The Celestial Lights in Praise of the Best of Creation


This manuscript preserves the text of Al-kawākib al-durriyah fī madḥ khayr al-bariyah (The celestial lights in praise of the Best of Creation), a famous poem in honor of the Prophet Muhammad. The poem is popularly known as al-Burdah (The poem of the mantle). It was composed by Sharaf al-Din Muhammad al-Busiri (circa 1213–circa 1296), a Sufi poet of Berber ancestry who lived in Egypt during the Mamluk era. The mantle (or cloak) is a reference to a miracle of Prophet Muhammad. Al-Busiri, who was paralyzed by a stroke, claimed the Prophet appeared to him in a dream, and wrapped him in his mantle, curing him from paralysis. Composed in the powerfully lyrical basit meter, al-Burdah comprises some 160 lines. Later poets added to the original or composed separate, parallel poems. Al-Burdah covers themes such as the necessity to control the caprices of the self, the Prophet’s choice to live in poverty, the suffering he endured, his isra (ascension to heaven), and intercession through him on the Day of Judgment. The subject of more than 90 commentaries and translations into several languages, the poem endures because of its beauty and the lessons it conveys on spirituality, morality, history, and literary expression. Many lines from al-Burdah adorn tombs, palaces, or religious buildings, making it arguably the second most-used Arabic calligraphy text in Islamic architecture after the Qur'an. Cambridge University professor Timothy Winter considers the poem “very probably the most influential and the most popular single poem in the history of any language.” This manuscript, written in Mamluki thuluth script, was probably produced in Egypt in the 16th century. It is on thick cream-colored paper, with the verses in bold, inked in gold with the letters outlined in black, interspersed with verses in black ink, and eight lines to the page. There is an elaborate ‘unwan (decorative panel, usually at the front of a treatise) with decorations in gold, blue, and green inks. There are no marginal corrections, other markings, or catchwords. Two scribes were involved in the production of this manuscript, whose names are given in the colophon (in a later hand) as Husayn Pasha and Ahmad Pasha.

Last updated: April 14, 2017