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7.3.11 Tiraz Fragment from an Ikat Shawl

late 9th–early 10th century

Tiraz Fragment from an Ikat Shawl, Yemen, late 9th-early 10th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art # 29.179.10, Gift of George D. Pratt, 1929,

This decorated shawl was made in Yemen, a province of the Abbasid Caliphate, around 900. A weaver wove it from cotton thread, and a dyer used a special technique called ikat to make the stripes and diamonds pattern — a pattern that came from South Asia. Then an artist used ink and gold to paint an inscription on it. The Arabic inscription (called a tiraz) contained blessings for the owner and the bismallah, an important phrase from the Quran, “In the name of God/Allah.” Tiraz fabrics with ikat dyeing were very popular throughout the Abbasid Caliphate. Cotton and indigo (for the blue color dye) grew in South Asia. How does this object show synthesis?
Have students locate Yemen on a map of the Abbasid Caliphate that includes trade routes, and explain how it connected to South Asia and the major trade routes of the Muslim world. The shawl shows synthesis because it was woven from cotton, grown in India, by Yemenese craftspeople. They used the ikat process (invented in South Asia) to dye it and then added the tiraz inscription in Arabic with the bismallah and blessings from the Quran. The shawl combines several technologies and materials from India/South Asia and Arabia. Students should also recognize that these fabrics enjoyed huge popularity and spread (among the rich and powerful) throughout the Abbasid Caliphate. Muslims recite the bismallah before each surah of the Quran and during daily prayer. It is the most common phrase appearing in Arabic calligraphy.