED KA‘BAH
The birth of the Prophet is usually dated of 570 CE, the “Year of the Elephant,” when the Abyssinian army
of Abrahah, with its war elephants, attacked Mecca but was eventually defeated by the miraculous intervention of unidentified “flying creatures.”
The Qur’"nic s#rah al-F"l - 105 alluding to the event is inscribed on the belt of the Ka‘bah’s drape
(kiswah): “Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the masters of the Elephant? Did He not bring their
stratagem to naught, and send against them swarms of flying creatures, which pelted them with stones of
baked clay, and made them like green crops devoured (by cattle)?”
Paper, 24.1 cm x 17.5 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man"r, c. 1975
7. MU!AMMAD’S MIGRATION (HIJRAH) FROM MECCA TO MEDINA
Despite its small size, this image is very rich in content, both pictorial and calligraphic. One of course
recognizes the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, the first depicted under the Qur’"nic verse 'l
‘Imr!n - 3:97: “Pilgrimage to the House is a duty to God for mankind – for all who are able to make the
journey;” the second under the verse al-Anbiy!’ - 21:107: “[O Mu$ammad!] We have only sent you as a
mercy for the worlds.” The drawing in the centre evokes a well-known moment of the Prophet’s migration to
Medina in 622. Pursued by Mecca’s pagans, Mu$ammad found refuge with his companion Ab# Bakr in the
cave of Thawr, behind the web a spider spread across its mouth just after they had entered it. The event is
recorded in the Qur’"nic verse al-Tawba - 9:40 of which two passages are inscribed above this drawing and
in its upper part: “If you do not help him [i.e. the Prophet], God did help him […] When the two were in the
cave, he said to his companion: ‘Do not be sad, for God is with us.’”
Also calligraphed on this chromo are the verse al-Anf!l - 8:30: “And when those who disbelieve plot
against you [O Mu$ammad] to wound you fatally, or to kill you, or to drive you out; they plot, but God
[also] plots; and God is the best of plotters,” and the prophetic tradition: “Do not saddle up your riding
beasts, except to three mosques: the Inviolable Mosque [in Mecca], al-Aq(" Mosque [in Jerusalem], and this
my mosque [in Medina].”1
The twenty small cartouches forming the frame of the chromo offer sketches of “the Islamic holy sites”
both in Mecca and Medina, many of which are connected to rituals of the annual pilgrimage (#ajj). Starting
from the upper right corner, clockwise, they are the Black Stone, the Gate of Peace, al-)af" and al-Marwa,
Mount U$ud, the Mountain of Light, the Cave on the Mountain of Light, al-Ma‘l" Cemetery, the Burial
Enclave of the Prophet, the Shrine of our Master *amzah, the Qub"’ Mosque, al-Raw(at al-Shar"fah (the
space in the Mosque of Medina between the tomb of the Prophet and his pulpit), the Colonnade of al-Aq("
Mosque in Jerusalem, the Nimrah Mosque in ‘Araf"t, the Zamzam Well, the Mosque of the Two Qiblahs, alBaq!‘ Cemetery, the Extension to the Prophet’s Mosque, Jamarat al-‘Aqabah (the Satanic pillars stoned
during the pilgrimage), al-Tan‘!m Mosque outside Mecca, al-Khayf Mosque in Min", al-Mash‘ar al-%ar!m
in Muzdalifah, the Mount of Mercy in ‘Araf"t."
The yellow circles contain the basmalah, the names of God and the Prophet, and those of his four caliphs:
Ab) Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthm!n, and ‘Al".
Paper, 32.1 cm x 24 cm
Aleppo, Maktabat al-Ma‘"rif, dated 1382/1963
See AL-BUKH%R&, &a#"#, &awm, vol. 3, p. 43; MUSLIM, &a#"#, %ajj, vol. 4, p. 102; IBN *ANBAL, Musnad, vol. 6, p. 7.
See also M. J. KISTER, You shall; N. H. OLESEN, Étude, p. 40, 72, 180.
8. MU!AMMAD AT 18
In a two line caption in Persian, this “blessed” portrait of the young Mu$ammad floating in inter-stellar space
is said to have been painted by “a Christian monk while, at the age 18, he was travelling with his paternal
uncle from Mecca to Syria for commercial purposes, and its original is in the museum of Rome,” i.e. the
Vatican. It circulates in Iran in several variations on posters and, even, on carpets. The calligraphy above the
portrait reads: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. There is no god but God, Mu$ammad
is the Messenger of God.”
The real source of this poster is a black and white orientalist picture of a Tunisian youth by the famous
Lehnert & Landrock photographers established in Cairo at the beginning of the 20th century.1
Cardboard, 35.1 cm x 24.9 cm
Tehran, c. 1990
Iranian carpet with the “Lehnert & Landrock” portrait
of the Prophet at 18, Tehran, Carpet Museum (Photo:
Y. Michot, 2008)
Lehnert & Landrock, portrait of a young man, c. 19051906 (Modern reprint, Cairo, Lehnert & Landrock
See P. CENTLIVRES & M. CENTLIVRES-DEMONT, Rencontre, Story; J. W. ALLAN, Art, p. 116-117.
9 & 10. THE NOBLE, PROPHETIC AL-BUR!Q - THE PROPHET’S BUR!Q
Al-Bur"q is the fabulous mount – a winged steed with a human female face – traditionally reported to have
transported the Prophet during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension therefrom to
the highest heaven.1
This small image is a Tunisian copy of one originally published in Cairo. The Qur’"nic verse al-Isr!’ 17:1 alluding to the Night Journey of the Prophet is inscribed on the saddle: “Glorified be He Who carried
His servant by night from the Inviolable Mosque to the Farthest Mosque.”
Paper, 31.7 cm x 24 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man"r, c. 1975
The second image comes from India. In the two yellow cartouches, one reads the invocations Y! Kar"m
[“O Generous”] and Y! ra#"m [“O Merciful”]. The two Urdu verses in the upper right corner say:
“Glad tidings to you, [on the occasion of] the ascension of the Beloved of God.
The world has become illuminated; welcome, religion of A$mad!”2
Paper, 78.5 cm x 55.1 cm
Bought in Delhi, 2012
See Th. ARNOLD, Painting, p. 117-122.
I am grateful to Usman Khan for translating these two verses.
11. BLESSED IMAGE OF HIS EXCELLENCE THE NOBLEST MESSENGER, MU"AMMAD, SON OF ‘ABD
ALL!H, GOD PRAY OVER HIM AND HIS FAMILY AND GRANT THEM PEACE
The Prophet is depicted holding the “Sublime Qur’"n” in his left arm and raising his right index to bear
witness to the oneness of God. The middle of the image shows the mosque of Medina in its late Ottoman
aspect, with its Maml#k minaret and the green dome (al-qubbat al-kha(r!’) under which the Prophet is
buried. The six green medallions on the facade of the prayer hall are inscribed with the words All!h,
Mu#ammad, ‘Al", F!*imah, %asan, %usayn. The right side of the image shows the Prophet standing in front
of the *ir"’ cave of Mecca’s Mountain of Light (jabal al-n)r), where he received his first revelations. Rays
of light emanating from heaven bathe the whole picture.1
The verses of s#rah al-‘Alaq - 96:1-4, the very beginning of the Qur’"nic revelation, appear in small fonts
under the image, in the right corner: “Read: ‘In the name of your Lord Who created, created man from a
clot.’ Read: ‘And your Lord is the Most Bounteous, who teaches by the pen.’”
