Journal of History of Design and Curatorial Studies
Parsons School of Design
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

History of Design and Curatorial Studies
Parsons School of Design
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum


Architectural Textiles in Mamluk Egypt: A Study of Sultan al-Ghuri’s Mahmal

Rayyan Mikati

While few Egyptian architectural textiles made prior to the Ottoman period survive, it is clear that the significance of tents and tent-like objects long predates the Ottoman conquest. In fact, the name of the first Islamic capital of Egypt, Fustat (now absorbed into Cairo), literally translates to “tent” in Arabic. This name references an apocryphal tale on the founding of the city: in the seventh century, an early Muslim military campaign led by ‘Amr ibn al-‘As marched into Egypt. After pitching his tent near the Nile, a dove made a nest on its roof. The commander left his tent when the army moved on so the dove wouldn’t be disturbed,1 and eventually, a city grew from that structure.2 Though this story is mythic, it points to a well-established association of architectural textiles with dominion and territorial control, a relationship often delegated exclusively to the realm of permanent architecture. The story describes a city flowing from textiles rather than an architectural source – perhaps not surprising, given the importance of movement in a military context and for the semi-nomadic Arabs. More specifically, it ties the presence of architectural textiles with Islamic dominion: Dar al-Islam.

Fortunately, we have more than allegories at our disposal to understand the role of these textiles. A single example of a Mamluk mahmal happily survives; it is the earliest known extant mahmal and Islamicate architectural textile (Fig. 1). It was made for Sultan al-Ghuri during his reign (1501-1516) as one of the final sultans of the Mamluk Empire.3 Based on contemporary textual sources, this object is typical of Mamluk mahmals and shares major characteristics with objects that no longer exist.4 This makes the mahmal an excellent starting point in imagining and analyzing pieces that came before it. That being said, mahmals are textiles with a very specific and limited purpose. While they certainly have common qualities with other architectural textiles (palanquins, war tents, festival tents), their contextual and functional differences mean that the extant mahmal cannot be blanket-generalized to all architectural textiles.

This particular mahmal is twelve feet tall.5 It is made in two sections: a square base and a pyramid. The mahmal was made in yellow silk enriched with gold, with red appliquéd naskh calligraphy in three sections: a roundel in three sections on the base, a linear inscription across the boundary between the base and the pyramid, and a tear-drop shape medallion, also separated into three sections in the top pyramid. Interlaced vines and floral patterns are also appliquéd in red along the edge of each flat surface, and each section is outlined with green silk fringe. Finally, at the top of the pyramid are two appliquéd flowers stacked on top of one another. A six-petaled blue flower sits underneath a white fleur-de-lis.

An additional factor in this study is historiographical. Art historical studies on textiles frequently frame them in one of two ways: first, as a category entirely separate from so-called “high art” like architecture, painting, and sculpture, and second, as divorced completely from their materiality, essentially analyzing them as paintings or drawings. While this framing is an issue even in the Euro-American context it has long been found in, it is especially problematic and insufficient when discussing Islamicate textiles. This essay will then approach this mahmal more holistically and contextually: it cannot be looked at in isolation from architecture, religious practice, and political power.

