Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Gravestone of Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, died Shawwal A.H. 532/ June/July A.D. 1138

Object Name:
dated A.H. 532/A.D. 1138
Probably from Iran, Nishapur
Steatite; carved
H. 16 in. (40.6 cm) W. 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm) D. 3/4 in. (1.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1948
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
The inscription states that it is the tombstone of “the Shaykh, the martyr Jamal al-Qura' Muhammad b. Abi Bakr b. Amin al-Muqri' Khwajakak.” “Shaykh” identifies the deceased as a scholar, Sufi, or social leader, while “martyr” suggests that his death did not occur naturally. The son of a muqri' or Qur'an reciter, Jamal is characterized as “al-Qura',” an ascetic. “Khwajakak” is related to the Persian word for merchant, possibly his occupation.

Although by some standards this tombstone, carved in the characteristic steatite stone of Khurasan, appears humble in size and decoration, its inscription conveys important information about the deceased. Before the mention of his name, he is described as "the Shaykh," identifying him as either a respected scholar or Sufi or a social leader, probably middle-aged or elderly. This pronouncement is followed by the term shahid, which in this context means "martyr" and suggests that this death did not occur naturally. Rather, martyrdom was earned by those who suffered "a violent death while fighting in the cause of Islam or as a consequence of religious persecution, but . . . also simple murder; death from the plague; death by drowning,"[2] or other accidents. Although the cause of death cannot be determined, Nishapur in the twelfth century was subject to social unrest owing to the rivalry of two Sunni madhhabs, the Hanafis and Shafi‘is, as well as the presence of violent urban militias.[3] Described as "Jamal al-Qura’," the deceased would have been devoted to his faith, and the term may imply that he was a devout, beautiful reader of the Qur’an. His father, Abi Bakr b. Amin, was a muqri, or Qur’an reciter, so the deceased was a second-generation Qur’an reader. Finally, the word "Khwajakak" at the end of his name may refer to his occupation as a merchant, khwajagi in Persian.

Despite the tombstone’s date, 1138, the calligraphic style is quite conservative and reveals little of the elaboration of letter forms found on other twelfth-century Iranian examples. Rather, the tops of the vertical letters are cut on a very slight diagonal, and only certain letters (initial jim, kha, and kaf; final kaf and nun) are embellished with stylized leaf-form terminals. Rather than suggest a mihrab with several bands of writing around a central niche, a small arch on the top line of the inscription in the central panel fulfills that function. Because the tombstone was bought, not excavated, by a joint Metropolitan Museum–Iranian team, its archaeological context is uncertain. However, the excavators did unearth a group of twelfth-century graves at the Tepe Madrasa section of Nishapur, so this tombstone may be associated with that part of the site.[4]

Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]


2- Diem, Werner. The Living and the Dead in Islam: Studies in Arabic Epitaphs. Vol. 1, Epitaphs as Texts. Wiesbaden, 2004, p. 64.

3- Bosworth, C[lifford] Edmund. "Nishapur. i. Historical Geography and History to the Beginning of the 20th Century." In Encyclopaedia Iranica Online 1996- /nishapur-i. 2010.

4- Wilkinson, Charles K. Nishapur: Pottery of the Early Islamic Period. New York, 1973.

Inscription: English translations of the Qur’an are taken from Arthur J. Arberry’s "The Koran Interpreted" (New York, 1996).

Inscribed in Arabic, in naskhi on the outer frame:
شهد الله انه لا اله/الا هو والملا/ئكة واولو العلم
God bears witness that there is no god but He, and the
angels, and men possessed of knowledge (Qur’an 3:18).
In kufic on the center panel:
بسم )هذا قبر( الله / الشيخ الشهيد جمال / القراء محمد بن ابى بكر / بن
امين المقرئ خوا / جکک / توفى فى شوال / سنة اثنى وثلثى )ثلثين( /
In the name of God, this is the tomb of / the Shaykh,
the martyr Jamal / al-Qura’ Muhammad b. Abi Bakr /
b. Amin al-Muqri’ Khwajakak / died in the month of
Shawwal of the year 532.1 [June/July 1138 A.D.]. [1]
1- Read by Abdullah Ghouchani and Alzahraa K. Ahmed, Hagop Kevorkian Curatorial Fellow, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
On the edge part of verse 18 of chapter 3 (Sura Al Umran) is written in Kufic script as following:
Allah witnesses that there is no deity except Him, and [so do] the angels and those of knowledge …
On the center:
بسم الله / هذا قبر/ الشیخ الشهید جمال / القراء محمد بن ابی بکر / بن امین المقرئ خوا/ جکک توفي في شوال / سنة اثني و ثلثي (ثلثین) / و خمسمائة

Abdullah Ghouchani
1947, purchased in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1948, accessioned by the Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 200.

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. 200, p. 303, ill. (color).

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