Friday, 12 December 2008

Evidence of Early Contact with Islam

by Derry Nairn

Antiquity, an Archaeology quarterly, reports in its December issue on the often under-reported historical incidences of contact between Britain & Ireland and Islamic cultures. In a fascinating article, Andrew Petersen documents the different types of archaeological finds which suggest interaction through the centuries.

Pottery, glass and ceramics originating in the Middle East, Moorish Spain, or merely bearing the influence of Islamic art have been found in sites throughout both Ireland and Britain. These can date from as early as the ninth century. Arab dinars are among the coins that have been found in Scandanavia, a relic of Viking raids on these shores.

However, perhaps the most surprising element of the brief review to the non-specialist reader is the indirect but strong influences which Islam held over early modern British and European architecture as a whole. The author traces a line from seventh-century Palestine (the Gothic arch) and ninth-century Iraq (the Tudor four-centre pointed arch) through to prominent Mughal-influenced British buildings such as Brighton's Royal Pavillion.

Petersen quotes no less an authority than Christopher Wren as saying:

'what we now vulgarly call the Gothick, ought properly and truly be named Saracenick Architecture refined by the Christians'

(Wren, C. 1750. Parentalia: or memoirs of the family of Wrens, taken from Sweetman, J. 1991. The Oriental obsession: Islamic inspiration in British and American art and architecture, 1500-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press)

The content of the article is all the more interesting given the prevailing interests expressed in the media on relations between resident Islamic communities and European society as a whole. Also of note, next year, 2009, marks the 120th anniversary of Britain's first purpose-built mosque: the Shah Jahan mosque in Woking, Surrey.

Read these free articles from our archive :

Friends or Foes? The Islamic East and the West

Christopher J. Walker asks whether the two religions that frequently appear locked in an inevitable clash of civilizations in fact share more than has often been thought.

Veiled Politics
Zephie Begolo discusses the symbolic power of the veil in Iranian politics, and its consequences for women, before and during the Islamic Revolution.

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