The Qasr Al-Mshatta 

a) Pick one work of art (literature, visual arts, architecture, etc.) from any period of Middle
Eastern history since the rise of Islam, and explain how it reflects the political, social and/or
cultural context in which it was created.
b) Which historical examples most clearly illustrate the change in the balance of power between
the West and the Middle East from the middle ages to today?

c) How much is modern Islamism a continuation from (or a break with) the religious tradition of

You can draw from your lecture notes and assigned readings, but do NOT use outside
materials. If you are borrowing from the assigned readings (including the textbook), make sure
that you properly cite the source you're using, and reformulate whenever possible–never
present words written by someone else as your own.
You have until Wednesday, November 18 at 5PM to submit your final paper, using the link
below. I do accept late submissions ), but they will be subject to a 1/3 of a letter grade penalty
per hour past that deadline.



Short-Structured Questions

  • The Qasr Al-Mshatta 

The Qasr Al-Mshatta is thought to be the ruins of an Umayyad winter palace and was probably built when caliph Al-Walid II was still in power between 743-744. Caliph Al-Walid II was the artist-prince is also thought to have built the Khirbat al-Mafjar. The palace is located around 30km North of Queens Alia Airport and belongs to the castles, palaces, and caravanserais known as the desert castles.  Mshatta place is the last building that is remaining under this category. The Mshatta palace qualifies to belong to this category due to its twenty-five semicircular buttresses situated on the outer wall. The palace also has a single entrance and square shape, a common trait of all desert palaces. 

Much of its ruins are still available in situ, but its foundation is still intact. Its incomplete structure suggests that Caliph Al-Walid II built it. In support of this, one could look at the short period that he remained in power, which was only around one year that did not give him enough time to complete its building. The palace that still exists and the decorations on its wall suggest that he had many workmen working on it to have achieved that much in one year. As the work was going on, a war broke out in 744, and the building had to stop. The war arose as the Abbasids were fighting against the Umayyad dynasty.  As the war went on, Al-Walid was forced to leave the palace and was later assassinated, and this was why he did not finish the construction of the palace. 

The Mshatta is set with a square wall, which is built with stone buttressed enceinte. These walls were meant to make the palace safe as possible from the remaining part of the wall; it is estimated that the wall could have been around 3-5.5 meters high. There were circular towers on the wall that were placed in intervals that were similar to some desert palaces before and after it. The high and strong walls indicate the belief that Muslim palaces were safe havens away from the unstable frontier. Some scholars have argued that the building of the palace walls copied the Roman lime, and thus the MShatta Palace partially copied the Roman architecture. 

A large part of the south façade was given to Wilhelm II, who was a German Emperor Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, as a sign of gratitude for the construction and completion of the Hejaz Railway. It was taken to Berlin in 1903 and currently on the Museum of Islamic Art in the Museum Island. This art piece is a good and unique example of huge stone-carved arts associated with the early Islam period. Despite the allegation of the Roman Lime imitation, this piece of art suggests that the community then had started adopting unique Islam art. Islam art was used to communicate various messages to the audience, such as hard work and peace, and this was no different. For example, the piece of art portrays animals’ pairs, which are natural enemies sitting together and drinking water from one goblet. On the art, one can also see birds sitting on branches as they peck on grapes. As prey animals are depicted to live peacefully with domestic birds, the message is clear; peace was an important aspect of the community when the art was developed.

Some historians have argued that the Mshataa palace was built using forced labor asper the accounts of Abbasid historian Yakubi in Baghdad’s palace. A small group of craftsmen then supervised a huge number of forced laborers. Evidence gathered from marks made by masons used in the building of the palace supports the use of slave labor. For example, on the wall’s remaining part, some cross-shaped marks suggest that Christian laborers were used in the building works. Some of the drawings that were also found on the remaining part of the palace wall, which apply the Sassanid sovereigns, indicate that Iranian builders were present in the building. With the marks on the wall suggesting several cultures during the building work, the Mshatta palace seems to be a place where various cultures met. However, these marks speak something about the community under Al-Walid, which is the slave trade. The community then must have been involved in the slave trade to great lengths to acquire the much slave labor required to have built the palace in such a short time. The fact that the evidence available suggests that cultures from different parts of the world indicate that the community in current Jordan was widely involved in the slave trade.

