Tawaf in The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan (813-4/1410-1, Shiraz, Iran)

Tawaf in The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan

British Library, MS.Add.27261 fols 362b-363a

This manuscript was produced at the court of Iskandar Sultan, great patron of the arts, grandson of Tamerlane and ruler of the province of Fars in south-west Iran (1409 –1414). The illustration is from a text on Islamic jurisprudence about the restrictions on a pilgrim when in the state of ihram. Depicted on the left is a dense concentration of pilgrims in ihram surrounding the Ka‘ba. The sanctuary and the city are enclosed behind a high wall. Angels hover above the Ka‘ba. To the right a pilgrim caravan approaches the city. During Iskandar Sultan’s rule, manuscripts of great refinement were made in the royal atelier at Shiraz. The other texts in this volume comprise a selection of religious and lyric verse and treatises on astronomy, astrology, geometry and alchemy.

The Sanctuary at Mecca and the rite of Tawaf from the Futuh al-haramayn by Muhyi al-Din Lari. (16th century, Iran)

The Sanctuary at Mecca and the rite of Tawaf from the Futuh al-haramayn

British Library, Or 1153, fol. 27b

In the early 16th century Muhyi al-Din Lari (d.1526) composed a guide in Persian verse for pilgrims to Mecca. Known as Futuh al-haramayn (Revelations of the Two Sanctuaries), the manuscripts contain colourful illustrations of places of interest in and around the holy cities. These are stylised rather than strictly accurate representations. A good number of manuscripts survived, at least twelve of which have colophon inscriptions indicating that they were produced in Mecca itself and could have been acquired by pilgrims as souvenirs.

The occasion of arriving to the holy sanctuary inspired these verses:

What I have experienced from seeing that sight
is a mystery that I am unable to divulge.
My heart became drowned in the Ocean of Meeting;
I was lost to myself in the glory of Beauty.
It made me bewildered, amazed, stupefied;
the house of my being parted from its foundation!
Crying out, I made for the place of tawaf;
dancing, I came forward for my circumambulation.
His infinite generosity became manifest
as I planted a kiss upon the Black Stone –
revolving, circling, and full of presence
I became a moth, and He a luminous candle.
Translated by Muhammad Isa Waley (The Art of Hajj, 2012)

Tawaf by Peter Sanders

Tawaf by Peter Sanders

Peter Sanders (mid-1990s)

The Kabah is the world’s sun whose force attracts you into its orbit. You have become part of this universal system. Circumambulating around Allah, you will soon forget yourself. You have been transformed into a particle that is gradually melting and disappearing. This is love at its absolute peak.
‘Ali Shariati (1933–75)

Tawaf means circumambulation and in this, the first of the rituals of Hajj, pilgrims walk anticlockwise around the Ka‘ba seven times. This tradition goes back to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Isma‘il (Ishmael), who walked around the Ka‘ba seven times after they had rebuilt the structure. Pilgrims undertaking tawaf are following in the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim, Isma‘il and Muhammad.

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council