My World of Islam

Preliminary results of the international historical and ethnographic expedition to Jordan following the project “The Material world of the Qur’an (the everyday life of Arabia in the Prophet's time)”

Quraysh Abu Jahl B. Hisham, who
intended to kill Muhammad, said: "Muhammad
asserts that if you follow him,
you will become kings of Arabs and Persians,
then rise again after your death,
and there will be gardens for you,
like the gardens of Jordan. .

Ibn Hisham. As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah


Вади Рум – долина к востоку от ‘Акабы, которая на протяжении веков была частью международной транспортной системы. Эти места были тесно связаны с жизнью групп христиан-аскетов, «монахов пустыни». Набатейская надпись упоминает древнее название района – Ирам. 


From 29 September to 10 October 2017 in the framework of the project “The Material world of the Qur’an (the everyday life of Arabia in the Prophet's time)” being realized by Saint-Petersburg Kunstkamera Museum, Leiden Institute for Rational Monotheism (President – Aslbek Musin) and the journal “Manuscripta Orientalia” the first stage of international historical and ethnographic expedition to Jordan was brought to pass. Expedition route was as follows: Amman – Jerash – the Dead Sea coast – Ajlun and Pella – “Umayyad castles” – Madaba – Petra – Wadi Rum – Aqaba – Amman.

In addition to solving organizational and technical issues related in particular to the possibility of video shooting within the developed route, including using the most advanced UAV, the main task of the expedition was to continue gathering ethnographic, photo and video materials for scientific provision of the publication of the main results of the project devoted to the material world of the Qur’an and daily life of Arabia at the turn of 6th–7th centuries. This was one of the most important periods in the history of the Middle East, when the formation of Islam as a religious-political system took place. The book finalizing the project will include a series of photo and video illustrations, augmented reality, mobile apps that will be available on the project website.

Within the framework of the expedition, materials were also collected in order to justify a working hypothesis that the set of Old and New Testament prophetic legends recorded by the Qur'an is closely connected with a chain of holy places stretching along the most important Arabian caravan routes. In particular, places of pilgrimage in Jordan located along these routes are related to:

Apart from the holy sites that were noted above, the expedition also worked extensively on the ruins of the Umayyad castles, the most important historical and architectural sources related both to the images of paradise in the Qur’an and to the history of early Islam.

Dr. Sc., Professor Efim Rezvan, Deputy Director of MAE RAS and “Manuscripta Orientalia” Editor-in-Chief was the head of the expedition. In the expedition participated: Gerşom Qiprisçi, Director of the LIRM, Anna Kudriavtceva, author of the study “The Qur’an as a source for researching the material culture of Arabia at the turn of 6th–7th centuries”, Hazem Sayyid, the host party representative.

Being in Jordan Rezvan gave detailed interview to the largest and most influential newspaper of the state “Al Ra’i”.

Organizers of the expedition express sincere gratitude to Dr. Helmut Fluer and Mrs. Elena Davidova. Great help in planning and organizing the trip was provided by Ms. Anna Lalayan and the Travel Club “Crosna Travel” (Moscow).


Photo by Anna Kudriavtceva. Historical and ethnographic expedition to Jordan following the project “The Material world of the Qur’an (the everyday life of Arabia in the Prophet's time)”, September–October, 2017.

The statues from Ain Ghazal (about 7250 BC), a sample of the oldest ever found human sculptures. Museum of Jordan.   Amman, Citadel, the Palace of the Ummayads (720 CE)   Traditional Bedouin jewelry. Museum of Folk Art, Amman. (“He merged the two seas, converging together. Between them is a barrier, which they do not overrun. So which of your Lord’s marvels will you deny? From them emerge pearls and coral.” Qur’an, 55:19–22.   Burial cave of Seven sleepers of Ephesus near Amman. (“You would have seen the sun, when it rose, veering away from their cave towards the right, and when it sets, moving away from them to the left, as they lay in the midst of the cave. That was one of God’s wonders. He whom God guides is truly guided; but he whom He misguides, for him you will find no directing friend.” Qur’an, 18:17. “So it was, that We caused them to be discovered, that they would know that the promise of God is true, and that of the Hour there is no doubt. As they were disputing their case among themselves, they said, ‘Build over them a building’.” Their Lord knows best about them. Those who prevailed over their case said, ‘We will set up over them a place of worship.’” Qur’an, 18:21). The details of the Qur’anic story (the name of the place, the location of the cave, the construction of the temple above it, etc.) give the reason to suppose that the Qur’an does not refer to the Ephesian cave traditionally considered as the site of the Christian legend, but to the burial on the territory of the Roman necropolis in the vicinity of the modern Amman. In Syria and Palestine even in the pre-Islamic period the legend was associated with this location.

