Friday, November 15

Orality, Writing and the Image in the Maqamat: Arabic Illustrated Books in Context

This was one of the most interesting articles about an antiquarian book that I have read. This is about a book called as Maqamat of al Hariri, going back to the 13th century, by which time Islam had well established for 2 centuries and Islamic traditions were moving from the violence to the cultured. So this book had elements of art, rhetoric, Islamic jurisprudence, dramatics, legal disputes, charity, painting, politics, etc. etc. It was popular across the world, at least the Islamic World. The book has a series of chapters, each chapter about how a man preaches amazingly on a particular topic and then gets quite a lot of alms and charity and then is exposed as a charlatan. I quote

The pattern established in the first story remains relatively unchanged throughout the text: each new episode is narrated by al-Harith, who witnesses a masterpiece of eloquence by an old or a young man, a woman, a poet, a storyteller, an orator, a person able to read the stars, to resolve grammatical problems, to pronounce authoritatively on legal issues, and so on.5 All of them turn out to be one and the same Abu Zayd, whose performance earns him a generous reward, after which al-Harith discovers the subterfuge; in most cases, he goes on to confront Abu Zayd before both characters part.


What I found amusing was this part.

Besides a solid educational background, the owners of illustrated versions of the work must have boasted some degree of material wealth and deemed pictorial representation acceptable, at least in private, like many people in society appear to have done. In this era, figural art was being deployed on an unprecedented scale in manuscripts, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, statues and figurines, particularly in Iran, Iraq and Syria.30 This phenomenon was, needless to say, not to the liking of all. ‘The angels will not enter a house in which there is a dog or an image’, a well-known religious saying asserted.31 An equally widespread hadith warned that ‘on the Day of Judgement, those who make images (al-musawwirun) will be punished most severely by God’, with some versions adding that they ‘will be called upon to breathe life into what they have created, but they will not succeed’.32

the recent arguments about the Mohammad Cartoons is evidence that so many people still have their heads up the backside of some fundo view of the world. As can be seen, rebellion against this senseless stricture was pretty much widespread across the world and since the beginning. And this is also why accusations of hypocrisy is widespread. I again quote

Such vehement proscriptions did not reverse the societal trends which they implicitly denounced, but one consequence may have been that figural art was generally reserved for private consumption. There is little direct evidence to support this idea, apart from fact that the objects bearing such images were of a private rather than public nature. But it seems likely on the basis of context. The enclosed space of urban homes and their inner courtyards were sheltered from outside interferences by Islamic law. This applied even to houses in which the owners gave themselves over to such unlawful activities as music and drinking, so long as the sound or odour did not blatantly reach outside their walls.35 Theological injunctions against images and legal protection from zealous intrusion thus appear as two sides of the same coin, reflecting a reality in which the norms of religious orthodoxy were plainly ignored by many.


but thankfully as the author says, these wonderfully illustrated books came down history for us to see and admire.



and what’s this???are they kissing? :P



No comments: