Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition

March 14–July 8, 2012

Islamic Religious Works

The Qur’an, the religious text central to Islam, is a series of revelations from God transmitted by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca and Medina between about 610 and the Prophet's death in 632. During the rise of the Umayyads and the transition of rule in the eastern Mediterranean, the text of the Qur’an, originally recited from memory, came to be written in Arabic, inspiring not only religious devotion but also the creativity of craftsmen. Elaborately worked verses from the Qur’an became standard decoration for mosques, funerary monuments, and other works. Calligraphy as it evolved to present the teachings of the Qur’an became a major artistic tradition of the Islamic world. Mosques were erected in cities now under Muslim rule. The most important were the Friday mosques built to hold all the faithful for prayer and also functioned as evidence of the authority of the ruler. Byzantine artisans may have done the elaborate mosaic decoration of the Great Mosque in Damascus, the Umayyad capital, built between 705 and 715. In Egypt in the ninth century, as Ibn Tulun (r. 868–84) established his quasi-independent state, he would model his great mosque on the one in the Abbasid capital at Samarra.