In Medieval Islamic Egypt, in particular, textiles were a tool of the state and a facet of public life. Textiles were used as public text,6 as signs of religious legitimacy, and as symbols of political dominion. While the mahmal is late-Mamluk, there is a long precedent for textiles being used in these contexts in Medieval Egypt. It would be impossible to discuss this subject while ignoring the tiraz tradition. Tiraz (originally a Persian word meaning “embroidery”) specifically referred to a type of regal embroidery in which kings and other royal figures were depicted on garments. When Persia was Islamized, the practice transformed from representational embroidery to a textual, and often woven, inscription band on a garment (often a robe of honor) of a ruler or noble’s name and titles.7 While Arabic tiraz originated in the Umayyad Caliphate, it was in the Fatimid Caliphate that they gained particular importance as a public text. As a textile, they were worn by the Imam-Caliph8 as he participated in the many public processions required by his position. The tiraz were woven silk and symbols of absolute power often highly regulated by the state.9 During the Fatimid period, the woven tiraz was translated into architectural projects, as in Mosque al-Azhar10 and Mosque al-Hakim’s floriated-Kufic inscription bands.11 As Irene Bierman argues, both the garments and the architectural inscriptions functioned as public texts,12 which is supported by the relatively high literacy of the Medieval Cairene populace (especially men).13 Additionally, the monopoly the Caliphate had on silk tiraz underscored the control they had over Egyptian textile production centers known as dar-al-tiraz: institutions already well-established by the Umayyads in the seventh and eighth centuries.14 Egypt had been well known for its textile production since pharaonic times, and its control over producing important Islamic textiles lasted from the mid-thirteenth century until the mid-twentieth century. The link between pharaonic Egypt and medieval Islamic Egypt is, in general, undersold by most scholars. Even outside of the often-neglected field of textiles, where pharaonic traditions have lasted into the twenty-first century, the well-known and frequent appearance of pharaonic, hieroglyph-covered spolia in medieval Islamic Cairene architecture is deeply understudied, at best relegated to footnotes or off-hand comments. This is despite significant textual evidence of medieval knowledge of Ancient Egyptian heritage and customs; even non-Egyptian Muslim visitors wrote on the subject.15 Indeed, the appliqué technique seen on al-Ghuri’s mahmal has roots in pharaonic Egypt, appearing on architectural textiles (a baldachin) even then,16 and was also used on banners and standards into the Fatimid period, as seen in the appliquéd lion textile in Figure 2. Control over the luxury textile market was significant in the politics of the Islamic world, even into the mid-twentieth century.17

While the translation of tiraz into architecture originated in the Fatimid period, it continued through the Ayyubid period and into the Mamluk period. However, the tiraz evolved alongside calligraphic scripts and textile innovations. Fatimid tiraz, for example, was written in Kufic – a geometric script that lent itself to embroidery on linen woven silks. Geometric Kufic was emulated and embellished in floriated Kufic architectural tiraz, such as on Mosque al-Hakim and Mosque al-Azhar (Fig. 3 and 4). By the Mamluk period, though, the Naskh calligraphic style was developed. This rounded, bold, and more legible calligraphic style can be seen in the Mamluk mahmal’s inscriptions. Each letter overlaps with another, making full use of appliqué’s ability to stitch pieces of fabric on top of each other. The same pattern can be seen in Mamluk-period architectural tiraz, which we will examine in more detail later. Though rendered in stonework, it imitates appliqué’s overlaps and interlaced lettering.

In both Fatimid Kufic and Mamluk Naskh’s examples, the architectural innovation appears to have developed from material-specific characteristics of textile-based inscriptions. In the Mamluk example, this further appears to be related specifically to architectural textiles, as calligraphic appliqué in garments appear not to have been produced (or, perhaps, they have not survived). Garment appliqué seems limited to graphic badges and emblems – if the text is incorporated into garments, it is typically woven or embroidered. At least in the Fatimid period, other textiles meant for religious spaces, such as curtains, were perhaps made to imitate book leaves or pages from the Quran.18 The use of naskh in textiles can be thought of as an architectural textile-specific, as well as a post-Fatimid innovation.

This brings us back to our original object: the mahmal. A mahmal is a subgenre of a palanquin:19 It is a small, tent-like structure intended for the back of a camel. It is made of a textile– in this case, silk – propped up on wooden supports. Unlike a palanquin, however, it is not intended to carry a noble, caliph, or indeed any kind of person. The mahmal was designed to be empty and used for only one journey: to travel to the sites of the Hajj, also generalized to the Hijaz region of the Arabian peninsula. It was a ceremonial object meant to exist as a beacon for pilgrims walking from Cairo to Mecca and to accompany the kiswa,20 sitara,21 and other cloths meant for sacred monuments. Clothing the Kaaba was a high honor that carried significant diplomatic weight. Though sending the mahmal and kiswa from Cairo was a tradition that began at its latest with the Mamluks in the mid-thirteenth century and stayed relatively intact until the twentieth century,22 there was no lack of competition. Attempts to gift the kiswa came from the Ilkhanids, the Rasulids, and the Timurids – the latter group’s attempt to usurp the responsibility of the kiswa was particularly insulting and presumptuous to the Mamluks and led to the Timurid envoy who delivered the bad news being beaten and tortured.23 It was offensive because the ritual clothing of the Kaaba, marking the beginning of one of the most sacred rites of Islam, also marked the extent of a ruler’s control over important and contested sites. A play for the kiswa was also a play for Mamluk land and religious power.

