52
52
An unusual qibla-indicator by the master craftsman of late 17th-century Isfahan, ‘Abd al-A’imma
Estimation
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52
An unusual qibla-indicator by the master craftsman of late 17th-century Isfahan, ‘Abd al-A’imma
Estimation
25 00035 000
Lot. Vendu 50,400 GBP (Prix d’adjudication avec commission acheteur)
ACCÉDER AU LOT

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An unusual qibla-indicator by the master craftsman of late 17th-century Isfahan, ‘Abd al-A’imma

Description

International Instrument Checklist number: #8201

‘Abd al-A’imma was one of the most prolific instrument-makers of late-17th-century Isfahan. [See Mayer, Islamic Astrolabists, pp. 23-26.] He is known by over thirty astrolabes and at least two other qibla-indicators, both of which are rectangular and incorporate sundials and information on the times of prayer. His work is characterized by its elegance and its technical accuracy. He used an elegant ornamental naskhî script for his principal engraving. Nothing of consequence is known of his life, save that he was a Shi‘ite, his name signifying “Slave of the (twelve Shi‘ite) Imâms”, in the same way that little is known about the milieu in which he worked. [See King, World-Maps, pp. 262-269]

The two other qibla-indicators by ‘Abd al-A’imma are as follows. Abbreviations used here are: MHS for Museum of the History of Science, Oxford; PLU for “present location unknown”; and TM for the former collection of the Time Museum in Rockford, Illinois. Neither of these is published in detail.

1        Oxford MHS                              #8042                  unsigned

2        PLU                                           #8041                    signed

Notes:                                              

1          Both sides are illustrated in King, World-Maps, pp. 120-121. The information on the qibla is analyzed ibid., pp. 518-519 and 545.

2          Both sides are illustrated in King, World-Maps, pp. 119. The information on the qibla is analyzed ibid., pp. 518-519.

We shall have occasion to mention a contemporaneous circular qibla-indicator by Muhammad Tâhir [Mayer, Islamic Astrolabists, p. 78]:

3        Potsdam                               #8050                    signed

Notes:

3          This is discussed ibid., pp. 118 and 120 (with references to an earlier publication by Körber), with the qibla-data analyzed ibid., pp. 520-521 and 545.

The topic of the qibla, or sacred direction towards the Kaaba in Mecca, is of concern to all Muslims, but was of particular concern in Safavid Iran, especially the 16th and early 17th cenuries. More treatises on the determination of the qibla were compiled and more instruments for finding the qibla were constructed than in any period of Muslim history. These treatises and instruments had a distinct Shi‘ite flavour, and the sacred geography of the time laid emphasis not only on Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, but also on specifically Shi‘ite centres such as Kerbela, Najaf, and Kazimiyya in Baghdad, all in the then Safavid province of al-‘Irâq. [See King, World-Maps, passim, esp. pp. 134-138 and 545.] Part of the inspiration for this activity was a geographical table compiled in Kish near Samarqand in the early 15th century in which, in addition to longitudes and latitudes, the direction of Mecca to the nearest minute and the great-circle distances equivalent to the nearest mile, were given – with remarkable accuracy – for some 275 localities from al-Andalus to China. [Ibid., pp. 149-168.]

Whilst some highly-sophisticated instruments – such as world-maps centred on Mecca and fitted with grids preserving direction and distance to the centre – were made in Safavid Iran (the inspiration was a good five centuries older), simpler instruments showing the qibla for specific localities were also popular and much more widespread.

This qibla-indicator is different in conception from the other two known by Shi‘ite ‘Abd al-A’imma but similar to that of Muhammad Tâhir. It consists of a magnetic compass with a 360°-division scale marked with the qiblas or direction of Mecca of some 30-odd localities mainly in Greater Iran. Such compasses with a few such directions are known, but ‘Abd al-A’imma has filled a complete quadrant with directions for each 5°. On the front and back are the standard lists of cities with their qibla values, so that the instrument could be used anywhere in Greater Iran and in a few other locations in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Maghrib.

The compass needle is hammer-shaped at each end, rather than havinf the more usual blue bird-shaped pointer to indicate south. The circular glass cover is kept in place by means of a “square” four-leafed frame. There are two movable pointers, one to be aligned in the meridian, the other in the qibla of the locality in question. [On compasses on Islamic instruments see King, World-Maps, pp. 98-101, 107-124, 282-284.]

