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© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Egyptian Mosque Lamp


Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Egypt or Syria



A decorative glass vessel of Islamic design.

What does it look like?

It is a vessel made of clear bubbly glass, with a brownish tinge, which was free blown and enamelled in blue, red, white and black. It has a depressed globular body with six clear lugs from which it was suspended from the ceiling. There is an inscription in Arabic on the lower part.

On the neck, the inscription is broken up by an image of a red cup. Like a number of others, this one bears a passage from the Qur’an. The lower part of the vessel’s body is decorated with three medallions containing cups, alternating with three medallions containing blue foliage. The spaces between are occupied by flowers. It is 35.3cm high and has a diameter of 30.93 cm, including the lugs.


It could have been produced in Cairo or Damascus, as Egypt and Syria were united in the fourteenth century under Mamluk rule from Cairo, where many religious buildings were erected by the sultans and their officials.

The text on the lamp reads: ‘God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as a niche, in which there is a lamp’.

Are there links to current religious practices or a modern equivalent?

These lamps were hung from a circular metal frame, in large spaces in groups. The circular frames continue to be used in many mosques today, but with plain or frosted glass light bulbs and electric lighting.

Why is it significant to the study of religion?

Enamelled and gilded glass was a speciality of Egyptian and Syrian craftsman in this period. Islamic art avoids showing images of people, so messages and meanings are often told through symbols and patterns that hold spiritual meaning. Such designs often includes beautiful lettering, known as calligraphy.

This lamp is a visual embodiment of the Creator. It symbolises Allah. The text on the lamp is taken from the Qur’an, 24:35, known as the Sura (chapter) of Light. It reads: ‘God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as a niche, in which there is a lamp’.

Where is it from, where is it now?

The museum is free to visit and open regularly. With changing exhibitions and special events for all ages. Visit the website for more details.



BBC iWonder

Inside the Mosque: What do you need to know?

BBC bitesize

GCSE Revision, Religious Studies – Islam



BBC Radio 4 In our time: The Mamluks

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt and Syria from about 1250 to 1517.