In this context, the mahmal gains additional weight: the fact that it was so brightly colored, made of luxurious materials, and literally led the pilgrims from Egypt to the Hijaz showed the extent and power of the Mamluk’s territorial control. This, too, can’t be separated from the text appliquéd on the mahmal in a red fabric dyed with cochineal. The mahmal is inscribed with two types of text. The inscription which separates the base from the pyramid contains a non-Quranic prayer for a successful Hajj. In the tear-drop-shaped and round medallions is the epigraph of Sultan al-Ghuri, who commissioned the mahmal.24 The epigraphs are much more prominent and graphic than the prayer, and neither type of text contains inherently holy words. One would certainly expect to see a passage from the Quran or an excerpt of Hadith on such a religious object, but neither is present here. It would potentially be imprudent to place your own epigraph in a more prominent position than the word of God, so its absence here allows the true purpose of the mahmal to come to the fore: to function as a public text for pilgrims and procession audiences to see the power and glory of the sultan. Al-Maqrizi describes a much earlier mahmal as having the same kind of epigraph25 (though no record exists of other text that may or may not have been present on that mahmal), and given the popularity of epigraphic tiraz in architecture and textiles; it’s likely that this mahmal’s inscriptions are fairly typical for its category.

Fig. 5 Pilgrims on Hajj, folio 95r of the Maqamat al-Hariri, painted by Yahya al-Wasiti, 1237. Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The mahmal, though a very late example of Mamluk textiles, shares other important qualities with textual descriptions of mahmals. Al-Jazari, for example, described a 1404 mahmal made outside of Cairo as being made of yellow silk enriched with gold.26 Dyed with saffron, this bright yellow was frequently used in Mamluk textiles because it was the Mamluk’s dynastic color.27 Even disregarding its role as a dynastic color, saffron yellow appears to have been used in pre-Mamluk mahmals. A 1237 edition of Al-Maqamat al-Hariri shows a mahmal of a similar shape with a yellow ground and red accents (Fig. 5).28 Returning to the Mamluks; however, Al-Jazari’s description included a fascinating detail that can bring to light the investment governments placed in these ceremonial objects: the price of a fifteenth-century mahmal (35,000 silver dirhams).29 Just one year after that mahmal was made, al-Maqrizi wrote Ighathat al-Ummah bi Kashfal Ghummah. In 1405, the Mamluk economy was going through a period of ghala’(roughly translated to inflation) due to a shortage of silver. This resulted in the adoption of the dirham of account, valued at approximately one-third of a silver dirham. While this economic crisis was unfortunate for al-Maqrizi and his contemporaries, it also inspired him to write a highly detailed economic treatise. Included in this treatise was the relative worth of silver dirhams to other currency in 1405 (dinar, dirhams of account, copper fulus) as well as to products such as unbleached linen, eggs, camels, and cows.30 Accurate measures of Medieval currency are always uncertain, and there is no guarantee that the intensity of the economic crisis reached the production center of al-Jazari’s mahmal. Still, we can make a rough estimate given al-Maqrizi’s detail. If al-Jazari’s price of 35,000 silver dirhams is accurate to the price of a mahmal, it can then be estimated that the mahmal was the equivalent cost of seven cows – a remarkable price for what is ultimately a small tent. In fact, the mahmal cost approximately fifteen times more than the camel it was placed on. Because it appears as though the later mahmal was produced with similar techniques, dyes, and materials, it is likely that it was similarly expensive. There are, of course, significant caveats to this price. The mahmal itself was produced a year prior to al-Maqrizi’s treatise, and as a modern reader will know intimately, economic collapse and steep inflation can happen very quickly. Even within al-Maqrizi’s treatise, a range is presented for the worth of a dirham-of-account (about three to five silver dirhams), and the price of silver continued to fluctuate throughout al-Maqrizi’s life and beyond. That being said, it is clear that a mahmal was worth a significant investment to Mamluk sultans.

This high cost adds another layer of messaging to al-Ghuri’s mahmal. The bright coloration in saffron and imported cochineal telegraphs a high financial cost, while the labor invested in the intricate, overlapping, appliquéd calligraphy is also apparent.