On the bottom is the inscription:

sanaahu al-faqîr al-haqîr Abd al-Aimma

“Made by the one who is in need (of God’s mercy) and the wretched one, ‘Abd al-A’imma.”

On the top is the inscription:

sunia li-l-sayyid al-ajall al-azam Mîrzâ Sayyid Alî

“Made for the most excellent nobleman Mîrzâ Sayyid ‘Alî.”

This individual has not been identified. The letters d-m and z-l-h are visible below the inscription in a smaller script, and whilst they make no sense together, they recall invocations about God lengthening the shadow of a person (zilluhu).

In the following list of the data on this instrument, references are given to the lists on two other qibla-indicators cum sundials by ‘Abd al-A’imma (AIM – see King, World-Maps, pp. 518-519), as well as to a circular qibla-indicator by the contemporaneous Muhammad Tâhir (T=THR – ibid., pp. 520-521) now in Potsdam, as well as to the early-15th-century Timurid geographical table (TMR – ibid., pp. 456-477). The values given on this instrument do not always accord with those on the other instruments or with the accurate values as given in the Timurid table. Generally the rule seems to be: if the Persian instrument-makers could make a mistake, they would. This is particularly the case when a dot here or there could alter the reading, or a dot left out could change a number drastically (thus, for example, 54 becomes 14). An asterisk indicates a reference to the notes that follow the table.