This poster is signed Mu#ammad Tajw"d" and dated 1396[/1976].
Paper, 49.7 cm x 34.9 cm
Tehran, Intish"r"t-e Mu(awwar-e Isl"m!, 1976
12. THE CENOTAPH OF THE PROPHET IN MEDINA
The cenotaph is given a 19th century Ottoman aspect. It is identified in an inscription as “The grave of the
Messenger of God, Mu$ammad, God bless him and grant him peace.” On its left is the cenotaph of the first
two successors of the Prophet, the caliphs Ab# Bakr and ‘Umar, “The two comrades (raf"q) of the
Messenger of God.” The inscription in flowered Kufic script is Qur’"n, al-A#z!b - 33:45: “O Prophet! We
have sent you as a witness, a bearer of glad tidings, and a warner.”
Paper, 57 cm x 40.5 cm
Cairo, Ma'ba‘at al-Fun#n al-Jam!lah, c. 1950?
On representations of the Prophet in Islamic societies, see C. GRUBER, Logos, Ban; F. BŒSPFLUG, Prophète.
The Meccan Sanctuary (al-!aram al-makk")
Miniature from an undated Maghribi copy of the Dal#’il al-khayr#t of Mu!ammad al-J"z#l$ (d. 869/1465?), Rabat, alHassania Royal Library, MS 2570; see M. SIJELMASSI, Enluminures, p. 88-93.
The Holy Cities
1. MECCA AND MEDINA
The two holiest cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, are often symbolized by the Ka‘bah and the green dome
under which the Prophet is buried in Medina’s mosque. These two buildings somehow incarnate the two
parts of the Islamic credo: “There is no god but God, Mu!ammad is the Messenger of God.”
It is the case on this Indian poster, where the credo is calligraphed in large red letters above the two
edifices. The number 786 under the crescent and star is the sum total of the numerical values of the Arabic
letters composing the basmalah, which it stands for. The two yellow circular medallions in the top corners
contain the names of God and of the Prophet, with eulogies: “All"h, Sublime is His Majesty” and
“Mu!ammad, God bless him and grant him peace.”
The girl with her hands raised for invocation, the boy reading the Qur’"n, the two lit candles, the roses,
the flowers and the stars on the black background all contribute to the serenity, peace and magic of the
devotion illustrated in this colourful poster. The verse al-M#’idah - 5:90 inscribed on the two open pages of
the Qur’"n adds a very practical message to the whole composition: “O you who believe, wine, gambling,
[occult dedication of] stones, and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave them
aside in order that you may succeed.”
Paper, 78 cm x 54.5 cm
Bought in Delhi, 2012
Mecca’s sanctuary (!aram) has gone through a series of architectural metamorphoses since the time of
Abraham and Ishmael. Seven phases of this long but unfinished history are depicted on this Turkish poster,
published before the start of the grandiose expansion works currently taking place. The map shows the
centrality of the Ka‘bah, towards which Muslims, worldwide, turn to do their prayers.
The names of God and of the Prophet, with eulogies, appear in yellow in the top corners: “All"h, Sublime
is His Majesty” (a calligraphy signed $#mid" and dated 1393[/1973]); “Mu!ammad, God bless him and
grant him peace.” The unbroken Arabic basmalah at the centre of the poster is one of the most famous
masterpiece of the Ottoman calligrapher A!mad Shams al-D$n Qar"hi%"r$ (d. 974/1566).
Cardboard, 70 cm x 50.2 cm
Istanbul, c. 1975
3. THE MECCAN SANCTUARY (AL-!ARAM AL-MAKK")
This Palestinian poster shows the inside of Mecca’s Great Mosque as it looked at the beginning of the 20th
century, before the Saudi takeover of the Hedjaz and the re-organization of Islam’s holiest sanctuary. Visible
and clearly identified by inscriptions are a number of edicules that no longer exist or have changed in aspect:
the oratories of the four schools of jurisprudence (&anaf$, Sh"fi‘$, &anbal$, M"lik$), the Zamzam Well, the
pulpit, Abraham’s Station, the posts and hanging lamps surrounding the circumambulatory area… Other
details of the drawing are also identified: the gutter and the door of the Ka‘bah, its half-circular extension
called $ijr Ism#‘"l… The purpose of the poster is obviously educative.
The Ka‘bah is both the pole of Muslims’ prayer and the axis of their circumambulations during the
greater and the lesser pilgrimages. Various other rituals of the !ajj are alluded to by depictions of their sites,
and explained by captions, in the lower register of the poster: entering the state of sacralisation (i!r#m) at the
right place (here on a ship named Kawthar, before arriving in Jidda), running seven times between the two
small hills of al-'af" and al-Marwa, standing on the Mount of Mercy in ‘Araf"t or staying in tents on its
plain, residing at Min", stoning the pillars associated with the devil, cutting or shortening one’s hair.#
The calligraphies above the Ka‘bah are the basmalah and the Qur’"nic verses %l ‘Imr#n - 3:96-97: “The
first House to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for the worlds. In it are
manifest signs – Abraham’s Station – and whoever enters it shall be secure.” The calligraphy on the
Ka‘bah’s embroidered band is al-M#’idah - 5:97: “God has made the Ka‘bah, the Inviolable House, a [means
of] sustentation for mankind, and [also] the inviolable month, the offering and the garlands, so that you may
know.” The calligraphies in the middle of the inferior register of the poster include the verse al-Anbiy#’ 21:107: “[O Mu!ammad!] We have only sent you as a mercy for the worlds,” and the last sentences of the
!ilya describing the Prophet, starting with “seal of Prophethood…”1 This last calligraphy is signed by al-$#jj
Mu!ammad Am"n Khayy#&ah, the whole poster by $aydar Mushtah#.
Cardboard, 70 cm x 50 cm
Nablus, Ma(ba‘at al-Na%r al-Tij"riyya - Gaza, &aydar Mushtah", c. 1980
Muslims going to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage (!ajj) or for an ‘umra traditionally also go to Medina to
visit the mosque and the grave of the Prophet. Before the Saudi authorities, during the 20th century,
expanded it to accommodate the huge number of its visitors, Medina’s mosque had a hybrid look, both
Maml#k (the green dome and the minaret close to it) and late Ottoman. The present chromo offers a preSaudi view of the courtyard and roof of the prophetic sanctuary (al-$aram al-nabaw") but adds to its
architectural hybridity by replacing the Maml#k minaret by an Indian looking one.