This calligraphy style is where it is most apparent that aesthetic innovations in textiles, particularly architectural textiles, led to innovations in architectural structures. For clarity, this paper will move through architectural examples chronologically, starting with one of the earliest Mamluk structures (Sultan Qalawun’s complex, 1284-85) to one of its last (Sultan Qaytbay’s complex, 1474), all in Cairo. There is a clear visual relationship between these complexes’ design elements and Sultan al-Ghuri’s mahmal.

Additionally, each of these architectural examples shares the religiosity of the mahmal. Similar to the Renaissance Italian concept of magnificence, in Mamluk Egypt, there was significant pressure – socially, politically, financially,31 and religiously – to fund the building of religious public works projects. One might expect sultans to default to building a mosque, but the Ayyubids and Mamluks mostly subscribed to the Shafa’i school of Sunni Islam,32 which at that time forbade more than one congregational mosque per city.33 The congregational mosque, which would theoretically host every adult male for Friday services, had long been designated to a Fatimid-era institution: the Mosque of ʿAmr. As a result of this policy, building a mosque would require it to be a “minor” building, or at least smaller and less grand than the Mosque of ‘Amr. Therefore, alternative structures were found in madrasa34 and khanqah35 complexes, which fulfilled an expectation of civic duty. A more self-serving addition to these complexes was the frequent attachment of a patron’s mausoleum.36 Aside from the apparent benefit of strengthening a visitor’s association between the patron and the public good they sponsored, it also encouraged visitors to pray on behalf of the deceased patron – simplistically, this act of baraka (blessing) would improve the patron’s chances of being accepted into heaven.37 

The mahmal’s religious purpose was previously discussed, and the parallels between it and religious architecture are striking. First, the mahmal’s decoration is limited to symmetrical floral or geometric patterns and calligraphy – similarly, religious architecture shares only these types of decoration. Within the mahmal’s calligraphy are the patron’s epigraph and prayer, which are common features in religious architecture. Additionally, the mahmal’s coloration is high contrast; while most of the paint has worn away from the buildings from this period, some has survived. Where it has not, evidence of paint has been found during recent conservation efforts (as discussed below), suggesting that most of the calligraphic and geometric elements were brightly painted in contrasting colors, as the mahmal was designed.

What this does not prove is in which direction influence flowed. However, if one considers the materiality of the textiles which share these common features with architecture (much of which share similar purposes as the textiles), then this directionality becomes clearer.

A good example is Sultan Qalawun’s madrasa-mausoleum complex, one of the earliest Mamluk complexes (1284-85) (Fig. 6a). While this complex has several interesting features, including star-patterned screens and intricate interiors, for the purposes of this paper, the focus will remain on its inscription, or tiraz band (Fig. 6b). The first important design choice of the tiraz is its placement. Located at a height of about five yards, the inscription separates the bottom half of the structure – where square window grates sit facing pedestrians, likely where Quran recitations would be performed for their benefit – with the top, in which much more decorative star-patterned screens sit. This placement is very similar (though scaled up) to al-Ghuri’s mahmal: the calligraphic band separates the two halves of the structure, where the bottom is less decorative and includes more functional features – the tent’s opening flap – and the top is more elaborately decorated, with fleurs-de-lis and more complex calligraphy. It should also be noted that Qalawun’s inscription band is enormous and could easily be read from ground level, particularly if it had been painted.

Qalawun’s inscription is similar to a later example commissioned by Sultan Baybars al-Jashinkir. In Figure 7, a detail of Baybars’s inscription shows a segment of the inscription clearly enough for visual analysis, including a segment removed by Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, who deposed him. The removed segment likely contained Baybars’s titles, though his name remains on the building.38 Where the inscription corners, a floriated pattern embellishes the border of the inscription. This floriated pattern contains similarities with the mahmal’s corner borders. However, the mahmal’s text is wrapped around the rounded corners of the structure while maintaining legibility that would have been impossible in the much sharper turn of the Khanqah.

Looking at the text itself, the Khanqah does not simply write Arabic letters from right to left as one would see in a document. Letters are also layered vertically. Where letters have a lot of verticality, for example, the alif ( ا ), it frequently (though not always) stands alone. Where letters can be compressed horizontally – which applies to most Arabic letters – they are stacked on top of one another in as many as three layers. The same can be said for the earlier Qalawun inscription. The letters are written in the aforementioned Naskh script, which is highly legible. Given that Al-Nasir removed Baybar’s titles from the inscription as a political tool, it can be understood that these inscriptions were indeed meant to be read by the public.

