Text: Sura XXIV (al-Nur) vv.35-36
.. …la sharqiah wa la gharbiah yakadu zaytiha yuda' walu lam tamsasah narun nur ala noran yahadi allahu li-nurihi min yasha'u wa yadribu allahu alamethal li-nas wa allahu bi-kul shay 'aleayum fi bayut adhan allahu an turfa' wa yudhkar fiha ismuhu...
(...the east nor from the west. The oil would well nigh glow forth even though no fire were to touch it. Light upon light! God guides to his light whomsoever He wills and God sets forth all that is needful for mankind and God knows all things. In houses which God has ordered to be raised, in them His Name)'
Frequently found on mihrabs, the Qur'anic passage is unusual for this kind of architectural element.
Very few wooden pieces of this period survive. The present example is substantially intact and without later restorations; other comparable pieces are almost all fragmentary (M. Gómez-Moreno: Arte Árabe Español hasta los Almohades; Arte Mozárabe, Madrid, 1959, p.253). The earliest dated group of woodwork from the occidental Islamic world is a series of panels from a minbar in Fez dated AH 369/980 AD. That has inscriptions in a similar though rather more provincial kufic script, appropriate for something produced under the local Zirid dynasty rather than in the more cosmopolitan Umayyad state (Andalousie- Les Andalousies de Damas à Cordoue, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2000, p.187 and Maroc: les trésors du royaume exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2000, p.139). Wooden beams still survive in the Great Mosque in Cordoba, and some may exist in collections, but none of these have inscriptions.
The angular script relates to that on Umayyad ivories rather than the fleshier foliated kufic of Fatimid Egypt. The disconnection between the letter forms and its foliation is an early Andalusian feature: in Fatimid versions of the script foliation is more typically seen on the extensions of letters, often against a background of spiralling arabesque. Andalusian ivories with similar calligraphy are illustrated in Gómez-Moreno, op.cit, (pp.308-9), and Andalousie- Les Andalousies de Damas à Cordoue, pp.71,72,121,149. Close comparisons can be made between these examples and the present piece in the formation of letters, curling tendrils and unfurled palmette flourishes. On this beam, however, the foliated extensions are unusually vigorous and in four instances those above the letters of two separate words wrap around each other.
The word "Allah" recurs three times on the beam; it is given special decorative significance. An extra member is inserted between the two lams and each time it is treated differently. In the first case it appears as two arms twisted around each other; in the second it is a large cusped arch, while in the third it is a smaller cusped arch, crowned with three sprouting leaves like a palm. While there are few parallels in extant architectural members of this date, they do exist in ivories. A casket in the Victoria and Albert Museum, dated to the tenth century, contains both forms of cusped arch incorporated similarly into the word 'Allah' which appears twice in its inscription (E. Kühnel: Die Islamischen Elfenbein-Skulpturen, Berlin, 1971, pl. IX figs. 21b and 21d; also Y. Safadi: Islamic Calligraphy, London, 1978 p.46, fig. 21). The similarity in treatment between the two is very close indeed.