A possible early depiction of Muhammad by Muslims
(too old to reply)
Yusuf B Gursey
2015-02-20 02:20:16 UTC
Robert Hoyland gives a very convincing argument that the figure in the so-c=
alled "Standing Caliph" coin of Abdulmalik represents not Abdulmalik but Mu=

The first coin was minted in 74 AH / 693-694 CE and they were in circulatio=
n for three years. Afterwards imagery was dropped in coins.=20

Muhammad died 10 AH, 632 CE and there were still some Companions alive who =
had seen Muhammad when the coins were minted.=20


R. Hoyland, "Writing The Biography Of The Prophet Muhammad: Problems And So=
lutions", History Compass, 2007, Volume 5, pp. 13-14.=20


Postscript: Muhammad or Abd al-Malik?=20
In AH 72/AD 691 -92, having just successfully ended a long-running civil=20
war (66 -72/685 -92) and completed the stunning Dome of the Rock in=20
Jerusalem with its message to Christians to respect God's Oneness and=20
Muhammad as God's Messenger, the caliph vAbd al-Malik decided to=20
Islamicise a little the coins used in his realm, which had up till then bee=
copies/imitations of the Byzantine and Iranian coin types. In particular, h=
removed the transverse bars of the crosses67 and introduced the Muslim=20
profession of faith: 'There is no god but God alone; Muhammad is the=20
Messenger of God'. The Byzantine emperor Justinian II (685-95, 705-11)=20
responded with an even more startling innovation: he relegated the image=20
of himself to the reverse of the coin and put on the front a human effigy o=
Jesus Christ, both unprecendented moves (Fig. 1):=20
In retaliation Abd al-Malik placed an image of a standing human bearing=20
a sword in a scabbard68 on the front of his coins, the earliest dated is=20
74/693-9469 (Fig. 2):=20
This is generally assumed to be a representation of the caliph himself and=
so the coins are known as the 'standing caliph' coins.70 However, there are=
a number of reasons to doubt this:=20
Firstly, it ignores the war in visual and verbal propaganda going on=20
between Justinian II and vAbd al-Malik and the wider issue of the use of=20
religious images and slogans that was being hotly debated at this time.71 I=
f, in response to Justinian's demotion of himself to the reverse of Byzanti=
ne coins in favour of Christ's effigy on the front, vAbd al-Malik had merel=
y put his own image on the front of Muslim coins, it would have seemed a ve=
ry feeble reply in the view of Christians; rather, the obvious move for him=
would have been to put an image that would challenge that of the image=20
of Christ, which could only be that of the Prophet Muhammad himself. The=20
very dramatic nature of these changes, their closeness in time, their evide=
ntly polemical overtones and enormous propaganda impact (coins circulate ve=
ry widely) at a time of great tension (in particular, the Byzantines suffer=
ed a major defeat at Sebastopolis in 73/692-93) make it essential for these=
two innovations to be considered together.=20

to be continued
Yusuf B Gursey
2015-02-20 02:57:31 UTC
On Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 9:30:04 PM UTC-5, Yusuf B Gursey wrote:

Secondly, it ignores the context of the Arab civil war of 685-92 in which
religion had played a major role for diverse groups clamouring for greater
social justice, and vAbd al-Malik saw the chance to steal their thunder and
to heal the divisions among the Muslim community by putting Islam at the
heart of the state. Henceforth, the name of the Prophet Muhammad, which
had been absent from all state media (i.e. administrative documents,
monumental inscriptions, etc.), became de rigeur on every official text and
became pretty much standard in epitaphs and graffiti. This makes it unlikely
that the image on the front of vAbd al-Malik's new coins was himself, which
would have been condemned by Muslims as an imitation of infidel kings,
and much more likely that it is a religious personage, again most obviously
Muhammad himself.
Thirdly, the iconography of the person on vAbd al-Malik's coinage is
closer to that of Justinian II's Christ figure than to an emperor figure: both have long, flowing hair and are bearded,72 and both are without headgear (i.e. no turban or crown).73

Fourthly, the standing-figure coins of Jerusalem, Harran and al-Ruha
(Edessa) do not, unlike those of other mints, name the Prophet Muhammad
and the Caliph vAbd al-Malik, but only mention Muhammad. As Clive Foss
has remarked, 'ever since the inception of portrait coinage in the Hellenistic period, the image and superscription had gone together, that is, the inscription names the figure portrayed . . . I know of no coin where the
obverse inscription refers to someone different from the figure portrayed'.74
Fifthly, the objection sometimes raised, that Muslim religious authorities
would have forbidden the image of the Prophet to be placed on the coins,
is not really valid. It is certainly true that around this time, or shortly
afterwards, the question of what images were admissible and in what context
became a hot topic,75 and indeed the fifteenth-century Egyptian historian
al-Maqrizi quotes a report to the effect that when the new coins of Abd
al-Malik reached the surviving companions of Muhammad in Medina,'they
disapproved of their engraving, for it contained an image, although Said
ibn al-Musayyab (a famous lawyer of Medina) bought and sold with them
finding no fault with them at all'.76