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DDFIA Glossary of Islamic Art

*this glossary is specific to the DDFIA collection

ablaq - a term used to describe two types of architectural decoration prevalent in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon in particular. The first comprises rectangular stones covered in single colors of plaster (orange, white, black) and alternating with one another to constitute entire walls; the second is a more complex mosaic-like technique in which colored pastes are poured into voids cut out of a thin layer of plaster applied over stone.


Agra Fort (1565–73) - fort complex in Agra, India, built during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar; an inspiration for the Mughal Suite.


‘ajami  - a technique of interior architectural decoration prevalent in late-Ottoman Syria, in particular, where it was used to decorate rooms within elite courtyard homes (see the Damascus Room at Shangri La).


‘ataba – the lower entry area of a late-Ottoman Syrian reception room known as a qa‘a  (see the Syrian Room at Shangri La).


Abi Tahir – A four-generation family of potters based in Kashan, Iran, and active during the Seljuk and Ilkhanid periods (c. 1200–1320). These potters often signed and dated their works, which include the DDFIA’s Veramin mihrab (48.327, signed ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir).


bayt – a house.


bismilla (Arabic: “In the name of God”) – this phrase opens all but one chapter of the Qur’an.


çatma – a type of gold brocaded silk velvet (see example 83.6.1) produced in Turkey c. 1600–1750 and generally attributed to the city of Bursa; typically used as upholstery, such as cushion covers.


chahar bagh (Persian: four gardens) – a term that references the four-part arrangement of gardens, particularly in Iran and India.


Chehel Sutun (Persian: forty columns) – a Safavid palace, built c. 1647–50, in Isfahan, Iran; the inspiration for Shangri La’s Playhouse.


chemmassiat – Moroccan windows consisting of monochromatic pieces of colored glass inset into a pierced gypsum frame (see example 46.1.1-82).


chinikhana (Persian: porcelain house) – in the Mughal Indian context, small arched niches found in walls, where they sometimes held small objects (such as ceramics), or in vertical water features, where water cascaded over them (see the Mughal garden at Shangri La). 


dado – the lower portion of a wall.


Fath ‘Ali Shah – second Qajar shah, who ruled Iran from 1797 to 1834.


ghalian – a water pipe (see example 44.41-b).


Hijra – the migration of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE; marks the start of the Islamic calendar (AH 663 = 1265 CE).


imam – a term used to reference the leader of ritual prayer, an infallible religious guide, and/or an individual tracing descent from the Prophet Muhammad.


imamzadeh – a tomb of a descendant of a Shi‘ite imam, and hence also the Prophet Muhammad; notable Seljuk- and/or Ilkhanid-period examples can be found in Qum, Veramin, Gurgan and Isfahan.


iwan – a vaulted hall with three sides, and the fourth left open (e.g., facing onto a courtyard).


Ilkhanid – dynasty of Mongol origin that ruled in Greater Iran from 1256 to 1335. Learn more.  


Isfahan, Iran – capital city of the Safavid dynasty from 1598 to 1722.


Itimad ud-daula, tomb of (1036–7/1626–28) – tomb in Agra, India; commissioned by the wife of Jahangir for her father; an inspiration for the Mughal Suite.


jali – in India, a perforated architectural screen (see example 41.7.7a-b), typically carved out of marble or sandstone, and often enclosing a holy space, like a tomb. 


Kashan, Iran – an important center of ceramic arts production, particularly during the Seljuk and Ilkhanid periods.


khatamkari – a technique of wood inlay, particularly common in Iran, in which thin strips of ivory, bone, brass, wood and other media are wrapped together in tight bundles and then sliced from end to end, creating a number of round flat units that are then applied to the substrate; used to decorate a wide variety of objects and furnishings, from small boxes to large doors (see example 64.48.1).


Kufic – a calligraphic script distinguished by straight, bold lines; generally used in early Qur’ans and on buildings (see example 48.454).


lajvardina (from lajvard, Persian for cobalt blue) – a twice-fired ceramic technique in which enamels (red, white) and gilding are applied over an already-fired glazed surface (generally cobalt or turquoise) and fixed during a second firing; used to create both portable vessels (see example 48.415) and tiles (see example 48.404) in Iran during the Ilkhanid periodLearn more.


luster – a twice-fired ceramic technique invented in Iraq in the ninth century in which silver and copper oxides are applied over an already fired glazed surface and fixed during a second firing; used to create both portable vessels and tiles throughout the Islamic world, from Spain (see example 48.192) to Iran (see example 48.348). Learn more.


madrasa – a theological school.


masjid – a mosque.


maidan – a square; one of the largest and most well-known is the Maidan-i Naqsh-i Jahan (Image of the World Square) in Isfahan, Iran.