Comparing Baybars’s inscription to the Mahmal’s inscription band, a similarity can be identified. The epigraphs are very clearly stacked in three layers of text, but more intriguing is that the horizontal inscription stacks letters in a similar manner as Sultan Baybars’s inscription, leading to a section densely populated by letters. However, the mahmal’s horizontal band is much more complex and less legible than Baybars’s, including, at times, a fourth stacked letter. It also consists of an innovation not yet seen in architecture: overlapping, interlacing, and intertwining letters.

At this point, a return to materiality is necessary. Cut fabric pieces can much more easily be layered on top of one another to create highly intricate webs of design than carved stone. Interlacing fabric like this existed long before Islam.39 In appliqué, dimension is inherent to the material, while in carved stone, dimensions and layers of this kind are illusory. Creating this illusion requires a high level of skill, precision, and intention. In Baybars’s and Qalawun’s inscriptions, letters do not weave in and out of one another – they exist on a single plane, and while they stack vertically, they do not stack three-dimensionally.

However, in appliqué, the cut fabric does interlace three-dimensionally. In Figure 8, a fourteenth-century roundel is inlaid with fabric in a popular design for an eight-pointed, floriated star. This non-calligraphic appliquéd roundel, which, given its large size (34cm x 34cm), would have likely been stitched onto a banner, standard, or tent panel, clearly illustrates the intricacies Mamluk craftsmen were producing. Immediately, the materiality and three-dimensional quality of the cut fabric are highlighted, not just by the contrasting green and red vine-like subjects but also by the stitched white outline, which clearly delineates which vine is weaving over or under the other. Bowker and al-Rashidi note in their book the similarity between this piece of appliqué and an inlaid marble panel from Mosque al-Aslam al-Silahdar40 (Fig. 9), a mid-fourteenth century mosque built by an Amir rather than a Sultan, as most of our other examples. The visual relationships between the two objects are not obviously laid out in their work, however. The first similarity is the fleurs-de-lis made of vines that appear in each corner of the marble panel. This motif is remarkably similar to the curling fleur-de-lis motif that appears four times in green, placed as the four cardinal points would be in the roundel. They even share a pair of symmetrical looping vines at the base of the motif, which adds visual complexity to an often much simpler motif. The simpler, smaller, silhouetted version of the fleur-de-lis can actually be seen in the interior of the marble panel in the negative space between the red and green vines. That simplified version is also identical to the fleur-de-lis seen in al-Ghuri’s mahmal. Second, the marble panel and appliquéd roundel share a color scheme: red and green for high contrast, and white outlines to delineate overlapping vines.

These objects are good examples of material reality versus illusory design. While the appliqué roundel features cut pieces that literally pass under and over one another, the marble panel creates the illusion of a physical interaction on a flat plane. While obviously not a “representational” design, it is not purely abstract: it mimics textiles, specifically mimicking wall hangings, tent panels, and banners.

This same concept can be applied to text and inscriptions, which also adopted the appliqué mimicry seen on decorative panels. Examples can be seen at the same mosque, Mosque al-Aslam al Silahdar (fig. 10). Here, the inscription is modeled to appear as if it is layered on top of spiraling vines, which themselves appear to mimic embroidery. The text itself is also layered – not simply stacked vertically, but literally overlaying letters on top of other letters. The illusion is completed by carving an indent onto the letter that passes under another, which imitates a couching seam. As it appears today, the text is far less legible than its predecessors and approaches the dense and intricately interlaced calligraphy of the mahmal.

However, an important element of the original architectural inscriptions remains unexamined: color. Just as the inlaid marble panel uses color to improve its illusion of appliqué, so too did inscriptions. While the paint has worn away in most medieval inscriptions, a remarkably well-preserved painted inscription appears on the complex of Umm al-Sultan Sha’ban (fig. 11). The inscription is less visually dense, as it appears without the background vines seen in the previous example, but still retains its most important characteristics: stacked Naskh script with overlapping letters delineated by faux-couching seams. It also provides a clue as to how inscriptions might be colored originally. In this case, the inscription has a green background and gold lettering: high-contrast and bright colors which would be easily seen from a distance. While the mahmal uses red and yellow-gold, the preference for high-contrast and bright colors is clear. The implications of using gold are also clear, almost always signaling luxury, wealth, and high-quality craftsmanship to the viewer.

