Unexpected Tolerance

Eight-pointed Islamic star.

The mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, megalomaniac ruler of Morocco in the 17th century who successfully forged a country, defended it from the Ottoman incursion through Algeria and kept a picked force of African slaves warriors called the “Black Guard” in addition to thousands of European/Christian slaves who worked on his capital city of Meknes, was a surprisingly tolerant man.

The tilework on the walls of Moulay Ismail’s own mausoleum proves lasting testimony.  First of all, all the tiles are arranged in a pre-Islamic Berber style, where the sun sits at the center casting rays out onto an abundant earth.  And, even better, inside Moulay Ismail’s sun are three alternating symbols:  the eight-pointed star of Islam, the Cross, and the Star of David.

The Star of David.

Although to a modern audience the Star of David might seem most incongruous, most Not Quite Right, the Jewish community played a vital role in Moulay Ismail’s empire, providing trade links with the world.  The Jewish community lived in well-protected enclaves, here called Mellah, within the same walls as the Muslim population.  Indeed, a big portion of both the Muslim and the Jewish population arrived together from Spain, primarily the cities of Cordoba and Toledo, as the Spanish Reconquista drove the Moors south across the Straits of Gibralter.

The Cross.

It was in the face of Christian persecution that both the Jewish and the Muslim populations in Meknes, Fes and other Moroccan cities blossomed.  And it is, therefore, all the more strange to find the cross given equal status in the architecture of the great leader’s tomb.  His empire derived strength from all three traditions and realized the essential idea that all three peoples worshipped the same God.  While the tiles themselves now seem Not Quite Right, the idea they preserve is right on target.

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4 responses to “Unexpected Tolerance

  • guitta

    Very nice work indeed,I like every single detail about it….

  • Emily Jahimiak

    Beautiful tile work. Did you notice the religious symbols represented within them yourself, or did they have this pointed out as an educational plaque or some such. I was curious if this idea was promoted within the community now days or whether it is just an unspoken way of life.

    • Benjamin Buchholz

      The tour guide pointed these out. The Cross was a novelty a little more than the Star of David, which is a fairly regular motif in the tiles here. Islamic 8-pointed star shows up the most, then the Star of David and I’ve seen the cross only once or twice.

  • Brian Wichmann

    I would lie to see the complete design.

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