Mamluk (Arabic: owned, slaved) – dynasty of former military slaves that ruled in Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517. Learn more.


masabb – a wall niche generally found in the ‘ataba (lower entry area) of reception rooms in late-Ottoman Syrian elite homes (see example 64.18).


mashrabiyya – a term used to described carved and turned wooden screens in Morocco, Egypt, the Levant, and elsewhere (see example 64.4).


Masjid-i Shah (Shah Mosque, 1612–c. 1630) – a congregational mosque built during the reign of Shah ‘Abbas and located on Isfahan’s main square (maidan); inspiration for Shangri La's 1938 tile commissions.


mihrab – an architectural niche (see example 48.327) located on the qibla wall of a religious building; it indicates the direction of prayer (towards Mecca).


mina’i (Persian: enamel) – a twice-fired pottery technique (see example 48.331) in which colored enamels are applied over an already fired glazed surface (overglaze); polychromatic mina’i vessels—often featuring depictions of courtly leisure (enthronement, hunting, feasting)—were produced in Iran during the Seljuk period, c. 1180–1220s; mina’i tiles are also known.


Mughal – a dynasty of Timurid and Mongol decent that ruled in India and parts of Pakistan from 1526 to 1858; key capital cities included Fatehpur Sikri, Delhi, Agra and Lahore. Learn more.


Nasrid – a dynasty that ruled in southern Spain from the capital city of Granada from 1232 to 1492. Learn more.


nasta‘liq – rounded calligraphic script used in Iran, often in the writing of poetry (see example 64.48.1).


New Julfa – Armenian quarter of the Iranian city of Isfahan.


overglaze – a technique of ceramic production in which colors are applied over a fired glazed surface and fixed in a second gentler firing; examples include mina’i and luster. Learn more.


Ottoman – a dynasty of Turkish origin that ruled in Turkey, as well as much of eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Levant (in Syria: 1517–1918), from 1281 to 1924. Learn more.


Pahlavi – a dynasty that ruled Iran from 1925 to 1979.


qa‘a (Arabic: hall) – a type of reception room found in late-Ottoman Syrian elite courtyard homes; it generally consists of a lower entry area (‘ataba) and one or more raised seating areas (tazar). Learn more.


Qajar – a dynasty that ruled Iran from 1779 to 1924.


qibla – the direction of prayer in Islam (towards Mecca).


Qur’an (Arabic: recitation) – the holy book of Islam (see example 11.25).


Rabat, Morocco – capital city of Morocco, located on the Atlantic Ocean.


Red Fort (1638–48) – palace complex in Delhi, India, built during the reign of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (hence also known as Shahjahanabad); inspiration for the Mughal Suite at Shangri La.


underglaze – a technique of ceramic production in which colors are painted directly on the ceramic body, covered in a transparent glaze, and then fired. Learn more.


Safavid – a Shi‘i dynasty that ruled Iran from 1501 to 1732; Isfahan served as the capital from 1598 to 1722.


Seljuk – several Turkish dynasties that ruled Greater Iran, as well as eastern Anatolia and Syria, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.


Shahnama (Persian: Book of Kings) – the national epic of Iran, composed in 1010 by the poet Firdausi and comprised of over 50,000 distiches (couplets).


Shah ‘Abbas – fifth Safavid shah, who ruled Iran from 1587 to 1629, predominantly from his capital at Isfahan. Learn more.  


Shah Jahan – ruler of Mughal India from 1627 to 1658.


Shi‘ism – one of two major branches of Islam; followers (Shi‘ites) recognize ‘Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, and his descendants as the rightful successors of the Prophet; in Iran, the main branch of Shi‘ism is Twelver Shi‘ism, in which twelve imams are venerated.  


Sufism – a mystical branch of Islam; devotional practice often centers around the tomb (or shrine) of a saint.


Sunnism – one of two major branches of Islam; followers adhere to the Prophet’s sayings and actions (sunna) and support leadership of the Muslim community through election.


surah – a chapter of the Qur’an (144 total).


Takht-i Suleyman – a summer royal palace in northwestern Iran, built for the Ilkhanid ruler Abaqa (r. 1265–82). Learn more.


tazar – the raised seating area of a late-Ottoman Syrian reception room known as a qa‘a; its marble floor is generally covered with carpets, mats, pillows and mattresses.


Umayyad – early Islamic dynasty that ruled from the capital city of Damascus from 661 to 750; thereafter, from the city of Cordoba (756-1031) in southern Spanish (Anadulsia). Learn more.


Veramin, Iran  – an important Shi‘ite center during the Ilkhanid period; home to the Imamzada Yahya, to which the DDFIA luster mihrab (48.327) originally belonged.


waqf (Arabic: endowment) – a charitable donation to a religious institution; it can take various forms, from a land grant to portable furnishings like carpets and lighting devices (see example 54.2.1).


zellij (Arabic, from al-zulayj: polished stone)  a Moroccan mosaic tilework technique characterized by a bold palette and rigid geometry.

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