The Influence of Islam

Islam has had a vast influence upon the history and culture of an enormous area, stretching from Spain in the West through Africa to India and Indonesia in the East. Through the coinages we may trace the extent and the history of the Islamic territories, and also see the impact of Islamic theology, especially the rejection of pictures.

In September 622 the Prophet Muhammad, a member of the prosperous trading community at Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia), left the town to join his supporters at Medina. This flight, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic religion. By time of the Prophetís death in 632, the Bedouin armies he inspired to spread the rule of the faith had gained control of western Arabia. Under the first four caliphs Islam expanded dramatically. Within a hundred years, the Caliphate stretched from North-West India across Africa to the Atlantic ocean, uniting a vast range of people and languages.

The very earliest Islamic coins imitated those of the Sasanian and Byzantine rulers they had ousted from Persia and Syria. In AD 698, however, the Caliph ĎAbd al-Malik (685-705) radically reformed the coinage. All pictorial designs were removed and replaced with inscriptions. His new coins set the style for Islamic coinage down the ages. Even today it is very rare for pictorial designs to occur. Instead, the coins gave pride of place to a version of the Kalima, or declaration of faith, which was written across the obverse. The inscriptions also include the date, mint and the name of the ruler. This feature allows us to trace the origin and date of many obscure rulers and to reconstruct the history of a wide area.

Arab-Sasanian silver drachm, obverseArab-Sasanian silver drachm, reverse Copper fals, Qinnasrin, Syria, obverseCopper fals, Qinnasrin, Syria, reverse
Arab-Sasanian silver drachm
struck in AD 679
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Arab-Byzantine Copper fals
ĎAbd al-Malik (AD 685-705)
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Post-reform gold dinar, obversePost-reform gold dinar, reverse Gold dinar, obverseGold dinar, reverse
Post-reform gold dinar
Abd al-Malik (AD 685-705)
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Gold dinar, Nasirds of Granada
Muhammad V (1354-9, 1362-91)
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Dirham, obverseDirham, reverse Gold square dinar, obverseGold square dinar, reverse
Dirham, Seljuks of Rum
Kayqubadh I (1219-36)
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Gold square dinar, Delhi Sultans
Kulbuddin Mubarak (1316-20)
© Fitzwilliam Museum

The Mongol Invasion


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Department of Coins and Medals, © Fitzwilliam Museum.