The inscription on the door alludes specifically to Al-Hakim bi-Amrillah which was the title assumed by the Fatimid Caliph, al-Mansur:
“Our Lord, the Commander of the Faithful/the Imam, al-Hakim bi-Amrillah/May the Blessings of God be upon him and upon his ancestors, al-Tahireen, and his descendants”
Name of Object:
Door wings of al-Hakim bi-Amrillah, 6th Fatimid Caliph or 16th Ismaili Imam
Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, Egypt
Height 325 cm, width 200 cm (appx. in inches, Height 128″, Width 79″)
Carving on wood.
Date of the object:
Hegira 386–411/AD 996–1021
The door from the Congregational Mosque of al-Azhar is made up of two leafs, each of which contains seven rectangular panels, some of which are vertical and others, horizontal. The two top panels are decorated by a two-line inscription in floriated kufic script. It should be noted that the position of these two door panels were switched around when they were remounted. In order to read the text in the appropriate way, one must read in reverse order and begin by reading the top line of the panel on the left-hand side and then continue with the top line from the panel on the right-hand side, in the following manner:
“Our Lord, the Commander of the Faithful/the Imam, al-Hakim bi-Amrillah/May the Blessings of God be upon him and upon his ancestors, al-Tahireen, and his descendants.”
Al-Hakim bi-Amrillah was the specific title assumed by the Fatimid Caliph, al-Mansur. His agnomen was Abu Ali (Father of Ali).
The inscription ends with a prayer on behalf of the Fatimid caliph, and is a well-known Fatimid supplication that ascribes the attribute, al-Tahireen, to the ancestors of the Fatimid caliphs. This is a term that alludes to those who are considered as being far beyond reproach, stain, or sin and it was an attribute applied to those who belonged to the family of the Prophet Muhammad, such as the Fatimid Imams.
The 12 remaining panels are ornamented with carved vegetal motifs in low relief. These decorations clearly reveal the particularities of the early Fatimid style of wood carving, a style of slanted, bevelled engraving, and one which is distinctive of the Tulunid style. It may be observed that the decorative elements assume the form of vegetal stems, marked by their length, and the use of decoration in the form of bi-segmented palm fronds. It should also be noted that the decorative vocabulary includes a new design motif, in the form of a kidney-shaped blossom developed from the winged leaf. Thus the door of Imam al-Hakim sheds light on the development of Islamic wood carving and assists in the dating of some other wooden objects of the period.
How object was obtained:
This door was transferred from the Congregational Mosque of al-Azhar and preserved in the Museum of Islamic Art; as one of the museum’s first acquisitions in around 1903 it formed the basis of the collection.
How date and origin were established:
The object was dated by the name of the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah which appears on it. Furthermore, dating is based on the known interest that al-Hakim took in the building and maintenance of the al-Azhar Congregational Mosque, for he enlarged the mosque by adding two colonnaded arcades (riwaqs) in the courtyard. Historians also allude to the waqf (endowment) in the name of al-Hakim that dates to 400/1009 and the fact that revenues from the endowment are reverted to al-Azhar Mosque to be spent on the salaries of the Khatib (orator), a’imma (imams, prayer leaders), mu’addiniin (muezzins), servants, furnishing, other implements and for lighting and lighting accessories.
How provenance was established:
The inscription on the door alludes specifically to Al-Hakim bi-Amrillah which was the title assumed by the Fatimid Caliph, al-Mansur. It is known that the Imam took an active interest in the building and maintenance of the al-Azhar Congregational Mosque and that the waqf in the name of al-Hakim directs revenues from the endowment to al-Azhar Mosque. The door was transferred from the mosque to the Museum of Islamic Art in the early 20th century.
Above text and images adapted with the kind permission of Museum with No Frontiers (MWNF). Copyright MWNF.
Please visit the state of the art MWNF Website at http://www.museumwnf.org/ and click on Discover Islamic Art for more images, close-ups, additional research material and bibliography of the above object(s) as well as numerous objects and monuments from other periods of Islamic History.
Please read other articles in this website on Fatimid Objects/Monuments at MWNF:
Literary Reading: Fatimid Monument – Aqueduct in Kairouan, Tunisia; Patron Imam al-Mui’zz (the reading includes a summary of the goals and vision of MWNF)
Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Textile Fragment Attributed to Imam al-Aziz
Literary Reading: Fatimid Monuments – The Al-Hakim Mosque and Bab al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest)
Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Fragment of Robe Attributed to Imam al-Mustansir
Literary Reading: Fatimid Objects – Four Ivory Panels
Fatimid Monument: Great Mosque of Mahdiyya (NEW READING)