Islamic Mihrab Portal With Desert Landscape

Deborah Dimmick, designer
Dr. Nabil Seyam, Islamic Society of Wichita, consultant

This portal is a reproduction of an early 16th century Iranian mihrab, a niche or indented space within a mosque. The mihrab itself is not an object of worship or devotion but faces the quibla wall indicating the direction of Mecca, the holy site to which all prayers are to be directed. (Stokstad, 345, 347-8, 352). Muslims are called to prayer five times a day and gather for noon prayer on Fridays at a mosque (Nolan, 14). A prayer leader sits in front of the ogival or pointed arch of the mihrab to facilitate the prayer service. The calligraphy around the mihrab reads from right to left and is a verse from the Koran in ancient Iranian script that translates, "Be constant in prayer, and give alms, and what good ye have sent before your souls, ye shall find it in Allah, surely Allah seeth what ye do." Calligraphy in Islamic art requires a great deal of training and serves as a constant reminder of the instructions of the Koran. Figural statuary or design is generally regarded as idolatry and is therefore not found in many mosques. Blue and green tiles in elaborate floral and geometric designs cover the mihrab. The color blue is symbolic of heaven and blessings and green is a color said to be favored by Mohammed.

The desert landscape portrayed is Asir National Park in Saudi Arabia, a diverse area bounded by a mountain range that reaches 9,800 feet in height. The park includes a coastal plane, beaches and juniper forests (Burton, 172-173). Date palm trees growing nearby are an important source of food. The olive tree, known as the Tree of Blessing, gives oil for the light of Allah to the world.

Two endangered animals found in this area are the lesser kestrel and the Arabian oryx. The lesser kestrel is a small bird of prey that typically nests in the old walls and ancient buildings of cities. During the day, it flies to the desert in search of food, mainly small reptiles and large insects. Its numbers are rapidly declining due to loss of nesting sites and urban development forcing the birds to leave the nestlings and fly great distances to feeding grounds. In Jerusalem, for example, the bird must fly 12 miles from the old city to find food for its chicks. Local Palestinians and Israelis have worked together to save the bird by monitoring its numbers and providing nesting boxes. The kestrel has become an ambassador for peace in a war-torn area (Copans, 46-50).

The Arabian oryx lives in wooded vegetation and the gravel and sandy plains of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Syria, Jordan and Israel. The oryx is hunted for its meat, pelts and horns that are often used as sword hilts. Its population has declined to between 700 and 800 animals due to deaths from livestock diseases and over-hunting facilitated by the use of modern weapons and 4-wheel drive vehicles. Another threat to their survival is human encroachment and the appropriation of land for livestock grazing (www.unep-wcmc.org).

Do not cut down a tree, do not abuse a river, do not harm animals, and be always kind and humane to Godís creation, even to your enemies.

The First Muslim Khalifa, Abu-Baker in a letter of recommendation to his troops.