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150-year-old religious treasure goes on display at mall for Ramadan

The Damascene Mahmal, a 150-year-old religious icon.Lee Hoagland / The National

By Melanie Swan / 13 Jul 2013

A 150-year-old religious icon, the Damascene Mahmal, has been given a temporary home at Dubai Mall for Ramadan.

The hand-crafted treasure has silver and gold calligraphy on silk and was designed for transport on a camel.

The Mahmal was used to carry the Kiswah cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca. The black cloth fully covers the Kaaba and is draped over it on the ninth day of the month of Dhu Al Hijjah, the day pilgrims leave for the plains of Mount Arafat during Hajj.

It was commissioned by Sultan Abdulhamid II, the 99th Caliph of Islam and 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who reigned from 1876 to 1909.

The tent-like shape of the Mahmal is adorned with intricate embroidery, including heavy silver and gold calligraphy backed with red, green, and yellow silk.

Amirah Keshishiam, 24, was stumbled across the treasure while out shopping at the mall yesterday.

"It's amazing, fascinating. It's a real piece of history and I've never seen anything like this before," said the Syrian expatriate.

Yoana Danailova, from Bulgaria, was taken aback when she came across the Mahmal in the Souk Atrium.

"We didn't know it was going to be here but it's amazing to see,"she said. "It's amazing because it's such an old piece."

It belongs to a French artist and designer, Alexandre J, who wanted to display the antique during Ramadan.

"This Mahmal is not just gorgeously crafted but also has a historic and cultural significance that extends far beyond passing fads,"he said. "The purpose of bringing this exquisite piece and displaying it at the Dubai Mall is to share a work of great beauty that also has religious connotations."

The calligraphy uses Thuluth script, which is characterised by curved letters with barbed heads.

The interplay of the letters creates an impression of complexity and constant movement, said the artist.

Each of the top four corners is topped by a copper head, while the centre apex is plated in silver and wrapped with a small flag inscribed with the Shahada: "There is no God but God; Mohammed is the messenger of God."

The main facade has Quranic verse which reads: "Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe. Send ye blessings on Him and salute Him with all respect."

Alexandre J said displaying the artefact during the holy month was apt.

"Not only will patrons get to enjoy a piece of beauty with tremendous cultural and religious significance, but also tranquilly reflect on what it means,"he said. "It is a message that the hectic pace of here and now is sometimes less important than timeless art and history."


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