Amulet case and scroll

Prayers and verses from the Qur’an have been used as amulets throughout the Islamic world for centuries. According to medieval texts, inscribed scrolls placed in a tube were hung above sickbeds and infants’ cribs for protection. Miniscule Qur’ans became particularly popular in both Turkey and Iran after the sixteenth century, as did prayer scrolls. Placed in small cases, they were worn around the neck or as armbands; they were also attached to standards and armor before battle.

This hexagonal, silver amulet case still contains its original prayer scroll and exemplifies the prophylactic, protective, and curative powers associated with such objects. The scroll invokes divine prayers. Penned in black ink in cursive script, the text is divided by plain gilded cartouches. Invocations in the name of God in larger red and blue script run on both sides. Although legible even on this small scale, the prayers are not meant to be read as such but together function as a talisman. The style and execution of the calligraphy suggest that the scroll was probably written around 1800, when Iran was under Qajar rule. At the time, paper was the predominant support for both religious and secular texts in Iran, making this scroll’s thin parchment an unusual feature.

The tubular case is also dateable to the Qajar period. Three small loops suggest that the case was meant to be worn as a horizontal pendant. Finely incised inscription panels in elegant naskh script alternate with cartouches of stylized vegetal motifs. The inscription begins with the celebrated Throne Verse (2:255): “God! There is no god except Him, the alive, the eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedes with Him except by His leave?” One of the most popular passages in the Qur’an, this verse reminds the believer of God’s omnipresence and protective power. The selected verse also underscores the apotropaic function of the scroll inside.

Iran, Qajar period, late 18th or early 19th century
Silver over copper alloy, engraved; ink, colors, and gold on parchment
Case: 1.9 × 7.6 × 1.5 cm (3/4 × 3 × 9/16 in)
Scroll: 68 × 4.5 cm (26 3/4 × 1 3/4 in)
Estate of Michael and Rose Katen, Falls Church, Virginia
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S2018.6a–c