The Shah and the ‘Ulama: A Tale of Two Mosques in Safavid Isfahan

Speaker: Dr Ruba Kana’an - University of Oxford

Safavid art of the sixteenth century is celebrated for its exceptional painted manuscripts and the monumental architectural patronage of its dynastic shrines. Yet the same period did not produce a single Safavid Friday mosque. This paper explores relationships between the historical narratives about the architectural patronage of Safavid Friday mosques and the legal discourses about Friday prayer. It examines views penned by Shi‘a ulama in the sixteenth century about the performance of Friday prayer during the occultation of the Imam (ghayba), and the impact of these debates on the architectural patronage of Isfahan’s two Friday mosques: the Great Mosque of Isfahan and the Shah’s Mosque begun under Shah Abbas 1st in 1611.

Theoretically, the paper takes a comparative approach to the patronage of Friday mosques. It situates Safavid architectural patronage within a comparative framework with similar debates that took place amongst Sunni legal scholars and shaped the monumental architecture of cities like Baghdad, Cairo, and Istanbul.

Dr Ruba Kana’an (DPhil, Oxford) is an historian of Islamic Art and Architecture. Her research and publications focus on the intersections between art, artists, art production, and law in diverse Muslim contexts. Her experience spans the worlds of academia, museums, architectural practice, and community-based art education. She was founding Head of Education and Scholarly Programs at the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto) and has held the posts of Noor Chair of Islamic Studies at York University (Toronto), and Dean at the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies (Oxford). She currently teaches Islamic Art in the Department of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto (Mississauga) and is a Barakat Senior Fellow in Islamic Art at the University of Oxford.

Iran Re-search / The Bahari Foundation Lectures on Art and Culture is an annual lecture series inviting practicing artists, curators and scholars to think afresh about the trajectories of knowledge production on material and visual cultures of Iran. The Iran Re-search Bahari Lecture Series aims to foreground transdisciplinary and cross-temporal approaches, considering as wide a range as contemporary arts and the antiquities of Iran.

Organised by Dr Sussan Babaie (The Courtauld) 

6:00pm, 9 May 2019

Thursday 9th May 2019

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London