On the plantation of olive and fig trees, 30 km from Amman. (“In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. By the fig and the olive…” Qur’an, 95:1)   The grave of the prophet Shu‘aib, Wadi Shu‘aib.   Qasr al-Hallabat. Northwest of modern Jordan. Rebuilt under Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik (ruled between 724 and 743 CE). The main building material is sandstone. It is suggested to be originally a Nabataean building, then a Roman fortress built under the Emperor Caracalla as one of a series of fortified points along Via Nova Traiana linking Damascus and Aqaba through Petra and Amman.   A staircase in the Umayyad Castle in Qasr al-Hallabat. (“Were it not that humanity would become a single community, We would have provided those who disbelieve in the Most Gracious with roofs of silver to their houses, and stairways by which they ascend. And doors to their houses, and furnishings on which they recline. And decorations. Yet all that is nothing but the stuff of this life. Yet the Hereafter, with your Lord, is for the righteous”. Qur’an, 43:33–35). The Qur’an shows that the inhabitants of Mecca could clearly imagine the luxurious palaces, striking with ceilings (perhaps of silver smalt) shining like silver, stairs and doors leading to the upper rooms, decorated with colored ornaments (mosaics or paintings) so that people do not become too attached to this world and not become unbelievers. The time of the creation of the Qur’an coincided with the flowering of Byzantine mosaic art. Temples and Umayyad castles located in Northern Arabia (for example, in the territory of modern Jordan), have preserved till today brilliant examples of mosaics and murals.

Qasr Amra (Kusayr Amra). Eastern Jordan. The inscriptions discovered here in 2012 allowed to date it by the period between 723 and 742 CE. It is considered to be one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture. Some fragments of a low building made of limestone and basalt have preserved. The building is associated with the names of Walid II or Yazid III. The first one was known as a connoisseur of music and poetry craving for exquisite pleasures. Yazid, the son of a Persian princess, did not concede to him. Frescoes inside the traditional antique bath complex (apodyterium, tepidarium, caldarium) represent scenes of hunting, animals prevalent mainly in Persia, fruits, wine, naked women.   Qasr Kharana. East of Jordan, near the border with Saudi Arabia. It was originally a Roman or Byzantine building that controlled one of the most important wadi in the region. The reconstruction of the castle dates from 661 to 685 CE, which makes it one of the earliest structures of this type. According to its architectural and functional features, Qasr Kharana represents something special in a series of Umayyad castles. It is a mighty quadrangular building made of sandstone with semicircular towers in the center of the walls and in the corners. It includes 60 rooms on two levels, located along the perimeter around the central courtyard with a pool in the middle filled with rainwater. The apartments decorated with pilasters, medallions and blind niches have window-slits for light and ventilation. The Syrian and Sassanian influences are distinctly expressed in the design and construction technologies.   Jerash (Gerasa) is an ancient city located in 48 km to the north from Amman. It was one of the most developed and bustling commercial cities of Decapolis that was rivaling in its wealth and beauty with Palmyra. In Byzantine period the size of the city within its walls was approximately 800 thousand square meters.   Pella, an ancient city in 25 km to southeast from Irbid, was one of the commercial cities of Decapolis. In January 635 CE it became the place of battle between the Muslim army under the command of Khalid b. Al-Walid and the Byzantines.