While the mahmal does not incorporate such ambitious geometricity in its design, it strongly emphasizes intricately weaving design elements under and over itself. While it is a late example of an architectural textile, sources throughout the Mamluk era describe similar mahmals as well as other types of tents incorporating similar techniques and designs. The materiality of cut fabric points toward these designs originating in the world of textiles and later being appropriated to stonework and architecture – likely as a reference to the highly valued and highly visible architectural textiles which literally made up the urban fabric of Cairo. These tent-making and appliqué techniques, which predated the Mamluks and survive to today, continued to aesthetically innovate and adapt to the period.41

It is textiles which built a cultural identity for the Mamluks, and in particular, architectural textiles. While architecture has been the focus of much research considering the dynamics of politics and Islamicate material culture, this is survivorship bias. Today, we construct legacies from stonework because stonework is what we see, but to a Medieval Egyptian, textiles were the sites of visual innovation and visually prominent public texts. While few textiles from the period still exist, the miraculous survival of Sultan al-Ghuri’s mahmal reveals the intermedial exchange between architectural textiles and stone architecture. Due to textiles’ portability, flexible coloration, and materiality, they were ideal for use as public texts and messaging tools – not just within Cairo but throughout the entire domain of the Mamluks. Medieval Egypt was the intersection of two cultural forces that placed architectural textiles in a highly valued position. Millenniums of Egyptian cultural heritage and the Arab-Islamic sanctity of religious architectural textiles converged in Cairo, where the craft spawned intermedial experiments.

Rayyan Mikati is currently pursuing an MA in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program offered jointly by Parsons School of Design and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Her research revolves around Medieval Eastern Mediterranean and West Asian material culture. She also works as an educator at Poster House, a museum dedicated to exhibiting posters and highlighting their historical and contemporary impact.