The calligraphy reads: “The blessed garden (raw'a) of the Leader of beings (sarwar-e k#’in#t), God bless
him and grant him peace. Medina the Illuminated” The small calligraphy on the central panel topping the
courtyard facade is the three-part Sh$‘$ credo: “There is no god but God, Mu!ammad is the Messenger of
God, ‘Al$ is the Friend of God.” It does not correspond to the real inscription and betrays the Sh$‘$ origin of
The provenance of this poster is unknown (Indian?).
Paper, 49.9 cm x 35.1 cm
Bought at the flea market, Brussels, c. 1990
See above, p. 11-12.
5. MECCA, MEDINA, JERUSALEM
The three holy cities of Islam are represented on this poster by contemporary views of the Ka‘bah, of the
grave of the Prophet under its green dome, and of the Dome of the Rock. The centrality of the image of
Medina is a good sign of the veneration Muslims have for the Prophet.
The names of God and of the Prophet, with eulogies, appear in white in the two black medallions: “All"h,
Sublime is His Majesty;” “Mu!ammad, upon him be peace.” The other calligraphies are quotes from the
Qur’"n and prophetic traditions: the basmalah, %l ‘Imr#n - 3:97: “Pilgrimage to the House is a duty to God
for mankind – for all who are able to make the journey;” %l ‘Imr#n - 3:96: “The first House to be set up for
mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for the worlds” (on the embroidered band of the
Ka‘bah); al-Isr#’ - 17:1: “Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Mosque to
the Farthest Mosque” (on the tambour of the Dome of the Rock); “Do not saddle up your riding beasts,
except to three mosques: the Inviolable Mosque [in Mecca], this my mosque [in Medina], and al-Aq%"
Mosque [in Jerusalem];”1 “The [space] between my grave and my pulpit is one of the gardens of Paradise.”2
Cardboard, 40 cm x 30 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Jand$, c. 1975
6. JERUSALEM - BAYT AL-MAQDIS
In Arabic, the Temple Mount, Bayt al-Maqdis or al-$aram al-Shar"f, is often called Th#lith al-$aramayn,
i.e. something like “the third of the two holy cities,” an expression impossible to render properly into English
due to the lack of a dual number in the latter but which confirms the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims.
This poster offers an almost totally imaginary aerial view of Jerusalem, centered on the octogonal Dome
of the Rock (Qubbat al-(akhra), without the al-Aq%" Mosque but with four minarets somehow reminiscent
of New Delhi’s Qu(b Min"r. Inscriptions identify the two mountains of the background: on the left, Mount
Sinai; on the right, “the Mount of her Excellency R"bi‘ah Ba%r$,” i.e. the Mount of Olives where the famous
female mystic of Basra (d. 185/801) is sometimes said to have spent the last years of her life.
Inscriptions also identify the two smaller domed edicules – on the right, “the Dome of his Excellency
Moses;” on the left, “the Dome of his Excellency David” – and the “scale,” the “scissors,” the “suspended
stone,” the “well of the spirits,” “Gehenna,” and the “Garden” crudely drawn in the foreground. These items
have to do with the role of Jerusalem in various Islamic eschatological narratives. The paradox is that some
of them, for example the “suspended stone” and the “well of the spirits,” are traditionally supposed to be
inside the Dome of the Rock, not outside of it.
The provenance of this poster is unknown (India?).
Cardboard, 34.6 cm x 24.6 cm
Bought at the flea market, Brussels, c. 1985
See above, p. 13, n. 1.
See IBN &ANBAL, Musnad, vol. 2, p. 534.
Abraham destroying idols (707/1307)
Miniature from the Chronology of Ancient Nations (al-!th"r al-b"qiyah ‘an al-qur#n al-kh"liyah) of al-B!r"n!
(d. 440/1048?), Edinburgh University Library, Or. MS 161, folio 88v; see P. SOUCEK, Manuscript.
Stories of the Prophets
1. THE GENEALOGICAL TREE OF THE PROPHETS, GOD’S BLESSINGS BE UPON THEM
Islam is both monotheism and faith in prophethood, from Adam, “the father of mankind,” to Mu#ammad.
Indeed, as proclaimed by the Qur’$nic verse al-$ajj - 22:75 quoted in the green circle on the upper left
corner of the poster, “God elects from the angels messengers, and from mankind.”
Another quote from the Qur’$n, %"H" - 20:55, describes the earth in which this tree is planted: “From it
did We create you, to it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.” Attached in
yellow leaves to the lower part of the tree are the names of the Prophets of the Islamic tradition, Biblical and
others (%$li#, Shu‘ayb…), until Jesus. In the yellow leaves of its upper part are the names of Mu#ammad and
the four rightly guided caliphs: Ab" Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthm$n, and ‘Al!. The inscription in the yellow crescent
above the tree reads: “God, Sublime is His Majesty, is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”
Several Qur’$nic verses also appear on the sides and bottom of the niche framing the tree. They are, from
the right, clockwise, al-An‘"m - 6:84-86: “And we bestowed upon him Isaac and Jacob; each of them We
guided; and Noah did We guide aforetime; and of his seed [We guided] David and Solomon and Job and
Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus do We reward the good. And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias.
Each one was of the righteous. And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot. Each one of them did We prefer
above the worlds.” Al-A&z"b - 33:56: “Verily, God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O you
who believe, bless him and grant him peace abundantly.” Al-A&z"b - 33:45-46: “O Prophet! We have sent
you as a witness, a bearer of glad tidings, and a warner; and as a summoner to God by His permission, and as
a lamp that gives light.” Al-A&z"b - 33:40: “Mu#ammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is
the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets.” Al-Nis"’ - 4:1: “O mankind! Fear your Lord, Who
created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate and from the two of them spread abroad many
men and women. Fear God in Whom you claim your mutual [rights], and toward the wombs [that bore you].
God is ever watching over you.”
This poster is signed Yusr' Farr"n.
Paper, 70.1 cm x 49.9 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Na&r, 1403[/1983]
2. ADAM AND EVE
In various chapters, the Qur’$n offers a narrative of the temptation and fall of Adam somehow similar to the
Bible, for example in s"rah %"H" - 20:121: “Then they twain ate thereof, so that their shame became
apparent unto them, and they began to hide by heaping on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And
Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray.”
There is however no snake in the Qur’$nic story, and Eve has no role in tempting Adam. Moreover, God
eventually forgave Adam, elected him and guided him. The first man thus became the first Prophet.
This print showing the snake turning towards Eve and Eve presenting an apple to Adam is obviously
copying some Christian image.
Paper, 32 cm x 24 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man$r, c. 1975
3 & 4. NOAH’S ARK, PEACE BE UPON HIM
These two images are variations on the self-same model. The larger (and older) one comes from Cairo, the
small one from Tunis. The inscription on the flag of the Cairo image reads: “There is no god but God.” It is
absent on the Tunis image but the latter is set within a frame comprising calligraphic cartouches with the
verses from the s"rah H#d - 11:41-43 relating to the Flood: “And he said: ‘Embark therein! In the name of
God be its course and its mooring. Lo! my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.’ And it sailed with them amid waves
like mountains, and Noah cried unto his son – and he was standing aloof: ‘O my son! Come ride with us, and
be not with the disbelievers.’ He said: ‘I shall betake me to some mountain that will save me from the water.’
