In ca. 1010 CE, the “mad” Fatimid Egyptian caliph, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, engaged in one of the most enigmatic acts in the history of Islamic architecture. Seven years after sponsoring masterfully-carved, illuminated minarets, replete with esoteric Ismaili Shiʿi symbolism, the caliph ordered the covering of his own towers by an austere, brick casing. The new minaret bastions obscured the visible signs of Shiʿism and bombastic carving of the original towers in favor of a more generic architectural style and Qur’anic inscription – one that would be familiar to Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims alike.
In the same year that he ordered this curious concealment, al-Hakim called for the destruction of the most important church in Christendom – the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This act would initiate a frenzy of church destructions by the ruler throughout his empire.
In this talk, Jennifer Pruitt will unravel the mystery of these two pivotal events, exploring the relationship between destruction and concealment in the context of medieval sectarianism. In doing so, she will examine the ways that architecture acted as both a stage and battleground in the negotiation of religious identity in the medieval Islamic world.
Jennifer Pruitt is an Assistant Professor in Islamic Art History at UW-Madison. Her primary research pursuits are in the medieval Islamic world, with a particular focus on the Fatimid dynasty (909-1171). Her work has appeared in the journals Muqarnas, The Medieval Globe, World Art, and in edited volumes. She is currently completing her book manuscript, Building the Caliphate: Construction, Destruction, and Sectarian Identity in Early Fatimid Architecture (Yale University Press, forthcoming January 2020). Her new project, investigates the re-imagining of the “medieval” in contemporary arts in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arabian Gulf.
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