Munajat (Confidential Talks) of 'Ali ibn Abu-Talib
Attributed to Iraq, possibly Mosul
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; morocco leather binding
H. 6 7/8 (17.4 cm)
W. 5 1/8 in. (13.1 cm)
Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art and Rogers Fund, 1995
Not on view
The munajat, or “confidential talks,” of the first Shiite Imam 'Ali b. Abi-Talib take the form of prayers to God. Along with the forty sayings of Imam 'Ali, akin to the hadith, or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, books of munajat provided doctrinal guidance to medieval Shiites. Although the Seljuqs and their successors had tried to promote Sunni Islam and suppress Shiism, their efforts were neither systematic nor entirely successful, as the existence of this book attests.
This manuscript has been attributed to the Jazira because of the similarity between the calligraphy of its basmala, or opening line, and the frontispiece of the Kitab al-diryaq (Book of antidotes), dated A.H. 595/A.D. 1198–99 (cat. 106). In both manuscripts the new-style script, with its elongated vertical letters and diagonally slanting lower letters, is set against a ground of ebullient foliage and scrolls in the illuminated sections. Thanks to the small size of the Munajat, however, the illumination at the top somewhat crowds the first line of the text, written in naskhi.
The munajat, or "confidential talks," of the first Shi‘a imam, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, take the form of prayers to God. Along with the forty sayings of Imam ‘Ali, similar to the traditions, or hadith, of the Prophet Muhammad, books of munajat provided doctrinal guidance to medieval Shiites. The first page gives the chain of transmission of the prayers in this book as well as the genealogy of the twelve Shi‘a imams, followed on subsequent pages by the prayers themselves. Although the Seljuqs in Iran and their successor states in Anatolia and the Jazira had energetically attempted to promote Sunni Islam and suppress Shiism, the effort was neither systematic nor entirely successful. The ‘Uqaylids, a Shi‘a Arab tribe, gained control of parts of the Jazira in the 1160s. In addition, the Ismailis, another Shi‘a group that in the late eleventh century had gained a powerful foothold in Iran, from which they harassed the Great Seljuqs, had branches in Syria in the regions of Aleppo, Damascus, and Hama, but their power had waned by the end of the twelfth century. Since the Ismailis believed the imamate descended through Isma‘il, the son of the sixth imam, Ja‘far al-Sadiq, who is not mentioned here in the list of imams, the manuscript is unlikely to have been an Ismaili text. Nonetheless, as with the Kitab al-diryaq, Shiites presumably still lived within the regions controlled by the Seljuqs and their successors and practiced their religion, as this manuscript reveals.
Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
Sotheby's, London, April 26, 1995, no. 54, to MMA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 186.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 54, no. 2 (1995–1996). p. 16, ill. (color).
"26 April, 1995." In Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Sotheby's, London, 1995. no. 54, ill. fig. 54 (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 186, p. 286, ill. (color).