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Sitarah made for the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina Egypt . Silk with coloured silk appliqué and embroidered with silver and silver-gilt wire, 268 x 164 cm. Presented by Nasser D. Khalili and Family.

OXFORD.- Professor Nasser D. Khalili has presented the Ashmolean with an exceptional embroidered sitarah (curtain) made for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. The textile will go on permanent display in the Ashmolean’s Islamic Middle East Gallery from 1 May 2012. Comparable examples from the Khalili Collection were featured recently in the British Museum’s acclaimed exhibition Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam.

The sitarah was commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Selim III in AH 1206/AD 1791-1792, in a centuries-old imperial tradition maintained by the Ottomans after they gained control of the Hijaz and the Haramayn (holy sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina) from the Mamluks in 1517. It measures over two and a half metres long and was one of the sumptuous textiles that were presented yearly during the processions associated with the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

We are extremely grateful to Professor Khalili and the Khalili Family Trust for their generous gift. The historical significance of this textile and its connection with the solemn ritual of the hajj will allow the Ashmolean to communicate the complex nature of the Islamic cultural tradition. The sitarah is an important addition to the Museum’s collections, and a beautiful object which visitors can enjoy in the new Islamic Middle East gallery.” said Dr. Christopher Brown, CBE, Director, Ashmolean Museum.

The Ashmolean Museum has a superb collection of Islamic textiles and ceramics, however, the sitarah will be the first piece to relate directly to Saudi Arabia, expanding the geographic scope of the Islamic Middle East gallery.

“Professor Khalili’s gift is a unique addition to the Islamic collection at the Ashmolean. It presents us with a rare opportunity to consider some of the ways in which piety and generosity stimulated artistic production in the Islamic tradition. Due to its association with an intense spiritual experience such as the hajj, this textile also brings the emotive dimension, inherent to many works of art produced in the Muslim sphere, in a museum setting, ” said Dr. Francesca Leoni, the Yousef Jameel Curator of Islamic Art.

Professor Nasser D. Khalili, an eminent scholar, is passionate about art and collecting and one of his reasons for assembling the Khalili Collection, under the auspices of the Khalili Family Trust, is to promote a greater understanding between people of different cultures and faiths and to increase awareness of the rich contributions of Islamic cultures to world art. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art comprises some 20,000 works and is the largest and most comprehensive in the world, encompassing the entire history of Islamic art from its beginnings in the 7th century to the present day. The Khalili Collection is fortunate, after the Topkapi Saray in Istanbul, to own the largest group of textiles and objects relating to Mecca and Medina in the world. Professor Khalili’s support of Islamic Art in Oxford has been long standing: the Khalili Research Centre (KRC) is the University of Oxford’s centre for research and teaching about the art and material culture of the Islamic societies of the Middle East and of their non-Muslim members and neighbours.