Differences Between Modern Islam and the Religious Tradition of Islam

Islam modernization has been described as the first ideology within Islam Religion that has tried to respond to the challenges posed by western culture. The move to modernize Islam has been to reconcile it with new ideas and values such as democracy, civil rights, equality, and progress in Muslim-practicing societies and not allowing sin. It is believed that Islam modernization commenced in the 19th century centrally due to the western influence brought by colonialism in the Muslim world. Some key proponents of modern Islam include Muhammad Abduh, who played an active role in modernizing Islam before his death in 1905. Other key people include Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Rashid Rida. These early modernists of the Islam religion used the term salafiyya to describe what is now known as Islam modernization.  Modernization is different from secularism as it does not allow any type of sin that is prohibited within Islam and emphasizes the practice of Islam religion in public life. It differs from the older practices of the religion so that to accommodate the relevant changes. This move has been guided by the words of Mahathir Mohammed, which posited that so long as Islam is interpreted in a manner that is relevant to the world in which it is being practiced and which is different from the world 1400 years ago, then it will remain to be a religion of all ages. 

One of the things that make modern Islam unique the acknowledgment, though with differing degrees of criticism and emulation of some of the legal, scientific, and technological inventions of the WestWest. In line with Mahathir’s words, modern Islam has tried to adapt to the world, led by technology and globalization. Not all things that come from the WestWest are good or bad. As a result, modern Islam takes this into account. To make the Muslim world competitive in the cotemporal world, modern Islam has accepted modern technologies such as mobile phone technology and computers. Some Muslim countries such as Egypt have also accepted democratic rule, which has its roots in the WestWest, but the people of the country have seen it right to be led in that manner.  However, modern Islam is opposed to various actions of the west key among them being colonization of the Muslim world and secularism. To this end, modern Islam aims at creating modern and dynamic knowledge in science that would help strengthen Islam and prevent further exploitation from other parts of the world. 

Modern Islam has also reinterpreted traditional Islam law from traditional sources of Islam jurisprudence, which include:  Quran, Hadith Ijima, Qiyas, and Ijtihad. The reinterpretation of these traditional laws is meant to enhance Islam to prevail in the modern world. In reinterpreting the Ijihad, modern Islam sought to expand the ground of the application of the Ijtihad in reaching verdicts in unprecedented cases to its use in all domains of thoughts and in some cases where non-jurists are involved. Modern Islam is also different from traditional Islam in its reinterpretation of the Quran verses that dictate polygyny, hadd punishment, Jihad, and Riba to fit in the modern view. In the case of Jihad or the treatment of non-believers, modern Islam disagrees with the traditional Islam scholars. Modern Islam views Jihad as only a defensive tool necessary in defensive wars against aggression, such as the colonial aggression in the Muslim world. The normal way of existence between the Muslim world and the other parts of the world is supposed to be a peaceful one. Modern Islam disputes the rule that unbelief can be reason enough to declare Jihad. Modern Islam also believes that all interest on loans is Riba, and this is forbidden under the argument that there is a difference between interest and unsury. 

Modern Islam has also invoked the maqasid al-sharia, which are the objectives of Islam’s law, which is supposed to support the public interest. Even though traditionists have criticized this move, modern Islam scholars have termed it an urgent political and ethical concern.  The invocation of these laws was meant to justify any new developments that were not tackled in the traditional commentaries but were seen as urgent and necessary.

In a nutshell, even though modern Islam has been criticized by many who still think Islam’s traditional practice is the way to go, it is a requirement that it changes to fit in the new world. As pointed out in the words of  Mahathir Mohammed, Islam needs to make some relevant changes to adapt if it is to remain a religion of all times.