Museum of Islamic Art Part III
The Origin of Moroccan Decoration
Islamic art is the real origin of what is currently known as Moroccan decoration. We can set a comparison between every piece in the Museum of Islamic Art and those pieces that are so-called at the current moment as Moroccan decoration and you can understand the resemblance. Islamic Architecture was also derived from many precedents and contemporary civilizations including the Chinese, the Romans, etc... This influence can be seen in every piece in the museum and it also can be seen as evidence of the mutual relation between different cultures.
The relationship between different cultures is a really interesting aspect of learning. As much as you get deeper into this study you realize that the conflict is not the prevailing part but actually, there has been always a long history of a complementary nature than of the conflicting one. You can easily realize that primarily through the language which we use on a daily basis, for example, you are going to find lots of English words derived from Arabic and vice versa. Similarly between the Indian language and Arabic, and I am sure that you can find that between all languages worldwide. This similarity in Languages cannot be taken lightly as it is well said that language can be described as the vessel of any culture. Off course you can't undermine the conflicts throughout history, it occurs and it is outrageous in some instances but that is not the prevailing part. Every culture had played its part in human civilization and human progress and inherited it to the next one. Also, if you looked at it from a different perspective; modern science when they inspected the DNA of various populations they found that every individual has an inheritance from different races which proves that all civilizations throughout history have been coupled and fused at a certain point of history and reproduced to get the current human race. All of this has constituted what we are at this specific present moment. Also, the monuments and the various forms of art left by every civilization throughout history are a milestone of the complementary nature of civilizations and cultures.
In this blog we try in addition to exhibiting the artistic ancient pieces of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo; we try to explore the history behind every piece which had been a witness of a part of human civilization.
Islam in China, The Myth and the Truth
This pottery collection which is believed to be used as food utilities is attributed to the Abbasid era 8-9 AD century and it is believed to be related to Iran or Iraq. The collection is all covered with a glaze coating and ornamented with a writing that the discoverer couldn't determine the exact words and the trappings which is believed to be an imitation of the Chinese Tang dynasty 8-9 AD century
The relationship between the Old Muslim Nation and China is believed to be very old, some Chinese Muslims believe it can be attributed to the very early years of Islam of the third Islamic Caliphate Uthman ibn Affan, as they claim that he sent Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās in 651 AD who was one of the companions of Prophet Muhammed himself. According to tradition, Emperor Gaozong who was the third emperor of the Chinese Tang dynasty family ordered the construction of the first mosque in China which is called the Memorial mosque which still exists until this moment in Canton and is known by the name "Huaisheng Mosque". According to the story, there were more than 37 envoys that were sent between 651 and 798 by the Old Muslim Nation to China at that time. According to the story, one of the envoys was ordered to kneel in front of the emperor, but they refused, saying that we only kneel and worship Allah according to our Islamic beliefs.
According to Modern secular scholars, they didn't find any evidence that Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās has ever visited China, and according to the Tatar Muslim traveler Abdurreshid Ibrahim, claims that Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās was one of the most prominent figures in Islam and if he did visit China it would surely be recorded in the Islamic history books.
The real evidence from history and those pieces endorses the mutual commercial relation between the Old Muslim Nation and China and it is also believed that the Muslim Nation was part of the old Silk Road. Those pieces can be considered proof that the commercial relation had a bilateral influence on both cultures in many ways.
The Development of Moroccan Ornamentation
Our next collection is derived from Samarra, Iraq and it is attributed to the 9th AD century. The collection includes stucco panels which are carved and molded. Stucco is a cement-type mixture that is composed of cement, lime, sand, fiber, and water. Samarra was built by the Abbasid Khalifa al-Mu'tasim in 835 AD to be the capital of the Old Muslim Nation. The style used in its building is distinguished by using this type of art in which they use those panels as garnishing for the buildings. In this collection, you can notice the difference between those three panels if you compared them starting from left to right. On the left side, it is characterized by deep etching and the fusion of the plant motifs and the geometrical ones in which the artisan was very much imitating nature. While the second one has bigger motifs than the first one and the influence from nature is much less. Finally, the last collection on the right is much more complicated as the artisan has fused the motifs in a way that you can't determine its beginning and ending, this last one is believed to be the origin of the Arabesque Ornamentation which started in Baghdad, Iraq in the 10th AD century.
Arabesque Ornamentation is one of the very well-known traditional Ornamentation that is still used to this moment in many of what is known in the current moment as Moroccan Decorations either in Moroccan Tables, Moroccan Chairs, and Moroccan Windows. It is based mainly on using geometrical patterns as repetitive motifs. This technique can also be noticed in the current designs of Moroccan Lamps.
Ibn Tulun, the beginning of a new Era
This box includes a carved wooden panel with an inscription from the Holy Quran. This wooden panel is believed to be part of a wooden box. This panel is inlaid with ivory, bone, and ebony and also has carved painted wooden panels which have inscriptions from the holy Quran. They are all attributed to the Egyptian ruler Ahmed ibn Tulun who ruled Egypt in the 9th Ad Century. The Tulunid dynasty ruled Egypt and Syria between 868 and 905. He was originally a Turkic Slave-soldier that was sent by the Abbasid Khalifa to govern Egypt but within four years he could have an independent state from the Abbasid khalifa. Ibn Tulun dreamed of building a strong country in Egypt in which he can face the Abbasid Khalifa, but while he was in one of his battles in Syria, his eldest son and deputy Al-Abbas tried to seize power, leading to the imprisonment of Abbas and the nomination of Ibn Tulun's second son, Khumarawayh, as his heir. Ibn Tulun is the first governor of Egypt that gained some kind of autonomy and independence from the Muslim Nation central state in Iraq, and he was the first to gain full autonomy of Egypt since the pharaohs and he was also the first to inherit the Egyptian throne to his ancestors. Starting from this point as it is now known in history the Tulun Dynasty which is considered a foundation of a new era of autonomy from the Central Old Muslim Nation khalifa in which Egypt was led independently by various Dynasties starting from the ikhsidids who led Egypt from 935 to 969 AD to the Mamluk Sultanate in Cairo from the mid-13th to early 16th centuries who was also originally soldier slaves in the Abbasid Muslim Nation.
At last but not least....
The Mamluk Sultanate governed Egypt for a long time and left thousands of real beautiful monuments including the Sultanate Hassan Mosque which is a very important current mark of an old civilization. It is noticeable in the architect of all of those monuments the use of the same technique of art which had become an important character of this architecture which is the use of the geometrical motifs and the plant-imitation motifs. The Moroccan Decoration inherited this architecture and decoration technique, preserved it, and also developed it in many ways. Currently, this type of architecture and decoration can be acquired in most ordinary house pieces starting from large items like Moroccan Tables, Moroccan Lamps, Moroccan Chairs, Moroccan Rugs, Moroccan Mirrors, and Moroccan Clocks to very small pieces such as pens holder, Flower Vase… etc. and what was noticeable about all those pieces that although they had their own unique style, they also can fit any kind of decoration such as Modern, Classic… etc. They would also add more glamour and beauty to the place.
I think that would be the last part of the Abbasid Islamic State, and in the next blog, we will try to cover another important part of the Islamic State in Egypt which is the Fatimid who took power over the Islamic State from the tenth to the twelfth centuries AD. It is also believed that it was the starting point of the change of religion of Egyptians from Christianity to Islam.