Hegira 558 / AD 1163
Probably an Aleppine school of carpenters.
Carved and inlaid wood.
Height (at highest point) 430 cm, length 320 cm, width 85 cm
The minbar, a raised wooden pulpit used for delivering the weekly oration, or khutba, during Friday communal prayers, is one of the earliest types of Islamic liturgical furnishings, introduced in the time of the Prophet himself. When Nur al-Din (d. AH 569 / AD 1174) came to rule Syria and al-Jazira, he commissioned several important minbars as part of his propagation of piety and jihad. He assigned the execution of these wooden minbars to the renowned carpenters of Aleppo.
This minbar, now located in the Museum of Hama, was commissioned by Nur al-Din as part of a new mosque he constructed in Hama in AH 558 / AD 1163. It consists of a narrow staircase attached to a raised chair with a covered top. Although it has lost its original stairs and flanking walls, the upper structure is entirely original. The raised chair is square with three arched openings and a back rest. A richly engraved and domed entablature crowns the top. Vegetal and geometric arabesques demonstrate a high level of wood carving. It also contains two historical inscriptions along the friezes on either side of the balustrades. The left inscription, which has been removed and hung above the mosque's entrance, speaks of Holy War and Justice. The right inscription, still in situ, emphasises Piety and Humility. The cornice also bears a Qur'anic inscription describing the wonder of God's Creation and the Heavens, while the back of the chair is inscribed with the Shahada, or declaration of faith, written in two lines of large thuluth script within a cartouche.
Clearly, the minbar re-affirms Nur al-Din's political and religious position, a stance which is reiterated on the inscriptions of the mosque as well. The importance of the minbar lies in its symbolism of authority. The inscriptions carved upon it and the speeches delivered from its platform are visible and aural manifestations of the community's leadership and vision. In Nur al-Din's case, historical records show that he was meticulous in organising what was said on his behalf in the many mosques built in his name. The image he projected was one of piety as opposed to magnificence, humility as opposed to wealth, and always dedication to Holy War.
Nur al-Din's dream of liberating Jerusalem is expressed by a similar but more richly ornamented minbar he commissioned for the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, prior to its reconquest from the Franks by Saladin. Sadly, this minbar was destroyed by fire in recent history (1969).
Nur al-Din's minbar of Hama is an important example of Syrian woodcarving. Nur al-Din is known to have employed the most talented Aleppine carpenters to create a number of minbars which he distributed throughout the mosques of Syria in order to preach Holy War when the Crusaders took Jerusalem.
Nur al-Din Mahmud bin al-Zangi (r. AH 541–69 / AD 1146–74)
The inscription on the back of the chair reads “559” (1164).
Although it was originally located in the Nur al-Din Mosque in Hama, the minbar is now in the Hama Museum.
The pulpit was originally in the Nur al-Din Mosque in Hama which was constructed by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi in 558 / 1164.
Ettinghausen, R., Grabar, O., and Jenkins-Madina, M., Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250, New Haven, 2001.
Moaz, A. R., “The Minbar of the Aqsa Mosque, Woodwork in 12th-Century Syria-Palestine”, Islamic Arts and Crafts, Istanbul, (in print).
Tabbaa, Y., "Monuments with a Message: Propagation of Jihad under Nur al-Din (1146–1174)”, The Meeting of Two Worlds: Cultural Exchange between East and West during the Period of the Crusades. (ed. Vladimir P. Goss), Michigan, 1986, pp.223–40; figs. 24, 25.
Waal Hafian "Minbar" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01_B;44;en
Prepared by: Waal Hafian
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 72
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