(Noah) said: ‘This day there is none that is saved from the commandment of God except him on whom He
has had mercy.’ And the wave came in between them, so he was among the drowned.”
Notice the technological improvement on the Tunisian ark: it has a rudder.
Paper, 57 cm x 41.5 cm
Cairo, Ma'ba‘at al-Fun"n al-Jam!lah, c. 1950?
Paper, 32.1 cm x 23.9 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man$r, c. 1975
######Cardboard, 14.7 cm x 9.8 cm
6 & 7. ABRAHAM SACRIFICING ISHMAEL
According to the Qur’$n, al-("ff"t - 37:102-105, when Abraham was led by a dream to sacrifice his son
Ishmael, he said to him: “‘O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so look, what
think you?’ He said: ‘O my father! Do that which you are commanded. God willing, you shall find me of the
steadfast.’ Then, when they had both submitted [to God], and he had flung him down upon his face, We
called unto him: ‘O Abraham! You have already fulfilled the vision.’”
It is these Qur’$nic verses that are calligraphed in the black cartouches forming the frame of these two
images of Abraham’s sacrifice. As for the end of the story – an angel substituting a sheep for Ishmael – it is
the moment which they both depict. These two drawings are obviously based on the self-same model. The
Christmas-type winged figurines pasted in the four corners and the female childish head superimposed on the
face of the central angel give the lower chromo a weird, hybrid, aspect. Moreover, despite the multitude of
stars shining in the sky, the scene is as fully visible as if it was taking place at midday!
Paper, 24.7 cm x 16.1 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man$r, c. 1975
Cardboard, 34.8 cm x 24.7 cm
Aleppo, Maktabat al-Ma‘$rif, c. 1975?
8. ABRAHAM SACRIFICING ISHMAEL
The angel intervening on this Iranian poster is probably copied on some Christian model. The dark clouds,
the ropes binding Ishmael, and the curved blade of Abraham’s knife all contribute to give the painting a
dramatic aspect absent from the chromos 6 and 7. No Qur’$nic verse appears on this poster, only a caption in
Persian explaining the scene.
This poster is signed Mu&ammad Tajw'd' and dated 20/11/1358, i.e. 20/11/1980.
Cardboard, 50 cm x 34.3 cm
Bought in Tehran, c. 1990
9. THE SHE-CAMEL OF PROPHET !"LI#
The Qur’$n recounts the story of the non-biblical Prophet %$li# and his she-camel in various s"rahs.
According to one of the shortest narratives (al-Shams - 91:11-14), %$li# told the people of Tham"d “‘Let
God’s she-camel drink!’ But they impugned him and then hamstrung her, so their Lord took them unawares
by night because of their sin, and levelled their city.”
The calligraphy on the saddle reads M" sh"’a Ll"h!, “What God has wanted!” This expression is used to
express appreciation and gratitude for God’s creations. The caption of the poster says: “This is a picture of
the she-camel of God’s Prophet %$lih, peace be upon him.”
This image is a Tunisian copy of one originally published in Cairo. The royal Egyptian flags (three stars
in a crescent) confirm the Egyptian origin of this popular piety poster.
Duncan Black Macdonald had a number of Egyptian popular posters, including a similar image of the
she-camel of Prophet %$lih, displayed on the walls of his study. D. B. Macdonald most probably acquired
them in 1908 during his sabbatical leave in Egypt.
Paper, 31.3 cm x 23.5 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man$r, c. 1975
D. B. Macdonald’s Egyptian “native coloured lithographs” in his Hartford house (undated photograph)2
Hartford Seminary Library, D. B. Macdonald Archives, Photos album, no 130.
10. JOSEPH, PEACE BE UPON HIM, AND ZULAYKH!
The s"rah Y#suf - 12 of the Qur’$n is named after Joseph and narrates his eventful life, including how, as a
handsome young man, he resisted the seductive advances of the wife of ‘Az'z Mi)r, “The mighty ruler of
Egypt,” traditionally called Zulaykh". This print shows the very moment told about in the verse 12:25: “And
they raced with one another to the door, and she tore his shirt from behind, and they met her lord and master
at the door. She said: ‘What shall be his reward, who wished evil to your folk, save prison or a painful
The baby in the cot, called al-Sh"hid on the print, is the “witness” mentioned in the verse 12:26:
“(Joseph) said: ‘She it was who asked of me an evil act.’ And a witness (sh"hid) of her own folk testified: ‘If
his shirt is torn from before, then she speaks truth and he is of the liars.’”
As is the case with Eve in the Adam & Eve print,3 the artist has no problem with showing the half-naked
bosom of Zulaykh$.#
Paper, 35.4 cm x 25.4 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Jand!, signed Mid&at, c. 1975
11. JOSEPH RESISTING ZULAYKH"
Turkish postcard signed Mehmet Necati. The Qur’$nic verses quoted are from s"rah Y#suf - 12:23: “And she,
in whose house he was, asked of him an evil act. She bolted the doors and said: ‘Come!’ He said: ‘I seek
refuge in God! Lo! he is my lord, who has treated me honourably. Lo! wrong-doers never prosper.’”
Cardboard, 15.3 cm x 10.3 cm
Istanbul, Yurt Kartpostalları, c. 1980
See p. 34.
12. THE PROPHET OF GOD, SOLOMON, AND HIS ARMIES
According to the Qur’$n, al-Naml - 27:17, the armies of Israel’s king and Prophet, Solomon, were composed
of “the jinn and humankind, and of the birds.” Even “demons” were made subservient unto him (("d 38:37).
Solomon’s armies are here shown ruling over the whole animal realm. The bird holding a letter in its beak
is the hoopoe presented in the Qur’$n (al-Naml - 27:20-28) as his courier to the Queen of Sheba.
Paper, 57 cm x 40.8 cm
Cairo, Ma'ba‘at al-Fun"n al-Jam!lah, c. 1950?
13. OUR MASTER SOLOMON, UPON HIM BE PEACE
On this second poster, Solomon is also surrounded by his armies of animals, humans, and jinn. His seal (a
six-pointed star) is visible on a shield and above his throne. Other shields, a standard, and his own crown
bear the inscription All"hu akbar, “God is Greater!”
The poster depicts the very moment when the hoopoe, holding a message in its beak, arrives back from
Sheba. The Qur’$nic verse al-Naml - 27:22 calligraphed above the bird also refers to that instant: “And I
have come unto you from Sheba with sure tidings.” As for the scene appearing in the small circle behind the
hoopoe, it illustrates the content of the bird’s report to Solomon, as expressed in the Qur’$nic verse al-Naml 27:24: “I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of God.”
