Tuesday, August 5, 2008

David's Star in Islam

As long as the Arab tribes were leading a nomadic life in the Peninsula of Arab, moving around and not developing towns and villages with fixed architecture, they could not have created symbolic signs of their own. In any case, nothing is known of it. But after their conquest of the settled Mediterranean world, 636-640 C.E., they became in urgent need of these people, who had developed their religions and their symbolic signs on the base of their religious architecture in fixed towns and villages.

As the Arab tribes changed suddenly into residents of towns they had to continue with the religious and secular costumes developed there till then. So it comes that the Caliphs were forced to make use, to a high degree, of the religious symbolic signs of the population, and to make use of the artisans, creating them. And so Jewish and Christian religions were tolerated and saved from supression and Islamic art was born.

Yet, the Signs were not accepted in their distinct religious meaning, than in a much freer way, which expressed much more than till now, the aesthetic and decorative appearance of the signs. It started to form the outer life of the Arab Society, in Mosques, in homes, on Carpets, on Mosaic Floors, in Ceramics, in Fayence - and Stucco decoration, and in everyday metal appliances and tools.

Main Islamic Monuments

Dome of the Rock

The first monumental building in Omayyad times is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built by Caliph Abd al Malik in 692/3 as an octagonal building around the Sakhrah, the holy rock, of the Temple Mount. This rock was looked upon as the center of the world and El Akza the starting point of Prophet Muhammed's nightly Flight to Heaven.

Abd Al Malik made use of Persian-Sassanian artisans for the interior and outer decoration of the building. The lower part of the building in its pears and walls is covered till the hight of 6.90 m. with beautiful marble slabs and above them by a rich mosaic decoration, consisting of elaborate Acanthus Scrolls (on the tambour) and realistic tree - and flower decoration (on pillars and engaged ones). Yet the Davidic Sign is not to be found in it as the sign is not contained in Sassanian Mosaic decoration.

All the outside was renewed by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1552 in Faiance Tiles showing the Magen David in multiple compositions between and above the windows.
- Yet, David’s Star is most frequent in Numismatics from the beginning in Abbaside times till today – Morocco. Much in use is the Davidic Star also in ceramics, decorating in emblematic shape glazed bowls .

The Winter Palace of the Caliph Hisham III (724-743)

In contrast, we find in a second monumental building of the Omayyad period - the Winter Palace of the Caliph Hisham III (724-743) at Khirbet Mefjar (near Jericho) - a rich decoration of Mosaic Floors of Neo-Christian origin. Between them is also a Carpet Floor of multiple David Stars and of single stars in the private Mosque there of the Caliph.

The Magen David became in the course of time one of the main ornaments in the religious and secular arts of Islam.

As one of the finest examples may serve The Carved Teakwood Panel from Takrit in Egypt from the end of the 8th century in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

71. Carved teakwood panel from Takrit in Egypt from the end of the 8th century. From: Maurice Dimard, Ars Islamica, 1937, p. 296

The large Davidic Sign is commanding the plate arising from a rich background of infinite Vine Leaves, Flowers and Rosettes. All the outer angles of the Star are filled with Disks with a cross- like Lily Sign decoration, while the inner angles are filled by wine leaf ornamentation. The four spandrels of the square plate are filled with much larger Disks with a straight Lily Sign accompanied by a wine leaf left and right. Also the center of the Davidic Star is occupied by a large Disk with a similar combination of Lily Sign and wine leafs.

This Disk ornamentation, as we understand, is representing God and the world's unit in the ideal shape of the circle.

Jews and Arabs in the 8th and 9th century C.E.

In the 8th and 9th century C.E. there happend to be a kind of approachment between the Jewish and the Arab peoples. There was not only important improvement of social contact between them than also a mutual exchange in cultural achievements. The common language of the Jews became Arabic. Main Arab theological and philosophical writings were translated into Hebrew and Hebrew writings were translated into the Arab language. Even the Koran was published in Hebrew letters, but in the original Arab language.

The two historical developments of the Arab world:

a) The assimilation of the Neo- Christian symbolica in the 7th to the 9th centuries. and

b) The cultural and vital approach of Jews and Arabs in the East of the 8th and the 9th centuries were becoming the pre-requisites to a fundamental religious restoration in the Jewish world, i.e. with other words, the Massoretic Movement of the 9th to the 11th centuries.

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