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Collection Highlights

Gravestone

Gravestone
© BA Antiquities Museum/M. Mounir

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0184

Inv.Inventory
 (Greco-Roman Museum) G.587

where to find


showcase 27

Gravestone

Category:
Tomb equipment, gravestones
Date:
Islamic Period, 8th Cent. CE
Provenance:
Lower Egypt, Alexandria (El Bardisy Street, El Naby Daniel)
Material(s):
Rock, marble
Length:
35 cm;
Width:
50 cm
Hall:
Islamic Antiquities, showcase 27


Description

A marble grave or headstone engraved with Kufic script without dots in a simple decorative frame which forms in its extension triangles without a base. The writing covers thirteen lines starting with the "Basmala" (In the Name of the God the Most Gracious, Most Merciful – the first verse of every 'sura' in the Koran, except the ninth) and the "Shahada" (Declaration of Belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Muhammad [PBUH]as his prophet), the name of the deceased and Koranic verses.

The headstone states that the deceased believes that the hour is nigh and that God resurrects those who are in their graves and that the deceased lived and died by this belief.  Then there is a call for mercy for the deceased. The writing is engraved on the marble. The style and the way of writing indicate that this headstone belongs to the second century Hejira / eighth century A.D.

Headstones

Islamic Egypt has a large number of headstones, either stone or marble slabs erected over the grave, which state the name of the person lying under them. Islamic Jurists (Fuqaha) do not condone building graves or caring for them or writing on them, but people have not adhered to their opinion. Hence, headstones include the "Basmala", words about the deceased, the praise and glory to Allah, extolling His Prophet, and the two "Shahadas" as well as the date of the person's demise.

The Importance of Headstones

The value of headstones across the ages lies in the fact that they shed light on the development of the Arabic script engraved on them. Arabic scripts exceed one hundred styles, however, the ones most used are the Kufic script, the Thuluth script, the Naskh script, the Farsi script and the Riq'a script.


Where headstones add value is that they allow the student of history to follow the Arabization of Islamic Egypt. In most of the headstones discovered in Aswan and Fostat pertaining to the first two centuries Hejira, it was observed that the name of the deceased person included his tribe. By the third century Hejira, however, we find the name of the tribe replaced by the name of the place or city or the province in which the deceased lived, e.g., So and So, the Egyptian. This may indicate that by the third century Hejira, the Arabs living in Egypt were not differentiated from the natives.

The Kufic Script

This script was called Kufi because it was thought to have been developed at Kufah in Iraq—an early Islamic centre of culture. The Kufic Script is considered to be the oldest, more beautiful and better known Arabic script. It has been extensively used in memorials. It provides an interesting epigraphic insight into the conservation or transmission of the writing tradition across the ages.

The Kufic script varied and developed into a large number of scripts, each with its own characteristics, such as the primary Kufic script. There is an example of this script on a headstone, dating back to 31 Hejira (the time of the Caliphs), currently at the Islamic Art Museum. 

The Kufic script was dominant in the first five centuries Hejira for writing the Koran and on monuments, given its ease of use and decorative appeal. It therefore became the official script to be used on architectural monuments and headstones.

The script was in use until the sixth century Hejira/ twelfth century A.D. and it varied between simple Kufic and the foliated Kufic scripts.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • مصطفى عبد الله شيخة. دراسة تاريخية وأثرية لشواهد القبور الإسلامية. القاهرة: مكتب الجامعة للطباعة، 1984.
  • شواهد قبور من الإسكندرية. إعداد خالد عزب وشيماء السايح. الإسكندرية: مكتبة الإسكندرية، 2007.
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