Paper, 35.1 cm x 24.8 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Jand!, c. 1975
14. MARY AND JESUS
The virgin Mary and her son are often mentioned in the Qur’$n. Jesus is venerated as a Prophet and s"rah
Maryam - 19 is named after his mother. This icon-like image comes from an Egyptian Muslim printing
Paper, 50 cm x 34.8 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Jand!, c. 1975
Im!ms Mu"ammad B!qir (V) and Ja‘far #!diq (VI) (993/1583)1
Detail of a miniature from The Cream of Histories (Zübdetü l-tev!r"kh) of Sayyid Luqm!n ‘$sh%r& (d. after 1009/
1601), Istanbul, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, MS 1973, folio 49r; see B. BIROL, Ehl-I Beyt, p. 126, 130, 187.
The Twelve Im!ms
1. THE LIGHTS OF THE GENEALOGICAL TREE OF OUR MASTER MU!AMMAD, THE MESSENGER OF GOD,
GOD BLESS HIM AND GRANT HIM PEACE, AND OF THE PEOPLE OF HIS HOUSEHOLD!
This genealogical tree includes both the ancestors and descendants of the Prophet, whose name appears in
the yellow circle of the middle of the upper part of the poster. On the right side of the poster, the brown
leaves and hearts trace back his forefathers as far as Ishmael and Abraham (in the lower right corner). The
twelve Sh&‘& Im!ms, from ‘Al& to Mu"ammad al-Mahd&, are numbered (excepting ‘Al&) and their name is
preceded by a little red crescent.
The Qur’!nic verse in the middle top of the poster is al-A#z!b - 33:56: “Verily, God and His angels
shower blessings on the Prophet. O you who believe, bless him and grant him peace abundantly.” The verse
33 of the same s%rah appears on the left side of the poster, under the yellow circle containing its title: “God
only wishes to remove uncleanness far from you, O people of the Household, and to cleanse you with a
thorough cleansing.” It is accompanied by the invocation “God’s mercy and His barakas be upon you, O
people of the Household. He is Praiseworthy, Glorious.”
A notice at the bottom of the poster explains that the thick red outline of some of the hearts identify the
members of the Household of the Prophet buried in Egypt. The place where they are buried is specified in
little inscriptions in black ink next to these hearts. Veneration for the people of the Prophet’s Household is
shared by both Sunn&s and Sh&‘&s. It has been particularly apparent in Egypt since the time of the F!'imid
Sh&‘& Ism!‘&l& dynasty (358/969-567/1171).
Signature & date: “Researched, designed and realized by Mu"ammad Jal!l Ibr!h&m (!fi), lieutenant
colonel of the Armed Forces, 1982/1402.”
Paper, 70.3 cm x 49.9 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Na*r, c. 1990
2. HIS EXCELLENCE ‘AL", GOD’S LION
‘Al&, son of Ab% +!lib (d. 40/661), the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mu"ammad, is the first of the
twelve Sh&‘& Im!ms. He is holding his famous two-pointed sword, Dh% l-Fiq!r. The inscription reads: “There
is no knight except ‘Al&, and no sword except Dh% l-Fiq!r.”1
Cardboard, 48 cm x 32.9 cm
On the iconography of Im!m ‘Al&, see I. FLASKERUD, Visualizing, p. 21-78.
S39# LB+..# *,5# :-9# *,.# R:5,BN# :-9# >0:-2# 2*+5# 1+:/+D# .:,9;# @4# :5# 2*+# /,2N# 3R# =-38B+9>+# :-9# @ABC# ,.# ,2.#
Cardboard, 34.6 cm x 25.1 cm
4. ‘AL" FIGHTING RA’S AL-GH#L
The fame ‘Al& gained for his bravery on the battlefield, armed with his two-pointed sword Dh% l-Fiq!r,
became legendary. Many heroic fights were then attributed to him, even with demons and other supernatural
villains like Ra’s al-Gh%l. This image is a Tunisian copy of one originally published in Egypt.
A similar image, probably purchased in Cairo in 1908, was also displayed in D. B. Macdonald’s study.3
Paper, 32 cm x 24 cm
Tunis, Ma'ba‘at al-Man!r, c. 1975
The Sunn& authors do not consider this saying an authentic ($a#"#) tradition of the Prophet.
See AL-TIRMIDH,, Sunan, Man!qib, vol. v, p. 301, no 3807; trans. ABU KHALIYL, J!mi‘, vol. vi, p. 394, no 3723: “I
am the house of wisdom and ‘Al& is its door.” Al-Tirmidh& considers this tradition “strange, to be denounced”
See above, p. iii, 41.
5. ‘AL" AND HIS TWO SONS, AL-$ASAN (D. 49/669) AND AL-$USAYN (D. 61/680)
The first Sh&‘& Im!m is sitting on a carpet, with his emblematic lion, between his two sons and successors,
the second and third Im!ms. The inscription calls him “The victorious Lion of God, ‘Al&, son of Ab% +!lib,
may God honour his face.” The names of al-(asan and al-(usayn are followed with the invocation “May
God be satisfied with him.” The scene is set, during a starry night, in a landscape that seems to evoke the
Nile valley or Mesopotamia more than Arabia.
Cardboard, 33.9 cm x 24 cm
Aleppo, Maktabat al-Ma‘!rif, c. 1950?
6. THE TWELVE SH"‘" IM%MS
‘Al& is sitting in the middle of his eleven successors, under two angels, in a desert landscape bordered by a
row of roses and illuminated by rays of heavenly light. The name of each Im!m is followed by the invocation
“Upon him be peace.” From the right to the left, they are (asan ‘Askar& (Im!m XI, d. 260/874), Mu"ammad
Taq& (IX, d. 220/835), M%s! K!)im (VII, d. 183/799), Mu"ammad B!qir (V, d. 115/733), (usayn (III, d. 61/
680), ‘Al& (I, d. 40/661), (asan (II, d. 49/669), Sajj!d (IV, d. 95/714), Ja‘far #!diq (VI, d. 148/765), Ri-!
(VIII, d. 203/818), ‘Al& Naq& (X, d. 254/868), and the XIIth and last Im!m, Mahd&, born in 255/869, entered in
his greater occultation in 329/941 and expected to return at the end of time. The features of his face are
hidden by a shining light. Like his father, (usayn holds a sword, an allusion to his heroic struggle against the
Umayyads which led to his death in Karbal!’. Three Im!ms have a green book in their hands: (asan ‘Askar&
holds “the sublime Qur’!n;” Sajj!d holds the “%a#"fa sajj!diyya,” a collection of supplications named after
him; Ja‘far #!diq holds “the rulings of the Ja‘far& school of jurisprudence,” whose founder he is considered
The two oval portraits show ‘Al& (right) and (usayn (left). The calligraphy above the angels reads: “The
rule (wil!yat) of ‘Al&, son of Ab% +!lib, is my fortress. Whoever enters my fortress is safe from my
Cardboard, 49.8 cm x 34.9 cm
Tehran, c. 2000
P:,-2,->.#.*38,->#2*+#28+BM+#,565.#:0+#:22+.2+9#,-#2*+#QO!arram celebrations in Lahore :.#+:0BN#:.#
&W($G&W(W;# <ABB# 2*+# 10,-/+.D# 3RR,/,:B.# :-9# :0,.23/0:2.# 10+1:0+# 283# .+2.# 3R# 1B:/:09.D# 3-+# /3-.,.2,-># 3R#
L+:O2,ROB# 1:,-2,->.# 0+10+.+-2,-># 2*+# ,565.J# )*+# 32*+0# /3-2:,-.# 0+1OB.,M+# R,>O0+.# 0+10+.+-2,-># 4L-#
##########Cardboard, 48 cm x 33 cm
Testimony of the Bukhariot traveller Mu"ammad b. Am&r Wal&; see J. W. ALLAN, Art, p. 117.
