The boundaries of the religion are wider than is often thoughtby Sameer Rahim / February 22, 2016 / Leave a comment
Locked in the vaults of the V&A is a beautiful brass jug that reveals a hidden history of Islam. The jug comes from Khorasan province, Iran and dates from the late 15th century. Inlaid with silver, its clover-leaf design encapsulates the harmonious aesthetic of Islamic art. Engraved round its neck are four religious invocations: “To Allah belongs might… power… victory… strength.” I recently had the privilege of holding the cool, heavy jug in my hands and could imagine a medieval Muslim lifting it to his lips, reading the holy words, before taking a deep draught of wine—for this is a mashrabe or Islamic wine jug.
Both western observers of Islam and orthodox Muslims might be surprised to see the sacred and profane overlap so brazenly. Everybody knows that Islam forbids alcohol consumption. Such is the taboo that the Iranian Ministry of Culture announced recently that to counteract a “western cultural onslaught,” it was banning all mention of the word “wine” from books. If Muslims do drink, they are seen as either ignoring or subverting prevailing religious norms. Yet our wine jug is both expressly Islamic—see the references to Allah—and a vessel for something banned by Islam. Can we account for the contradiction? And in doing so, can we learn something about the heated contemporary debates around Islam?