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Ilkhanid Mihrab

Mihrab (prayer niche), 1354--55 (A.H. 755), just after the Ilkhanid period, Isfahan, Iran, polychrome glazed tiles, 135-1/16 x 113-11/16 inches / 343.1 x 288.7 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Speakers: Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay Lewis and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • female robot grace style avatar for user divaCassandra1
    Is the Mihrab properly oriented toward Mecca in its Metropolitan Museum instalation?
    (42 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user asianeer2014
    Don't cathedrals point to Jerusalem the same way mihrabs point to Mecca?
    (8 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Steven Zucker
      Cathedrals and other churches in Europe do not point to Jerusalem in the way that a mihrab points toward Mecca. Instead, they are often oriented on an East/West axis. The front of the church is commonly on the West end and the choir and altar is commonly towards the East. It is often observed that this allows the church to create a metaphoric relationship between the rising sun and Christ's resurrection but it should be noted that there are many churches that are not oriented in this way.
      (28 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Quinn McLeish
    Does anyone know what the outer inscription says?
    (6 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user FinallyGoodAtMath
      The outer inscription is from the Qur'an 9 : 18–22, which says:

      "The mosques of Allah are only to be maintained by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and establish prayer and give zakah and do not fear except Allah, for it is expected that those will be of the [rightly] guided. Have you made the providing of water for the pilgrim and the maintenance of al-Masjid al-Haram equal to [the deeds of] one who believes in Allah and the Last Day and strives in the cause of Allah? They are not equal in the sight of Allah. And Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people. The ones who have believed, emigrated and striven in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives are greater in rank in the sight of Allah. And it is those who are the attainers [of success]. Their Lord gives them good tidings of mercy from Him and approval and of gardens for them wherein is enduring pleasure. [They will be] abiding therein forever. Indeed, Allah has with Him a great reward."

      Sources: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/140006815
      (14 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Call me crazy, but I am hearing Dr. Zucker say "MIN-rahb" with an "N", is is minrab, or mihrab?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user divaCassandra1
    What is the pre-Islamic history of the Kaaba in Mecca?
    (3 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Akbar
      The Kaaba's foundations were laid down by Adam, it was later built/completed by Abraham and his son Ismael (Ismael was born in Mecca near the foundations of the Kaaba, and the prophet Mohammed (pbuh), also born in Mecca, is his descendant). Its purpose is for believers of the one true god, generation after generation, to make pilgramge to mecca, and pray to god near the Kaaba (among other ceremonies), as god has made the valley of Mecca holy. The Kaaba is not worshiped, its a focal point for worship. In pre-Islamic times however, the people of Mecca strayed form the traditions of Abraham and Ismael and started worshiping idols, an idol for every day of the year was placed around the Kaaba and pilgrims would leave money for the gods/idols to answer their prayers, this generated a lot of revenue for the chiefs of Mecca. Trade is also permissible for pilgrims during pilgrimage, so you would have merchants trading goods throughout the year during pre and post Islamic times.
      (3 votes)
  • cacteye yellow style avatar for user Karlar
    What was the marble painted with?
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Daryl Norton
    Recently I read where quiblas are being constructed in places outside of mosques. Does anybody know of specific examples of this accommodation?

    Thanks, before today I always thought quibla only meant direction instead of an actual physical representation.
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Stuart W
      I don't know if you mean quiblas (or qiblas) are being constructed so much as mihrabs. While, architecturally, qiblas walls may be constructed in a mosque, any wall which faces mecca could be used to construct a mihrab. I saw a smithsonian channel special not too long ago that talked about the (supposed) tomb of Mary at... The Church of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary and how when archaeologists were excavating, they noticed that a very distinguished shape was carved into the wall in the direction of Mecca. So, while a qibla wall exists here, since it is the wall facing Mecca, what is really special is the mihrab. You can imagine that after bearing witness to the final resting place of the Virgin Mary, a Muslim would want to pray to Allah and so in this case, the mihrab is carved into the [qibla] wall for conveniance.

      This is not the present-day example you asked for, but it is some context right? The smithsonian channel show is called "museum secrets revealed", by the way. And the link below is the only image I could find of the mihrab in question - I guess that's why it's a museum secret.
      (3 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Jannat Al-Hashimi
    I didn't really see the text clearly, but what the two people said at it is incorrect. The roots of religion are:
    1.Tawheed - The Oneness of God
    2.Adalat - The Justness of God (the belief that God is Just)
    3.Nubuwat - That there is 124 thousand prophets
    4.Imamat - That there are 12 Imams (leaders and guides after the prophets)
    5.Qiyamat - Belief in the Day of Judgement when all will be resurrected and judged according to their deeds

    In addition to the five roots of religion, there are also 10 branches of religion, so a list of five would be considered incomplete.