8. THE MARTYRDOM OF ‘AL" AKBAR IN KARBAL%’
The battle fought by al-(usayn, the son of ‘Al&, against an Umayyad army in 61/680 on the plain of Karbal!’
(Iraq) led to his martyrdom and the killing of several members of his family, including his son ‘Al& Akbar.
This massacre is one of the founding moments of Sh&‘ism, commemorated every year on the day of
‘$sh%r!’, notably by passion plays reenacting the battle,1 and has for centuries been depicted in various
The caption in Persian calligraphed under this poster explicates its object: “Image of his Excellency ‘Al&
Akbar, peace be upon him, at the moment of his martyrdom on the day of ‘$sh%r!’, in the arms of his great
father, his Excellency Ab% ‘Abd All!h al-(usayn, peace be upon him.” The two armies are facing each
other: on the right, the enormous Umayyad troops extend as far as the horizon; on the left, al-(usayn’s
partisans are only a small number. Among the latter, the standard-bearer is al-‘Abb!s, son of ‘Al& (his name
can be read on his coat of mail). The inscription on his standard is from the Qur’!n, al-%aff - 61:13: “Help
from God and imminent victory!”
This dramatic illustration comes with two other Qur’!nic passages. One, on ‘Al& Akbar’s shield, is alQalam - 68:51: “And the disbelievers would fain disconcert you with their eyes when they hear the
Reminder…” The other, under the lower right corner of the poster, is al-Shu‘ar!’ - 26:227 : “Those who
were unjust will [come to] know by what a [great] reverse they will be overturned!”
The poster is signed &ajj Mu#ammad Tajw"d" and dated 1354[/1946].
Paper, 49.8 cm x 34.9 cm
Tehran, Intish!r!t-e Mu*awwar-e Isl!m&, c. 1990
9. DH# L-JAN%$, AL-$USAYN’S HORSE, IN KARBAL%’
Originally, Dh% l-Jan!", “the one with wings,” was a horse of the Prophet. Al-(usayn is said to have
mounted it in his childhood and it was his horse at Karbal!’.
This white horse with its rich harness and saddle but without rider does not look the least affected by the
bleeding injuries caused by more than ten arrows. In a quite surrealistic way, it symbolizes both the deep
suffering and the submission to God’s Decree of its absent master on the day of ‘$sh%r!’. The red colour of
blood, or blood itself, are almost omnipresent on this poster: in the invocation “O (usayn” above the horse,
in stains on the grass under it, in the foreground pond, in the sky, and dripping from the inscription “The
martyr of Karbal!’” in the upper left corner. Adding to the tragic atmosphere of the scene, al-(usayn’s
encampment is totally empty, desolated.
In the upper right corner of the poster the yellow calligraphy is a tradition of the Prophet : “Al-(usayn is
of me and I am of al-(usayn.”3 The text is given in Arabic with an Urdu translation.
This undated image is signed &asan Ri'! R!jah.
Paper, 40.7 cm x 27.7 cm
Bought in Delhi, 2012
See M. AND, Drama.
See I. FLASKERUD, Visualizing, p. 75-176; M. A. NEWID, Islam, p. 37-53, 207-265; J. W. ALLAN, Art, p. 115;
ANONYMOUS, Paintings; M. AZIZA, Théâtre.
See IBN M$JA, Sunan, Muqaddima, vol. i, p. 51, no 144; AL-TIRMIDH,, Sunan, Man!qib, vol. v, p. 324, no 3864; trans.
ABU KHALIYL, J!mi‘, vol. vi, p. 429, no 3775.
10. ‘AL" B. M#S% AL-RI&%, THE HUNTER, AND THE DEER
The eighth Im!m of twelver Sh&‘ism, ‘Al&, son of M%s!, al-Ri-! (or “Imam Reza”) is said to have been
poisoned by the ‘Abb!sid caliph al-Ma’m%n in 203/818. The (st!n-e Qods-e Re)!v" of Mashhad (Eastern
Iran) where he is buried is one of the richest and most important shrines of Sh&‘& Islam.
This poster depicts a famous miracle attributed to the eighth Im!m, sometimes narrated as follows: “One
day when Imam Reza was on his journey from Medina to Marw, while in a jungle he came across a hunter
who was about to kill a deer. The deer was trying to get away and when she saw Imam Reza, she spoke to
him. Imam Reza asked the hunter to free the deer so that she could go and feed her little baby deers. Imam
Reza also told the hunter that once the deer had fed her babies she would come back. The hunter allowed the
deer to go because Imam Reza had told him to, but he did not think that the deer would come back. But
Imam Reza waited with the hunter until the deer returned with her young ones. The hunter was amazed on
witnessing this miraculous event and he set the deer free as a mark of respect for the Imam. Thereafter Imam
Reza became known as ‘Im!m-e -!min.’”1
The calligraphy above the Im!m reads: Y! '!min-e !h*, “O Guarantor of the deer.” The caption of the
poster says in Persian: “The deers taking refuge from the hand of the hunter with his Excellency ‘Al&, son of
M%s!, al-Ri-!, upon him be peace.” The building depicted under the right arm of the Im!m is his mausoleum
in Mashhad. The way ‘Al& al-Ri-! opens his arms and shows his hands to the hunter makes one think of
some Christian images of Jesus’ apparition to Thomas.
The poster is signed Mu#ammad Tajw"d" and dated 1396[/1976].
Cardboard, 49.8 cm x 34.8 cm
Tehran, Intish!r!t-e Mu*awwar-e Isl!m&, c. 1990
Thomas Doubts 3 (Waiting For The Word)#
Jesus Shows His Wounds (Behold My Hands
and Feet), by Harry Anderson
From http://www.ezsoftech.com/stories/imamraza1.asp (with modifications). The story of Im!m Ri-!, the hunter, and
the deer can be read on many other Sh&‘& websites.
A mystic, possibly Ibn ‘Arab! (India, first half of 12 /18 c.)1
Mogul miniature, Rotterdam, Museum of Ethnology, inv. 69203; see P. FABER & alii, Dreaming, p. 98-99.
