May 9, 2016


This calligraphic fragment belongs to a series of 22 inshaʼ (literary compositions or letters) written by calligraphers named Mir Kalan, Khan Zaman (son of Khan Khanan), Qaʼim Khan, Lutfallah Khan, and Mahabat Khan. Judging from the script (Indian nastaʻliq), a seal impression bearing the date 1113 AH (1701−2), and a letter mentioning the city of Janpur in India, it appears that these writings were executed in India during the 18th century. Furthermore, if one were to identify the calligrapher Mir Kalan as the renowned painter active during the mid-18th century in Lucknow, then this identification would add further support to identifying this calligraphic series in the Library of Congress’ collection as a corpus of materials produced by several writers active in 18th-century India. The calligraphies are typically written in a hasty nastaʻliq on white paper, framed in blue, and pasted to a pink or salmon cardboard. They stand out for being in rather poor condition, in many cases badly damaged by worm holes and/or water stains. Some bear squiggle-like marks in the margins, while others include seal impressions that were cut out and pasted onto the cardboards. In most cases, an attribution to a calligrapher is written at the top, preceded by the expression raqamahu (written by) or khatt-i (the handwriting of). A small note at the top of this fragment’s recto states that the work was executed “khatt-i . . . Mir Kalan.” In the lower-left corner appears a squiggle motif. The main text, written in black ink on a white piece of paper, consists of a letter. It is initiated by a bayt (verse) of poetry on love and separation, and continues with the writer expressing his wish to see his addressee again. He describes his friend/brother as a son and as the source of all generosity (of which he hopes to receive some of the benefit). This particular fragment’s verso bears a note attributing the text to a particular calligrapher, although the note is now damaged. If it were by the same writer as the text on the fragment’s recto, then one might assume that it was executed by Mir Kalan. The text itself, executed in black ink on a white piece of paper, begins with two bayts of poetry about joy and the need to see one's friends. Then the writer concludes with his own letter, stating that he is in good health and hopes to be of use (literally, become a bandagar, or servant) to the addressee.

Various Verses of Poetry

This calligraphic page includes a number of verses of poetry in the central text area and in the many rectangular panels forming borders. In the main, central text area appears a rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) written in diagonal. The verses solicit borrowed grandeur and read: “Oh Friend, I am not successful compared to you / I appear small and indigent / Nonetheless, I beg (of you) a clean robe / So that I can wear (it) and show off in front of people.” In the lower-left corner of the panel containing the rubaʻi, alʻabd (the servant) Shah Mahmud has stated that he wrote this katabahu (specimen). The calligrapher Shah Mahmud al-Nishapuri (died 1564 or 1565 in Mashhad) was one of the most celebrated masters of nastaʻliq script active during the reign of the Safavid king Shah Tahmasp (reigned 1524−76) in Tabriz. Shah Mahmud’s beautiful handwriting earned him the nickname Zarrin Qalam (Golden Pen). He was also a poet in his own right. A number of qitʻas (calligraphic fragments) signed by him are held in international collections. Verses immediately surrounding the main panel of text are individually cut out and pasted so as to create a textual frame, while verses in the rectangular panels contained on the outermost salmon-colored border are executed directly on the sheet of paper. For this reason, it is possible that these verses were not executed by Shah Mahmud al-Nishapuri. Rather, they may have been added by a different calligrapher or album compiler at a later date. All text panels have been pasted to a larger blue sheet, backed by cardboard, decorated with flowers and plants painted in gold.

Saudi Customs Tariffs for 1357 AH

This booklet, Al-Taʻrifah al-jumrukīyah sanat 1357 (Saudi customs tariffs for 1357 AH), published by the finance ministry of Saudi Arabia, which contains schedules for the Saudi tariffs for the Hijri year of 1357 (1938‒39), offers insights into the workings of the Saudi economy before large-scale development of the oil industry in the 1950s. The publication begins with a one-page bayan (declaration) specifying the values of the official currency, weights, and measures in the kingdom. This is followed by the tariff schedules, with import items ordered alphabetically. The schedules start with the imports, and include tables for categories such as spare parts for automobiles, hardware, and groceries, followed by schedules for exports. A 34-page addendum provides alphabetically ordered notes that explain the laws or make exceptions to them, with each note published on a separate sheet of paper. Some pages have handwritten additions in red, correcting errors and omissions in the original print. An interesting item in the imports table is hand-rolled cigarettes and tobacco, the use of which was common in the Hejaz region, especially before it was annexed by King Abdulaziz ibn Saud to form the united political entity known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Cigarettes were imported from Syria and Egypt, but also from Aden, at the time a British protectorate. The founder of the kingdom, King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, and his son and immediate successor, King Saud, came under pressure from Britain to open up Saudi markets for British tobacco imports at a time when oil revenues had not yet had any significant effect on the Saudi economy. The booklet was printed at the Umm al-Qura Press, which was established around 1885 as the first printing house in the Kingdom of Hejaz. The copy presented here is from the collections of the Law Library of the Library of Congress.