    Here is a link to a helpful list of both the roots and branches of religion:
    (1 vote)
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    • leafers sapling style avatar for user Amy
      The list given in the video is what I have been taught (as a non-Muslim in classes on world religion and literature) are referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam. I could be totally wrong on this, but it occurred to me that the list of Five Pillars refers to actions (reciting the shahadah, praying five times daily, giving to the poor, making pilgrimage to Mecca, fasting during Ramadan -- all are verbs) while the branches in your post are beliefs (all things that are held to be true, so all nouns). I am wondering if what non-Muslims are usually taught is only the "doing" half without the corresponding "believing" half of the larger whole. Thanks for your insight.
      (4 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Mohammad
    Good presentation about the Mihrab.
    One thing to add if you did not already, that every Mosque(Masjid) in the world has to have a Mihrab, referring to an antithetic Ahadith. But not every Mosque in the world has such detailed Miharb, just as how the Mihrab is with fine details the surrounding around the Mihrab in the Mosque is also very beautiful and of a fine detail. Mihrab like this one are usually in Mosques that are of openly structure and in hot areas. In North America and some other places the Miharb are simple and with very little detail. In Islam it is mandatory to have a Mihrab.
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user maheen.sayeed
    Who commissioned this mihrab?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

Voiceover: Normally when you see a niche, you expect a sculpture to be in it. However, we are looking at a prayer niche, a Mihrab. Voiceover: This is really just a directional pointer. Voiceover: It is a pointer. In the Islamic faith, you are supposed to pray five times a day and you're supposed to pray towards Mecca. So knowing where you are meant to be pointing and where you are meant to be praying is really a fundamental thing so all of the mosques anywhere in the world are set up to do this. Voiceover: And so they'd have this Mihrab in a wall which is known as the Qibla Wall. Voiceover: Correct. Voiceover: And that just basically faces towards Mecca. It's not oriented east or north or south or west, but in the direction of Mecca, whatever that might be. Voiceover: And there's no altar, no religious edifice that stands in front of it so some of the things that you might be expecting to see as you would see in a Western church or cathedral don't exist here. Voiceover: And so people wouldn't pray towards this niche, they would just pray in the direction that this niche was set. Voiceover: That's exactly right. If you imagine this back into its mosque, into its context, you could see people in rows facing the Qibla Wall praying towards Mecca. Mecca was the home of the prophet Muhammad. He lived in Mecca until 620 when he was forced out and he went to Medina. His house in Medina had a large courtyard. His house was more a civic center than really just a domestic space and it was oriented towards Mecca. Now we have no evidence, physical evidence of the house, it's long gone, but that is what the Hadiths and early sources tell us. Voiceover: So this basic architectural form which is now found in every mosque may have in fact been based on perhaps an archway within the courtyard of the prophet's home in Medina and it's interesting that you say that his house was the civic center because that's the way that we think about mosques. That is, that they're not just religious spaces, but they're really cultural centers. Voiceover: One of my favorite experiences was going to the Great Mosque in Damascus and you go into the courtyard and it is social. Families are there, children are there, people are talking, meeting up, having a good time. It's a place of community. We've also seen that with the Arab Spring that Friday prayers and people going to the mosques was a kind of flashpoint for many people to then go and protest their governments so the mosques hold this very important political and social place in the Islamic world. Voiceover: Let's put this particular Mihrab back in its historical context. This is from the city of Isfahan and its brilliant blues that we see in these tiles is not distinct just to this Mihrab, but was really distinct to the entire city. Voiceover: Oh, Isfahan is the blue city. It is spectacular. Really you have to imagine blue tile, light blue, dark blue, turquoise blue, everywhere. A vibrant glowing city that would have shimmered. Voiceover: This Mihrab would have been within not a public mosque but a Madrasa, part of a school. Voiceover: Yes, and is believed to have come from, I think it's called the [Minani] Madrasa in Isfahan so this is where people who were enrolled at the school studying theology would have come to pray and often they would hear a sermon, not dissimilar to what people would hear in a church or in other religious spaces. Voiceover: But in this context, you don't really even need the sermon because it's written into the tile work itself. Voiceover: Yes, and that's one of the things that makes this so gorgeous. On the exterior rectangular frame, we have a verse from the Quran. Voiceover: This is Arabic and it is read from right to left, the opposite direction that we read in English. Voiceover: Right, the Quran was always in Arabic and the Quran should always be learned, and studied, and recited in Arabic because it is the word of God, it is divinely revealed. Muhammad is believed to have been a conduit for the word of God, not the person who created it so it has to be in Arabic. Voiceover: That outer frame that you were pointing out, the script is so fluid, and so beautiful, and so decorative it almost seems to be a pure abstraction. The inner frame is really distinct. This is not that kind of fluid script that we see on the outer part of the Mihrab. This seems much harder edged and much more geometric. Voiceover: This is called [Kuthic] script and it's one of the most well known scripts throughout the entire Islamic world. We have [Kuthic] script written on the dome of the rock that was finished in 691, 692. This is also really interesting. It stands out partially because you have the blue on the white as opposed to on the rest of the niche where you have white on blue. Blue is your dominant background color. But what's also particularly interesting about this inscription is what it says and it basically lists the five pillars of Islam. Voiceover: So these are the five rules that any adherent to Islam must follow. Voiecover: That's right and it's very simple. You have to believe in the confession of faith, there is only one God but God and Muhammad is his prophet, he is His messenger. You have to give alms. You have to pray five times a day. If you are able, you should undertake a pilgrimage, the Haj to Mecca. And lastly, Ramadan, the month of fasting. And those are the five basic things that you should try to achieve in your life if you are to be a good Muslim. Voiceover: So this is a really didactic statement and seems so appropriate that it's within a Madrasa within a school. Voiceover: Yeah, it's a constant reminder. You also would have had a literate population. You have people that who studying the Quran for hours upon end. Voiceover: I see that there's a third area within the niche that has text within it. It's low so it would be visible when one was praying. Voiceover: It says in Arabic, "The prophet peace be upon him, "the mosque is the dwelling place of the pious" so it's another nice reminder that you should be contemplative but also invoking Muhammad, that he is the kind of beacon to which all Muslims should be looking to live their lives.