The fragment of the oldest map of Palestine (the original size is about 15 × 25 × 6 m) in Madaba (now adorns the floor of an Orthodox church built in the 19th century). The map created in 560 CE (i.e. 10 years before the traditional date of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), contains 157 inscriptions in Greek that represent all the major sacred places of the Middle East from Egypt to Palestine.   The hilltop of Mukawir (Machaerus). According to the legend it is the place where John the Baptist / Yahya was beheaded by Herod Antipas, the successor of Herod the Great. There is a number of caves along the road to the fortress; one of them, according to the legend, witnessed the execution.   Mukawir (Machaerus), ruins of the fortress of Herod the Great. The reconstructed columns to the south-west at the hilltop mark the place of the banquet hall (triclinium), where, according to the legend, Salome danced.   Bethany beyond the Jordan, al-Makhtas (Arabic “immersion”) – according to the legend, the place of the baptism of Jesus Christ (since that time the Jordan changed its course). The study of Byzantine buildings’ ruins shows that this place was revered at least from the 6th century CE.

The Jordan River near al-Makhtas.   The Cave of Lot / Lut. (“Then Lot went up out of Zoar to the mountain, and was living there with his two daughters, for fear kept him from living in Zoar: and he and his daughters made their living-place in a hole in the rock”. Book of Genesis, 19:30)   Mount Nebo or Nevo, Mount Moses / Musa (817 m above sea level, 7 km from the city of Madaba). According to the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord showed Moses the Promised Land from this mountain. (“And Moses went up from the table-lands of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah which is facing Jericho. And the Lord let him see all the land, the land of Gilead as far as Dan…”. Deuteronomy, 34:1)   The Stylite’s pillar (5th century CE) is the place of solitary prayer of the Christian ascetics in 1.6 kilometers to the north from Umm al-Rasas (the richest but only partially excavated archaeological complex of the Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim eras). The practice of such reclusion was popular among Christian ascetics in the north of Arabia on the eve of the rise of Islam.

The fragment of the destroyed sculptural composition, representing the entrance of the trade caravan to Petra. Covered with rocks, Petra not only possessed the advantages of the fortress, but also controlled the main trade routes that passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuke Kome on the Red Sea coast. Many years of archaeological work have shown that it was the Nabataeans' ability to control water supply that led to the creation of this artificial oasis. It is important to note that in the last centuries BC and the first centuries CE the Thamud tribal union was greatly affected by the influence of Nabataean culture. It was the Qur’anic Thamudians who owned many of the monuments of the Northern Hijaz, traditionally associated with the Nabataeans.   The dwelling cave of the Bdoul tribe in the Petra district. Apart from traditional “black tents”, caves carved in the rocks by the Nabateans two thousand years ago are still being used nowadays for housing and some other purposes. There is archaeological evidence that the Nabataeans in their turn adapted the already existing caves for their needs. Today the study of the use of ancient caves can give a clue for understanding and reconstructing a number of important elements of the way of life of the Nabataeans.   The holy spring, extracted, as legend tells, by Musa from the stone. Wadi Musa near Petra. (“And recall when Moses prayed for water for his people. We said, “Strike the rock with your staff.” Thereupon twelve springs gushed out from it, and each tribe recognized its drinking-place. “Eat and drink from God’s provision, and do not corrupt the earth with disobedience”. Qur’an, 2:60)   The burial place of Aaron / Harun (the brother of Moses / Musa) on the top of Jabal Haroun. A small dome building was constructed by Mamluk Sultan Kalawun in 1459 and replaced the earlier buildings that stood in the same place. According to the local legend future prophet Muhammad while going from Mecca to Damascus at the age of 10 passed through Petra and visited the top of the mountain. A Christian monk and a temple keeper by the name of Bahira prophesied that this child someday would change the world. A small temple on the top is currently a place of worship of Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Ruins of a Byzantine monastery near the top of Jabal Haroun.   Efim Rezvan, the head of the expedition together with the guides from the Bedouin tribe al-‘Amari at the mosque on the top of Jabal Haroun.    

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