Kairouan (al-Qairawan, القيروان) was founded in 670/50 AH by 'Uqba ibn Nafi, the Arab general in command of the Muslim conquest of North Africa. The principal monument in the city is the Great Mosque, also known as the mosque of Sidi 'Uqba after the general who founded it. The first mosque on the site was begun immediately after the Arab conquest and consisted of a square enclosure containing a courtyard and prayer hall or sanctuary. This first building was made of mud brick and had to be restored in 695. There was another major reconstruction in 724-43 when a minaret was added. The present minaret was added by the Aghlabids in 836. It is a giant three-tier structure built of baked bricks on a base of reused ashlar blocks. At present, the minaret stands on the north wall of the courtyard but in the ninth century, it would have been outside the mosque courtyard in a manner similar to the contemporary Abbasid mosques of Samarra.
The mosque took its present form from the major rebuilding which took place under the Aghlabids which was completed in 862. The present mosque enclosure forms a large rectangle measuring 125 by 85 m. The prayer hall is one-third of the mosque area and comprises seventeen aisles perpendicular to the qibla wall with another aisle parallel to the wall. Aghlabid modifications included the present mihrab, the dome in front of the mihrab and the minbar. The mihrab niche is lined with perforated marble panels decorated with vegetal designs. Surrounding the mihrab are a series of polychrome lustre tiles which are believed to have been imported from Baghdad. The dome covering the area in front of the mihrab is built of stone and rests on a drum supported by large shell-shaped squinches. The dome has a gadrooned form which internally takes the form of thin radiating ribs. The inside of the drum is circular and decorated with a series of sixteen blind niches and eight arched windows. The minbar is the oldest in existence and consists of a high staircase with a series of intricately carved panels on the side decorated with geometric and stylized vegetal designs. The present maqsura (screen) was added in restorations of the eleventh century. Further restorations were carried out in 1294 when the arches of the arcades were remodeled and the projecting portal of Bab Lalla Rayhana was added. Other Aghlabid monuments at Qairawan include the Mosque of the Three Gates, and the famous polygonal cisterns or artificial lakes. Outside Qairawan three satellite cities were established known as al-Abbasiya, Raqqada and Sabra al-Mansuriyya. Nothing remains of Abasiyya, although at Raqqada there are huge reservoirs and the remains of a large palace built of baked brick. Other cities with Aghlabid monuments include Tunis, Susa, Sfax and Monastir. In 1052 the city was enclosed with a crenellated brick wall which was extensively restored in the eighteenth century.
Khidr, Shirin. “English abstract of 'Kairouan and its Role in Islamic Civilisation'". Translated by Hugh Lovatt. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi. 107. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
.زيتون، محمد محمد. القيروان و دورها في الحضارة الاسلامية. القاهرة: دار المنار، ١٩٨٨، ٥٧٥ص
Zaytun, Muhammad Muhammad. Al-Qayrawan wa-Dawruha fi al-Hadarah al-Islamiyyah. Cairo: Dar al-Manar, 1988, 575pp.
Kairouan and its Role in Islamic Civilisation
القيروان و دورها في الحضارة الاسلامية
The book deals with the town of Kairouan and the role it played in Muslim civilisation as an ancient metropolis which greatly impacted the spread of Islam and its flourishing civilisation, and in due course became one of the most important centres of Muslim thought in North Africa.
The book sheds light on intellectual life in Kairouan and follows its development through different periods since the town’s founding. It begins by depicting the Muslim conquest of Africa and enumerates the circumstances surrounding the town’s founding as well as the architectural benefits and socio-cultural projects it gave rise to.
The work then proceeds to frame the political situation as well as the town’s economic and social life during the Era of Governors (al-Wulaat) followed by the Aghlabids and the Fatimids, and how these combined factors led to the emergence of intellectual life in Kairouan. It is clear that the author intended the first four sections to paint a clear picture of Kairouan architecturally, politically, economically and socially in order to illustrate how these four anthropological factors helped nurture the rise of intellectual life there through to its apogee.
The author dedicates the remaining sections to researching the realities of intellectual life in Kairouan. It also discusses the most prominent thinkers who have contributed the most to enriching intellectual and cultural thought. After this, the work explains the intellectual role it played and how it spread to other centres of Islamic thought. The book also clarifies the extent to which it has been influenced, its impact on these centres, and how these intellectual exchanges led to particular attributes emerging within intellectual thought in Kairouan.
This book seeks to give a clear introduction to Kairouan, a town which has only rarely been the subject of scholarly studies such as this one which attempts to give a serious description of its intellectual movement and its role in civilisation. One should recognise the great effort undertaken by the author in order to show the various dimensions of this subject and identify relevant sources due to the difficulties in conducting such observations based on political history books and biographies of scholars from that period. It is also worth noting that the unnecessary repetition of some of the ideas and events mentioned in the book proves superfluous as it does not provide additional detail or make the research analytically any richer.
Despite this, the author has dealt with his research subject in an organised, methodical, chronological and objective way and has provided good and clear material for those readers interested in History, Muslim thought and intellectual life in Kairouan.