The İnşā’-i a‘là belongs to a common genre of literature in the Ottoman Empire called münşeat. These works included sample correspondence and prose intended for seasoned writers. This particular example is unique because of the illustrations it includes on its final pages, showing various shrines in and around Medina and Jerusalem.

The manuscript

Commissioned (?) by Halife-zade and copied by Mustafa Efendi, the İnşā’-i a‘là contains four sections: a table of contents; two mesnevi poems; some notes; and a collection of illustrations. The illustrations are sketched as schematic plans in black, red, blue, yellow and orange inks, and are occasionally accompanied by prayers. The inclusion of the date 1130 AH (1717–1718 CE) provides an approximate dating for the manuscript, but the exact period when it was produced is not known.

Why is it so important?

The İnşā’-i a‘là contains eighteen illustrated scenes showing mosques, tombs and various geographical locations important for the early history of Islam. These include the Haram of the Prophet Muhammad, the Mosque of the two qiblahs, Mount Uhud and the graves of the Prophet’s Companions, the tombs of the Prophet’s foster mother, wives (except Khadija) and daughters; and the Dome of the Rock. Some of the shrines and tombs in the Hejaz have since been destroyed, making the İnşā’ an invaluable resource on the religious architecture and pilgrimage traditions of the region.