Seal of Muhammad
- This is about the physical seal (signet ring). For the title given to Muhammad, see Seal of the Prophets. For the mole or physical mark attributed to Muhammad, see Seal of Prophethood.
The Seal of Muhammad (Turkish Mühr-ü Saadet or Mühr-ü Şerif; Arabic ختم الرسول[a]) is one of the relics of Muhammad kept in the Topkapı Palace by the Ottoman Sultans as part of the Sacred Relics collection. It is allegedly the replica of a seal used by Muhammad on several letters sent to foreign dignitaries.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1675 reported that the seal was kept in a small ebony box in a niche cut in the wall by the foot of a divan in the relic room at Topkapi. The seal itself is encased in crystal, approximately 3"x4", with a border of ivory. It has been used as recently as the 17th century to stamp documents.
The seal is a rectangular piece of red agate, about 1 cm in length, inscribed with الله / محمد رسول (i.e. Allah "God" in the first line, and Muḥammad rasūl "Muhammad, messenger" in the second). According to Muslim historiographical tradition, Muhammad's original seal was inherited by Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, but lost by Uthman in a well in Medina. Uthman is said to have made a replica of the seal, and this seal was supposedly found in the capture of Baghdad (1534) and brought to Istanbul.
A different design of the "seal of Muhammad" is circular, based on Ottoman era manuscript copies of the letters of Muhammad. This is the variant that has become familiar as the "seal of Muhammad."
The authenticity of the letters and of the seal is dubious and has been contested almost as soon as their discovery, although there is little research on the subject. Some scholars such as Nöldeke (1909) consider the currently preserved copy to be a forgery, and Öhrnberg (2007) considers the whole narrative concerning the letter to the Muqawqis to be "devoid of any historical value", and the seal to be fake on paleographical grounds, the writing style being anachronical and hinting at an Ottoman Turkish origin.
- to be distinguished:
- ختم الرسول or خاتم الرسول: "seal of the messenger", the term for Muhammad's signet ring (also خاتم محمد "seal of Muhammad");
- خاتم النبيين : "seal of the prophets", the title given to Muhammad;
- خاتم النبوة : "seal of prophethood", the name of the egg-shaped protrusion on Muhammad's shoulder-blade;
- also, محمد خاتمی by coincidential near-homography, the name of Mohammad Amir Khatam.
- Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste. "Nouvelle Relation de l'Intérieur du Sérail du Grand Seigneur", 1675.
- Rachel Milstein, "Futuh-i Haramayn: sixteenth-century illustrations of the Hajj route" in: David J Wasserstein and Ami Ayalon (eds.), Mamluks and Ottomans: Studies in Honour of Michael Winter , Routledge, 2013, p. 191 (on the point of the tradition being controversial referencing 15th-century scholar al-Samhudi). William Muir in The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decine and Fall (1892) gives an account of the legend on Uthman's loss of the seal, the fruitless search for it, the calamity of the omen, and Uthman's eventual consent "to supply the lost signet by another of like fashion".
- "the original of the letter was discovered in 1858 by Monsieur Etienne Barthelemy, member of a French expedition, in a monastery in Egypt and is now carefully preserved in Constantinople. Several photographs of the letter have since been published. The first one was published in the well-known Egyptian newspaper Al-Hilal in November 1904" Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1980 (chapter 12). The drawing of the document published in Al-Hilal was reproduced in David Samuel Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, London (1905), p. 365, which is the source of this image.
- "The story of this particular embassy to al-Mukawkis must be considered as legendary and devoid of any historical value. The parchment which was thought to be the original of Muhammad's letter to al-Mukawkis—it was found in a monastery at Akhmim in 1850 (cf. the publication by Belin, in JA , 482-518)—has been recognized almost from the beginning as a fake, on both historical as well as paleographical grounds (J. Karabacek, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Mazjaditen, Leipzig 1874, 35 n. 47; Nöldeke-Schwally, Geschichte des Qorans, i, Leipzig 1909, 190)." K. Öhrnberg, Encyclopedia of Islam Second Edition s.v. "Muḳawḳis", (2007).
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