An Inscription Mentioning The Rebuilding Of Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām, 78 AH / 697-698 CE

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First Composed: 1st March 2015

Last Modified: 13th June 2015

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Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

(a)

(b)

(c)

Figure (a) original inscription, (b) its facsimile and (c) its contents.

Date

78 AH / 697-698 CE.

Size

91 cm x 131 cm.

Script

Ḥijāzī script.

Contents

The translation of the inscription is:

  1. Al-Rayyān b. ʿAbdullāh testifies that there is no god but God
  2. and he testifies that Muḥammad is the Messenger of God.
  3. then reiterates to those to come to testify to
  4. that, God have mercy on al-Rayyān.
  5. May He forgive him and cause him to be guided to the path of Paradise
  6. and I ask him for marytrdom in his path. A-
  7. -men. This was written in
  8. the year the Masjid al-Ḥarām was built
  9. in the seventy eighth year.

Comments

This inscription is one of more than 60 early Islamic inscriptions that were found in the region of Ḥuma al-Numoor, north west of Ṭāʾif, Saudi Arabia.[1] Among the content of these inscriptions include verses of the Qur'an, supplications asking for forgiveness, mercy, martyrdom and paradise; trust and belief in Prophet Muḥammad and the sending of prayers and blessings upon him. This inscription, hitherto unknown in published western scholarship, is of great importance as it mentions not only the full shahadah (i.e., Islamic testimony of faith) but also an important historical event and an independent documentary verification of it, that is, the reconstruction and remodelling of al-Masjid al-Ḥarām in Makkah.[2] Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān started the reconstruction of al-Masjid al-Ḥarām in the year 75 AH after it sustained damage by the catapults of al-Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf during his siege (and eventual death) of ʿAbdullāh b. al-Zubayr (d. 73 AH / 692 CE).[3] This inscription most likely commemorates the completion of the reconstruction and remodelling of al-Masjid al-Ḥarām and is located off the modern highway linking Makkah and Ṭāʾif, about 75 kms from the former. As for the mention of renovations to al-Masjid al-Ḥarām in the historical sources, both al-Fākihī and al-Azraqī, historians from 9th century CE, record this event. The historical records seem to indicate that it started around the year 75 AH and reaching completion around 80 AH.

Another interesting feature of this inscription is that it contains a double dating formula. The text is dated according to a historically significant event (i.e., construction of al-Masjid al-Ḥarām) as well as the more commonly known officially propagated hijri calendar. Though seldom observed, this feature is not unprecedented in the earliest inscriptions, the most famous being the ʿUmar inscription of 24 AH.

Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām is mentioned fifteen times in seven surahs of the Qur'an and it is intimately connected with the city of Makkah (48:24-25). It is the place from where God conveyed Prophet Muḥammad to Jerusalem in the miraculous night journey (17:1). It is the qibla to which the believers face in prayer (2:144, 149, 150). It is where the pilgrimage (Ḥajj and ʿUmrah) rites are completed, though the polytheists who had custodianship of al-Masjid al-Ḥarām and had barred the believers from entering, fought them therein and expelled them therefrom, though it was a place where no quarrelling or fighting should occur (2:191, 196, 217; 8:34; 22:25; 48:25). God promised Muḥammad and the believers they would enter al-Masjid al-Ḥarām triumphant (48:27) and a treaty was made here between the polytheists and Prophet Muḥammad. God instructs Muḥammad and the believers regarding the polytheists who failed to uphold the treaty conditions (9:7) and further condemns the polytheists regarding their custodianship of al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (9:19). Finally, the polytheists are forbidden from entering al-Masjid al-Ḥarām though the believers are not to transgress their rights from having previously being prevented entry (9:28; 5:2).

This is the earliest dated documentary text to mention al-Masjid al-Ḥarām and it is also the earliest dated popular rock inscription to mention Prophet Muḥammad.[4]

Location

Ḥuma al-Numoor, near Ṭāʾif, Saudi Arabia.

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References

[1] Nāṣir b. Alī Al-Hārithī, "Naqsh Kitābī Nadar Yuʾarrikhu ʿImarah Al-Khalifah Al-Umawī ʿAbd Al-Malik B. Marwān Lil-Masjid Al-Ḥarām ʿĀm 78 AH", ʿĀlam Al-Makhṭūṭāt Wa Al-Nawādir, 2007, Volume 12, No. 2, pp. 533-543.

[2] The verb used in the inscription (line 8) is banā (to build). This does not necessarily mean something newly built. Similar usage is also recorded in the literary sources describing the construction activities of other mosques such as al-Aqsa, Damascus and al-Madinah. See A. Elad, Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic Worship: Holy Places, Ceremonies, Pilgrimage, 1999, Second Edition, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden: The Netherlands, p. 39.

[3] The events of the second civil war are attested in a contemporary Syriac Christian source, John bar Penkaye, written c. 687 CE, where there is mention of the ‘sanctuary’ (i.e., al-Masjid al-Ḥarām) where some of the fighting occurred. Another contemporary Syriac Christian source, Letters of Jacob of Edessa, written sometime between 684 and 708 CE, further identifies the Muslim direction of prayer toward the Ka’ba, noting it was not the same direction to which the Jews faced in prayer, namely Jerusalem. See, M. P. Penn, When Christian First Met Muslims: A Sourcebook Of The Earliest Syriac Writings On Islam, 2015, University of California Press (USA), p. 98 & pp. 172-173.

[4] One must tread very carefully when attempting to extrapolate historical antecedents solely on the basis of an incomplete, understudied archaeological record, especially when imagining extravagant hypothesis or fantastical historical reconstructions. For example, according to Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koran there were no popular rock inscriptions mentioning Prophet Muḥammad dated before the midpoint (112 AH / 730-31 CE) of the reign of Hishām ibn ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 724 - 743 CE) - and from this small seed emerged a jungle of strained interpretation. See, Y. D. Nevo & J. Koren, "The Origins of the Muslim Descriptions of the Jāhilī Meccan Sanctuary", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1990, Volume. 49, Number 1, p. 39; idem., Crossroads To Islam: The Origins Of The Arab Religion And The Arab State, 2003, Prometheus Books: New York (USA), pp. 199, 259, 326.

For a careful, reasoned and balanced investigation of the early epigraphic record, see R. G. Hoyland, "The Content And Context Of Early Arabic Inscriptions", Jerusalem Studies In Arabic And Islam, 1997, Volume 21, Number 3, pp. 77-102; idem., Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey And Evaluation Of Christian, Jewish And Zoroastrian Writings On Early Islam, 1997, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam - 13, The Darwin Press, Inc.: Princeton (NJ), pp. 687-703; idem., "New Documentary Texts And The Early Islamic State", Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental And African Studies, 2006, Volume 69, Number 3, pp. 395-416.

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