Localities                            Qibla                AIM/THR          TMR

TOP / OUTER RING

  1      Medina                  37°10¢ SE                     1                22

  2      Najaf-i ashraf          12 34 SW                      9              102

  3      Baghdad                12 45 SW                    13              104

  4      Samarra                7 56                           12              101

  5      Erzerum                  0 39                          56                55

  6      Kufa                      12                              Æ              102

  7      Basra                    36  5                             4              106

  8      Sustar                   35 27                            6              110

  9      Dawraq                  37 20                    Æ/T62                Æ

10      Ahwaz                   40 30                    Æ/T65              112

11      Sultaniyya             27 40                     Æ/TÆ              267

12      Aleppo                  18 29                          57                43

13      Hilla                      12  0                           11                Æ

14      Gulpayagan           18  0                       Æ/T8              136

15      Kankawar              30 30                          16                Æ

16      Nahrawan              14 36                     Æ/TÆ                Æ

17      Burujird                 34 30                          19                Æ

18      Kirmanshah           24  9                           14              125

19      Isfahan                  40 29                          21              138

20      Kashan                 34 31                          45              139

21      Qum                     31 54                          44              140

22      Sawa                    29 36                    Æ/T17              133

23      Hamadhan             22 16                          15              131

INNER RING

24      Qazwin                  26 34 SW                    46              134

25      Damawand            32 44                    Æ/T24              147

26      Amul                     35  0                           41              148

27      Sari                       34 14                          40              149

28      Astarabad              34 14                          39              150

29      Rayy                     36 26                          43              141

30      Simnan                 36 17                          38              153

31      Damghan               38   0                          36              154

32      Sabzawar              44 12                          35              159

33      Bistam                  39 13                          37              155

34      Meshed                 45  6                           25              161

TOP / OUTER RING

35      Yazd                     48 39 SW                    23              122

36      Shiraz                   43 18                            7              120

37      Istakhr                   43 48                     Æ/TÆ              121

38      Kazarun                51  7                             8              116

39      Abarquh                45  0                           22              258

40      Junabid                 12 15                           Æ               Æ*

41      Talaqan                 29 33                          47              144

42      Bahrein                 57 23                    Æ/T69                26

43      Lahsa                    69 30                            5                27

44      Marw                     40 30                          30              173

45      Herat                     54  8                           26              169

46      Tun                       50 20                          33              164

47      Qayin                    54  1                           32              165

48      Mazinan                32 14                    Æ/T34              158

49      Kirman                  63  5                           28              218

50      Qandahar              75  5                           29              239

51      Nahawand             24  0                     Æ/TÆ              128

52      Barfurush               22  0                     Æ/TÆ              271

53      Kajur                     26 37                          42                42

54      Jarâr (??)               29 50                     Æ/TÆ                ?*

55      Lahijan                  29 20                     Æ/TÆ              268

56      Sumayram             38  0                           24              137

57      Isfarayin                48 20                     Æ/TÆ              270

INNER CIRCLE

58      Kashghar               58 36 SW              Æ/TÆ              205

59      Tabas Gilaki          12 15                     Æ/TÆ              163

60      Tabriz                   15 40                    Æ/T48                83

61      Maragha                16 17                          52                82

62      Ardabil                  17 53                          48                84

63      Kanja                    14 49                          51                85

64      Bardaa                  16 37                    Æ/T56                87

65      Shirwan                 20  9                           54                Æ

66      Nakhchevan           12 15                          53                81 

67      Shamakha             20  0                         54+                97

68      Shahrazur              13  4                     Æ/TÆ              123

Notes: 40 (Junabid) - see the text below; 54 - the name could be read Harrân, but TMR61 gives the qibla of that city as 14°42¢ W of S.

All of the data is taken from lists of longitudes, latitudes and qiblas that were in circulation, not all, however, from the superior list TMR. The volatility of this data is well illustrated by entry 40: Junabid (Gonabid): it is not in TMR, but, no doubt because it was the hometown of some of the Isfahan astrolabists, its qibla was calculated as 52°35¢: it appears here as 12°15¢, as the result of copyists’ errors in both numbers. [On Junabid see King, World-Maps, pp. 178, 272, and entry 42 on p. 489.]

The directions around the compass are shown in the following list. Entries in italics are rounded from the values in the table above (A); other entries are compared with the values in the Timurid table mentioned above (TMR):

Localitiy                                Qibla                                  A/TMR

SOUTH                                    0

1        Damdam                 10° W of N                     TMR79: 9°1¢

2        Tabriz                           15                              A60: 15 40

3        Shamakha                    20                                A67: 20 0

4        Bulghar                         25                         TMR99: 24 41

5        Talaqan                         30                              A41: 29 33

6        Kashan                         35                              A20: 34 31

7        Isfahan                         40                              A19: 40 29

8        Meshed                         45                                A34: 45 6

9        Tun                               50                              A46: 50 20

10      Marw-i Rudh                  55                      TMR172: 54 42*

11      Khabis                          60                        TMR222: 60 24

12      Andarab                        65                        TMR183: 65 28

13      Bam                             70                        TMR220: 69 37

14      Qandahar                      75                                A50: 75 5

15      Multan                          80                        TMR238: 80 48

WEST                                    90

16      Bandar Surat           85° W of S                TMR249: 83 42*

17      Surat                            75                                    see 16

18      Sri Lanka                      70                        TMR243: 70 12

19      Sohar                            41               TMR21: 40°32¢30¢¢*

NORTH                                    0

20      Aden                     7°30¢ E of N                    TMR18: 5 50

21      Zabid                          21 30                       TMR20: 21 25

22      Beja                              55                         TMR10: 54 45

23      Dongola                        69                         TMR12: 68 45

24      Ethiopia                        81                                    TMRÆ

EAST                                       90

25      Fez                               78                           TMR2: 78 24

26      Cairo                             60                         TMR15: 58 38

27      Jerusalem                     45                         TMR29: 45 43

28      Sidon                            39                         TMR35: 36 50

29      Damascus                     32                         TMR38: 30 31

30      Medina                         26                              A1: 37 10*

31      Aleppo                          20                                 A: 18 29

32      Amid                             10                         TMR72: 11 29

Notes: 10 – name written Mârûkhân; 16-17 – Bandar Surat is in order; Surat in 17 has been repeated by mistake; 19 – occasionally qibla values in TMR are given to the nearest 30¢¢;  30 – the qibla is some 11° off.

Clearly, ‘Abd al-A’imma has favoured localities whose qiblas round to multiples of 5°. A very few mistakes have occurred, such as confusion between Bandar Surat and Surat (15-16) in India, and, more notably, the qibla of Medina (no. 30) being over 10° off the accurate value.

Around the rim is engraved the nada ‘Ali quatrain in Arabic:

 “Call upon ‘Alî, who wonder reveals.
You will find him to be a help in misfortunes.
All anguish, all sorrow will disappear
Through your friendship (with God), O ‘Alî ! O ‘Alî ! O ‘Alî !'

The engraving is within extended quatrefoil frames separated by quatrefoils. [On quatrefoil decoration on Islamic instruments see King, Synchrony, II, pp. 963-991.]

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