Munajat (Confidential Talks) of 'Ali ibn Abu-Talib, Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; morocco leather binding

Munajat (Confidential Talks) of 'Ali ibn Abu-Talib

Object Name:
Non-illustrated manuscript
ca. 1200
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)
Credit Line:
Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art and Rogers Fund, 1995
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 454
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 this volume, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris [Arabe 2964]).[1] 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.[2] 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]


1- Sotheby’s, London 1995, Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. Sale cat., Sotheby's, London, April 26, 1995, lot 54, London, 1995.

2- (Cat. 106 in this volume, note 3): Bosworth, C[lifford] E[dmund], "The Political and Dynastic History of the Iranian World (A.D. 1000–1217)." In Boyle, J. A., ed. The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 5, The Saljuq and Mongol Periods. Cambridge and New York, 1968, p. 25; Bosworth, C[lifford] E[dmund], "Ukaylids." In EI2 1960-2009, vol. 10, 2000, pp. 786–87. The ‘Uqaylids, a Shi’a Arab tribe, controlled various cities in the Jazira from the tenth to the twelfth century and lost control of Qal’ at Jabar and Raqqa only in 1169, thirty years before the Kitab al-diryaq was completed. It is equally possible that the scribe and owner were descended from the ‘Uqaylids as from the Ismailis, whom Oya Pancaroglu has suggested were interested in esotericism of the type that she claims characterizes this manuscript; see Pancaroglu, Oya, "Socializing Medicine: Illustrations of the Kitab al-diryaq."Muqarnas 18, 2001 p. 166.
Sotheby's, London (British), 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).