The Friends of God
1. UWAYS AL-QARAN!
The poor Yemeni hermit Uways bin An!s al-Qaran! (“Veysel Karani” in Turkish), a younger contemporary
of the Prophet, is reported to have died at the battle of "iff!n in 37/657. Very little is, however, known about
his life and he is the object of many legends. He is notably said to have communicated by telepathy with the
Prophet, whom he never met. Some independent Sufi shaykhs claim him as their patron when freeing
themselves from belonging to a particular mystical tradition.
Uways is here depicted praying with two camels. The Qur’#nic quotes are the basmalah (al-F!ti"ah 1:1) and the verse of the Throne (al-Baqarah - 2:255). The inscription in Turkish is a quatrain from a poem
celebrating Uways by the famous mystical poet Yunus Emre (d. 720/1320?):
“Getting up at dawn, he used to do the prayer
And to supplicate his Lord in secret.
All he would do was herding camels.
In the lands of Yemen, Uways al-Qaran!.”
Paper, 60.8 cm x 49.8 cm
Bought in Istanbul, c. 2000
2. SIX FRIENDS (WAL!) OF GOD AND THEIR SHRINES
From the top left, anti-clockwise, the six Friends are “His Excellency the Greatest Succour” (ghawth-e
a‘#am), i.e. ‘Abd al-Q#dir al-J!l#n! (d. 561/1166), whose mausoleum is in “the noble Baghd#d,” and some of
the most revered Muslim Sufi shaykhs of the Indian subcontinent: “His Excellency Khw#ja Ghar!b Naw#z,”
i.e. Khw#ja Mu‘!n al-D!n $asan Chisht! (d. 633/1236), whose shrine is in Ajmer; “His Excellency Khw#ja
Qu%b al-D!n,” i.e. Khw#ja Sayyid Mu&ammad Qu%b al-D!n Bakhtiy#r K#k! (d. 632/1235), whose shrine is in
Mehrauli (Delhi); “His Excellency B#b# Far!d ShakarGanj,” i.e. Khw#ja Far!d al-D!n Mas‘'d Ganjshakar
(d. 663/1265), whose shrine is in P#kpattan (Pakistan); “His Excellency Ma&b'b-e Il#h!,” i.e. Shaykh Khw#ja
Sayyid Mu&ammad b. ‘Abd All#h al-$usayn! Ni(#m al-D!n Awliy#’ (d. 725/1325), whose shrine is in Delhi;
“His Excellency B' ‘Al! Sharaf,” i.e. Sh#h Sharaf al-D!n B' ‘Al! Qalandar (d. 724/1324) whose shrine
(darg!h) is in Panipat.
All!h and Mu"ammad are calligraphed in the two red flames. The top middle cenotaph is that of the
Prophet in Medina. Inscribed in black ink under it are the Qur’#nic verses Y$nus - 10:62: “Assuredly, the
Friends of God, no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve,” and al-Baqarah - 2:154: “And do
not say that those who were killed on the path of God are dead; rather, they are alive but you do not perceive
[it].” Both verses were erroneously copied, with words missing.
The drawings of the six shrines are relatively faithful depictions of their architecture.
Paper, 41 cm x 28.2 cm
Bought in Delhi, 2012
3. THE LORDLY POLE, SHAYKH A"MAD AL-TIJ#N!, SANCTIFIED IS HIS SECRET
The Algerian shaykh A&mad al-Tij#n! (1150/1737-1230/1815, Fez) is the founder of the important Sufi order
(%ar&qa) named after him. He is particularly venerated in the Maghreb and Western Africa.
Why he is here depicted with a deer is unclear but might allude to one of his miraculous deeds (karam!t).
Paper, 31.8 cm x 24 cm
Tunis, Ma%ba‘at al-Man#r, c. 1975
4. SAYYID A"MAD AL-RIF#‘!
The Iraqi shaykh A&mad al-Rif#‘! (500/1106?-578/1182) is the founder of the Sufi order (%ar&qa) named
after him, present in many Muslim countries, and famous for his often extravagant rituals.
This imaginary depiction of al-Rif#‘!’s grave in Umm ‘Ubayda (W#si%, Iraq) includes evocations of
practices for which the Rif#‘! dervishes have long been renowned: riding lions, eating living snakes and
scorpions… The two yellow circles on the dome contain the words All!h and Mu"ammad.
Paper, 33.1 cm x 23.5 cm
Cairo, c. 1975
The Persian $anbal! shaykh ‘Abd al-Q#dir al-J!l#n! (or “al-Jayl#n!,” or “al-Kayl#n!;” 470/1077-561/1166) is
often considered the greatest Muslim saint and the order named after him remains one of the most widely
spread Sufi brotherhoods in modern times.
Posters representing al-J!l#n! can be found in most Muslim countries, confirming his primordial place in
Islamic spirituality. This one, from India, is particularly complex. On its right, al-J!l#n! is sitting under a
crescent, on a throne encrusted with precious stones and is himself wearing a triple necklace of pearls. He
has a rosary in his right hand. A little oil lamp of the kind offered in Indian temples and shrines, either Hindu
or Muslim, shines next to him. On the left side of the poster, a beautiful young lady is totally absorbed in her
contemplation of the saint. She wears a veil but has obviously put on make-up, has painted nails, and wears
gold bracelets and expensive jewels. She possibly represents the young Srilankan girl threatened by a rapist
and whom al-J!l#n! is reported to have miraculously saved from dishonour once she invoked him. Between
her and the saint flows the Tigris river with, on its shore, an indianized representation of the Baghd#d multidomed mausoleum of al-J!l#n!. The hand and the boat allude to another famous miracle (kar!ma) of the
saint: the ship of traders sailing to Baghd#d was in danger of sinking; they called out to al-J!l#n! and found
that from the Unseen a hand lifted their ship to safety. The Urdu inscriptions in the upper left corner read:
“The blessed tomb of the Saint (p&r) of all Saints, his Excellency Shaykh Sayyid ‘Abd al-Q#dir al-J!l#n!, may
God have mercy on him. Proclaim the name of the eleventh one,1 then the drowned ones will swim.”
Paper, 79.8 cm x 53.2 cm
Bought in Delhi, 2012#
The “eleventh one” is ‘Abd al-Q#dir al-J!l#n!. It refers to the celebration which takes place in his honour on the 11th of
every month. Sweets are distributed, qawwalis are sung, and people make their way to the shrines (Trans. & note:
6. SHAYKH ‘ABD AL-Q"DIR AL-J!L"N!
Al-J!l#n! is here depicted in a traditional North-African attire, holding a book and a rosary, and introduced as
“The Command of God, the Eminence of God, the Safety of God, the Light of God, the Pole of God, the
Contemplator of God, the Sword of God, the Edict of God, the Proof of God, the Sign of God, the Succour of
God.” The calligraphy in the right lower corner reads: “Praise to God. There is no might nor power except in
God. This is the depiction of the righteous saint (wal&), my master ‘Abd al-Q#dir al-Jayl#n!.”