Marriage Laws in the Ancient Near East

Brachnoe pravo drevni︠a︡go Vostoka (Marriage laws in the ancient Near East) originally was written as a doctoral thesis at Kazan University, the premier center for oriental studies in the Russian Empire. The author, Adolf Mikhailovich Osipov (1842‒1905), was a scholar, jurist, and writer. Of Polish origin, he studied in Warsaw and in Germany, and taught at Kazan University, where the book was published in 1872. The book has three chapters. Chapter one gives an overview of the cultures covered in the book (China, Egypt, India, Persia, the Jews, and Greece). Chapter two deals with engagement: its meaning and types in different societies, conditions for entering into an engagement, the forms and rites of engagement, the consequences of entering into an engagement, and the termination of an engagement and its consequences. Chapter three deals with the forms and rites of marriage, with sections devoted to China, India, Persia, the Jews, and Greece. The author notes that while in most cultures the family was viewed as a fundamental unit of the society, ensuring the latter’s strength and continuity, marriage traditions and family life differed across cultures. In China, marriage was defined by the obligation to perform religious rites and produce children, although the birth of a girl was considered a misfortune. The wife was restricted to the home and was not allowed to share the same rooms with the husband. Slaves were considered part of the family and had the same rights as the children. Polygamy was permitted. In Egypt, marriage was imperative for inheritance as it allowed property to be passed on to the children. Women had more freedom than in China and although polygamy existed it was not very popular. In India, marriage traditions were closely linked to religion and concepts of incarnation, reverence for the dead, and mysticism. Women were allowed to travel alone, visit temples, and go outside of the house unescorted. However, the society had a patronizing attitude towards women and viewed them as needing protection by the men. The birth of girls was met with disappointment. Despite a limited freedom, in marriage a woman belonged to her husband. In Persia, marriage laws reflected the teachings of Zoroastrianism. As in other cultures, the birth of a daughter was met with sadness. Having children, especially sons, was one of the main goals in a marriage. In Greece, the family was considered the foundation of the country, and laws on marriage had been in existence from early history. The man was the head of the family, but compared to other cultures, his power was not unlimited. A woman had a strong position in the family. The Jews had a comparatively broader and more inclusive interpretation of the family. Inheritance laws were important and property could be passed only directly from the father to the oldest son. A woman was considered to be a partner of her husband. Women held jobs outside the family and could reach higher positions in the society, such as a judge or official.

The Book of Scales

Kitāb al-mīzān (The book of scales) is a compendium of Islamic legal principles and practice by ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Shaʻrani, an Egyptian scholar, prolific writer, and Sufi leader of 16th century Egypt. Rather than the usual compilation of legal rules based on one or another of the major Islamic schools of law, Kitāb al-mīzān is an argument for reconciliation among the four Sunni legal approaches. It emphasizes the similarities rather than the differences between these schools. Introspection is a characteristic of al-Shaʻrani’s writing. This work begins with a long and personal essay addressed directly to his readers, in which he urges them to approach his innovative ideas with an open mind. What follows is a catalog of religious obligations relating to subjects ranging from prayer to pilgrimage to prescribed conduct in marriage, in which he emphasizes the agreement of the four Imams, Abu Hanifah (died 767 or 768), Malik ibn Anas (died 795), al-Shafiʻi (died 820), and Ibn Hanbal (died 855). To assist readers in conceptualizing the unity of the schools, the author, or perhaps the editor, has included eight diagrams illustrating the interpretations of the schools in relation to scripture and hadith. Al-Shaʻrani has been criticized by some scholars for ignoring key differences among the schools of law. Despite such critiques, he is hailed as an original thinker, perhaps the last to appear in Egypt from the time of the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517 until the early 19th century reforms of Muhammad ‘Ali Basha (died 1849). Al-Shaʻrani himself adhered to the Shafiʻi school of law. He was a Sufi adept and founded an order that was practiced for two centuries. The work is in two volumes with indexes. It was prepared for publication by Hasan al-‘Adawi al-Hamzawi of al-Azhar and was printed in Cairo. The volumes are from the collections of the Law Library of the Library of Congress.

Rules for Governing

Al-aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah (Rules for governing), by Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi (died 1058), is known as the earliest comprehensive work on governing the Islamic state. It combines theoretical reflections on the nature of the state and the qualifications of the caliph and his officials with practical guidance on the application of legal principles for judges. The influence of Al-aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah has varied over the years. In his English translation, scholar Asadullah Yate treats the work as of antiquarian interest, stating that it “affords insights into aspects of the deen (religion) that have all but vanished in the twentieth century of the Christian era.” Today, however, with the reappearance of Islamic religiosity, its treatment of statehood and leadership is regarded as of more importance. In straightforward, unadorned prose, al-Mawardi covers qualifications for leadership, requirements for high executive and judicial office, and the determination of primacy among rival caliphs or military regimes. This last subject was in fact the stimulus for him to write the book. Al-Mawardi lived in Baghdad at a time when the Abbasid caliphs were fighting to restore their primacy in confrontation with numerous rivals, among them the Shia Buyid dynasty and their Sunni rivals the Seljuks. A staunch Sunni, al-Mawardi argues for a realistic statecraft based on principles he discerned in the Qurʼan and in the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. al-Mawardi appears to have been born in humble circumstances in Basra, southern Iraq. His family sent him to Baghdad for education. He rose to a position of influence at the Abbasid court through his writings on government. For all his importance, he has received little attention from biographers. Some authors make the unsubstantiated claim that his family was Kurdish, while in other cases historians incorrectly place him among a group of Meccan theoreticians who were out of touch with the real circumstances of Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo and thus could not have composed this work. Published in 1881, the edition presented here is from the collections of the Law Library of the Library of Congress.