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Yemen, India, woodwork, architecture, Mocha, Qasimi Imams, Indian Ocean


This article introduces and analyzes the tomb of the Qāsimī Imām al-Mahdī Muhammad (r. 1686-1718) in the village of al-Mawāhib, northeast of Dhamār. Unlike many of the mosques and tombs associated with the other Zaydī imams of Yemen, al-Mahdī’s mausoleum has never been published, but merits close examination. While most historians consider his imamate to have been an era of both religious and political decline, this period was marked by increased cross-cultural interaction and artistic production. In particular, the tomb of al-Mahdī features unique decoration above its mihrāb and a remarkable wooden cenotaph. In order to explain the meaning and context of these two individual features, the article posits a strong connection between al-Mahdī’s legacy and the lucrative port city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast, which was separated from al-Mawāhib by a considerable distance, but in close communication with the imam’s court. The projecting box over the mihrāb relates to the rawshan, or wooden projecting window, which appeared as a key visual icon of Mocha’s house facades. Additionally, the ivory inlaid wooden cenotaph was likely manufactured in Mocha, made by Indian artisans. In fact, it may serve as the single remaining Yemeni specimen of this provincial woodworking industry that was mentioned by Prisse d’Avennes in the nineteenth century.

Publisher Attribution

Nancy Um, “From the Port of Mocha to the Eighteenth-Century Tomb of Imam al-Mahdi Muhammad in al-Mawahib: Locating Architectural Icons and Migratory Craftsmen,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41 (2011): 387-400.



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