Paper, 31.8 cm x 23.9 cm
Tunis, Ma%ba‘at al-Man#r, c. 1975
7. SHAYKH ‘ABD AL-Q"DIR AL-J!L"N!
This print simply calls al-J!l#n! “the shaykh ‘Abd al-Q#dir al-Kayl#n!, sanctified is his secret.” He also holds
a book and a rosary but a lion is tranquilly lying at his feet. The scene is set in a landscape reminiscent of
the Nile valley or Mesopotamia.
Paper, 57 cm x 40 cm
Cairo, Ma%ba‘at al-Fun'n al-Jam!lah, c. 1950?
Horseman holding a spear and a shield (Egypt, 4 /10 c.)
Drawing on paper, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, ACH 11.416.
‘Antar, son of Shadd!d, al-‘Abs" (525-608 CE) is the Arab knight par excellence, hence his surname Ab! lfaw"ris, “Father of the Knights.” Born from a warrior of the Ban# ‘Abs tribe and his African slave, he earned
his freedom and his fame thanks to his extraordinary skills both as a fighter and a poet. One of the seven
famous poetic odes (Mu‘allaq"t) of Pre-Islamic Arabia bears his name. His adventurous life, notably his love
for Princess ‘Abla, is the object of one of the most fascinating romances (s#ra) of popular Arabic literature,
in which he ends up as an archetype of Islamic spiritual chivalry (futuwwah).1
This poster shows ‘Antar killing the champion of the Ethiopian Negus, the Christian giant ‘Abd Zinjir.
“‘Abla, daughter of M!lik,” is sitting in a camel palanquin behind ‘Antar.
Paper, 54.7 cm x 39.6 cm
Cairo, Ma$ba‘at al-Fun#n al-Jam"lah, c. 1950?
2. AB! ZAYD AL-HIL"L# KILLING AL-HARR"S
The tribe of the Ban# Hil!l migrated from the Arabian peninsula to Egypt during the 2th/8th c. Three centuries
later, the F!$imid caliphs pushed them to invade Ifr"qiya (today’s Tunisia and Algeria), where they brought
the havoc of war and devastation. They nevertheless became the object of several popular gests (s#ra), of
which the black knight Ab# Zayd al-Hil!l", a legendary figure, is one of the main heroes.2
Accompanied by his slave Ab# l-Qum%!n (his name is inscribed on his helmet), Ab# Zayd is shown here
fighting al-Harr!s, the king of Cyprus. Stopping al-Harr!s’ spear with his left hand, he kills him with the
sword he holds in his right one. The woman in the camel palanquin behind him is al-N!‘isa, the daughter of
Zayd al-‘Ajj!j, with whom he fell in love just by hearing some poets describing her, and who will become
Images of legendary heroes fighting, probably purchased in Cairo in 1908, were also displayed in D. B.
Paper, 31.9 cm x 24 cm
Tunis, Ma$ba‘at al-Man!r, c. 1975
See M. C. LYONS, Epic, p. 18-44: S#rat ‘Antar.
See M. C. LYONS, Epic, p. 148-150: Qi$$at Ab# Zaid al-Hil"l# wa’l-N"‘isa.
See above, p. iii, 41.
3. THE BATTLE OF THE TRENCH
The Battle of the Trench (Jank-e Khandaq in Persian) opposed the Muslims to the Meccans on the outskirts
of Medina in 5/627.
The “army of Islam” is on the right. It is led by the Prophet riding a camel. His standard-bearer is Bil!l
&abash", whose name appears on his trousers. On the left, the “army of the unbelievers.”
‘Al" occupies the centre stage. In his right hand, he holds his famous two-pointed sword, Dh# l-Fiq!r; in
the left one, the head of the pagan ‘Amr, son of ‘Abd Wudd, whom he has just killed in a duel. The
agonizing horse of ‘Amr, with his severed legs, adds to the pathos of the scene.
The Persian inscription above ‘Amr’s corpse reads: “‘Amr bin ‘Abd Wudd slain by the hand of ‘Al",
peace be upon him.” The one in Arabic above the horse is a saying attributed to the Prophet: “[Each] blow of
‘Al" on the day of the Trench was better than the worship acts of the men and jinn.”1
Signature: Drawing by Sayyid ‘Arab.
Paper, 44.7 cm x 36 cm
Bought in Ispahan, Bookshop ‘A$!’", c. 1990
4. THE CONQUEROR OF JERUSALEM, ‘UMAR B. AL-KHA!!"B
The second successor of the Prophet and well-guided caliph ‘Umar b. al-Kha$$!b (r. 13/634-23/644) is
traditionally said to have come in person to Jerusalem in 17/638 to receive the submission of the holy city
from the orthodox patriarch Sophronius (d. 638).
‘Umar is shown here welcomed by the Christian clergy of Jerusalem. He raises his left index to bear
witness to the oneness of God.
Paper, 31.8 cm x 24 cm
Tunis, Ma$ba‘at al-Man!r, c. 1975
This saying is not found in any of the six canonical collections of Sunn" %ad#th.
5. AL-MAWL" IDR#S AL-AKBAR, FOUNDER OF THE IDR#SID DYNASTY
Idr"s, son of ‘Abd All!h, was a great-great grandson of ‘Al". In 169/786, with his brother Mu'ammad al-Nafs
al-Zakiyyah, he rebelled against the rule of the ‘Abb!sid dynasty in the Hedjaz. He was defeated and fled to
Egypt, then the Maghreb. He found refuge with the Awraba Berbers, who soon paid allegiance to him as
their im!m and sovereign (172/789). He was then able to impose his rule on other tribes, contributed to their
islamization, and founded the first Muslim dynasty of Morocco. He died in 175/791, probably poisoned by
an ‘Abb!sid agent. Moulay Idris Zerhoun, where he is buried, is one of the most sacred shrines of Morocco.
The nine images and captions of this poster narrate important moments of the life of Idr"s I, from his
flight from Arabia until his assassination. The inscriptions are in Maghrib" script.
Cardboard, 39.3 cm x 30.1 cm
Bought in Marrakech, Morocco, in 2007
6. THE HERO OF THE CRUSADES, $AL"% AL-D#N AL-AYY&B#
Saladin (532/1138-5891193) put an end to the Ism!‘"l" F!$imid caliphate of Egypt in 567/1171, united Egypt
with Syria, and retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 583/1187.
Paper, 33.2 cm x 23.5 cm
Cairo, Maktabat al-Jand", c. 1975
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H. BLOCHMANN, Vol. I (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1873). [&’#n-i Akbar#].
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(London: Azimuth Editions, 2011). [Art].
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Ticaret ve Sanayi A. ,., “Yapı Kredi Yayınları - 1566 Sanat - 77,” 2012). [Drama].
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(Paris: Maison de l’Iran, n.d.). [Paintings].
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Introduction by B. W. ROBINSON (New York: Dover Publications, 1965). [Painting].
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Türkkad - Nefes Yayınları, 2008). [Ehl-I Beyt].
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prophète Mahomet, in Études photographiques, 17, November 2005, p. 4-45. [Rencontre].
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