  1. Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Islamic Architecture in Cairo (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1996), 8.
  2. Sam Bowker, “The Urban Fabric of Cairo: Khayamiya and the Suradeq,” in Islamic Architecture on the Move, ed. Mohammed Gharipour and Christiane Gruber (Bristol/Chicago: Intellect, 2016), 236.
  3. Seif al-Rashidi and Sam Bowker, The Tentmakers of Cairo (Cairo/New York: America. University of Cairo Press, 2019), chap. 2, Kobo.
  4. Maria Sardi, “Weaving for the Hajj under the Mamluks,” in The Hajj: Collected Essays, ed. Venetia Porter and Liana Saif, (London: The British Museum, 2013), 171-72.
  5. Sardi, “Weaving,” 172.
  6. Irene Bierman, Writing Signs: The Fatimid Public Text (Berkely/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1998), 10.
  7. Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Practising Diplomacy in the Mamluk Sultanate: Gifts and Material Culture in the Medieval Islamic World (London/New York: IB Taurus, 2014), 153.
  8. A particular title carried by the rulers of the Fatimid Caliphate. The title of Imam-Caliph indicates their claim to a sacred and infallible bloodline as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima and as perfect guides of the faithful.
  9. Behrens-Abouseif, Practicing Diplomacy, 152-53.
  10. Yasser Tabbaa, The Transformation of Islamic Art during the Sunni Revival (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 54-55.
  11. Bierman, Writing Signs, 89-91.
  12. Bierman, Writing Signs, 1-10.
  13. Behrens-Abouseif, Islamic Architecture, 15-16.
  14. Behrens-Abouseif, Practicing Diplomacy, 152.
  15. Abd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī, A Physician on the Nile, trans. Tim Mackintosh-Smith (New York: New York University Press, 2022), 41-67. While beyond the scope of this paper, a deep understanding of Islamicate material culture must include an understanding that medieval Islamicate admired and read ancient hellenistic philosophers and historians – many of whom wrote about Ancient Egypt. Again, the link between Pharaonic and Medieval Egypt deserves further study.
  16. Emil Brugsch-Bey, “La Tente funéraire de la princesse Isimkheb, provenant de la trouvaille de Deir-el-Bahari,” (Cairo, 1889). Brugsch-Bey was by no means a competent Egyptologist, but he is the one who excavated the baldachin in question (now safely housed within the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization).
  17. Nahla Nassar, “Dar-al-Kiswa al-Sharifa: Administration and Production,” in The Hajj: Collected Essays, ed. Venetia Porter and Liana Saif, 181-82. In 1962, Egypt sent a kiswa to Mecca, where it was rejected, and returned to Egypt. Since then, kiswa embroidery and production moved entirely to Saudi Arabia, where it continues today. There is speculation that the kiswa was turned away due to the highly tense relationship between the two nations, who were on opposing sides of the civil war in Yemen at this time, as well as the generally anti-monarchal attitude of Egypt in the mid-century.
  18. Bierman, Writing Signs, 20.
  19. The word mahmal comes from the Arabic root “h-m-l;” the root implies its function, “to carry.”
  20. The kiswa is a huge textile that covers the Kaaba, an otherwise bare, cubical building. It is replaced annually at the beginning of the Hajj.
  21. The sitara is curtain meant to cover particularly sacred sites, including the door of the Kaaba and on Prophet Muhammad’s tomb.
  22. Venetia Porter, “The Mahmal Revisited,” in The Hajj: Collected Essays, ed. by Venetia Porter and Liana Saif ((London: The British Museum, 2013), 196.
  23. Behrens-Abouseif, Practicing Diplomacy, 75.
  24. Sardi, “Weaving for the Hajj,” 172.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. The Ayyubids, by contrast, had a dynastic color of black in order to both align themselves with the Sunni Abbasid Caliphate (whose color was also black) and to contrast themselves with the preceding Isma’ili Shi’a Fatimid Caliphate (whose dynastic color was white).
  28. Venetia Porter, “The Mahmal Revisited,” 196.
  29. Sardi, “Weaving for the Hajj,” 172.
  30. Adel Allouche, A Study and Translation of Al-Maqrizi’s Ighathah (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994), 77-79.
  31. Bernard O’Kane, “The Khanqah of Baybars al-Jashinkir, 1306-1310,” Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online, published 28 August 2020,
  32. There are four major madhab (schools) of Sunni jurisprudence: Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafa’i, and Maliki. The emergence of these four distinct schools of thought impacted late Ayyubid and Mamluk architecture enormously, beginning with a madrasa complex built by Sultan as-Salih Ayyub’s madrasa complex, which was built with four iwans to symbolize each Sunni madhab. His wife, Shajar al-Durr, became the first Mamluk Sultan after his and his son’s deaths. She added Salih’s mausoleum to his complex, which too became an-oft repeated innovation.
  33. D. Fairchild Ruggles, Tree of Pearls: The Extraordinary Architectural Patronage of the 14th-Century Egyptian Slave-Queen Shajar al-Durr (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 32.
  34. Literally “school.” These complexes hosted students of religion as well as minor prayers (never the Friday afternoon sermon, but any of the other prayers throughout the week). Usually they contained a courtyard, student lodging, and spaces for professional Quran readers to recite. These institutions were highly urban, and recitations were meant to be heard by student and pedestrian alike.
  35. A Sufi convent. Though Mamluks mostly favored Shafa’i jurisprudence, this was not seen in contradiction with supporting the worship of Sufi ascetics. This topic could be the subject of a book, and should be. It is ripe for additional research, but unfortunately beyond the scope of this paper.
  36. Mausoleums and tombs are themselves discouraged by most Islamic jurisprudence, which favor humble, decomposing graves and coffins. However, religious jurisprudence has and will never match actual practice or perfectly explain human motivation.
  37. Bernard O’Kane, “The Khanqah of Baybars al-Jashinkir.”
  38. It would have been illegal for al-Nasir to remove Baybars’s name from the building due to strict waqf regulations. Refer to O’Kane’s presentation on this Khanqah for more details on the laws of waqf ahli.
  39. Christiane Gruber and Ashley Dimmig, Pearls of Wisdom: The Arts of Islam at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum Publication 10, 2014), 18-19.
  40. al-Rashidi and Bowker, The Tentmakers of Cairo, chap. 2.
  41. al-Rashidi and Bowker, The Tentmakers of Cairo, chap. 7.