Power, Politics, and Faith are three legs that have kept upright innumerable civilisations, from the Ancient world to the present day. This elaborate sitarah, or curtain, designed for the mosque of the Prophet Muhammad (d.632) in Medina is a perfect example of an object created to fulfil these diverse roles.
As such, this beautiful object offers viewers a window into the history of the Muslim Middle
East, and Islamic powers, from 632 to date.
In the modern era, the term caliphate was only adopted as a political label, by the Ottomans, in 1774; 18-years before the creation of this sitarah. Already, the political power of the Ottoman Empire was on the wane, and would remain so until its eventual collapse following WWI.
However, from the moment when this magnificent sitarah was created, Ottoman sultans
successfully promoted the idea among Western powers that the caliph had significant religious or spiritual authority over all Muslims.
Ahistorical this view may have been, but it remained an important factor for British, French,
German, and Russian thinking about the Middle East throughout the 19th century, when the unity of the Empire was paramount in London and elsewhere. The Ottomans’ decision to side with Germany in October 1914 brought this policy to a swift end.
Today, groups such as Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) would take up the mantle of the caliphate, ignoring the fact that it is a modern political entity, wholly at odds with the reality of nation states reigning across the modern Middle East.