Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


During the first millennium, a rare kind of literature evolved in the Islamic world that provides a fascinating window on the interest and importance of material objects. A unique example of this literature, entitled Kitab al-Hadaya wa al-Tuhaf [Book of Gifts and Rarities] was translated into English, annotated and published in 1996 by Kuwaiti curator and scholar Ghada al Hijjawi al-Qaddumi. It is an anthology of anecdotes referring to the period between the sixth century and the twelfth century, probably compiled in the late twelfth century by an official in the Islamic Egyptian government.

Although the historical veracity of the anecdotes recounted in this document is highly debatable, the document nevertheless reveals some of the attitudes towards elaborate and exotic material objects. Textiles figure largely in this document, further substantiating the importance of textiles in early Islamic culture. Mention of particular textiles, especially in some of the inventories, reveals at the very least their existence, but in some cases, it also reveals how they were used and who made them. The anecdotes provide charming or amusing reading in themselves, but they also hint at the underlying meanings and values that textiles had. Qaddumi’s annotations on terminology also deserve wider recognition.

Since the appearance of this document, there has been little, if any, further analysis of what it reveals about textiles, in the second half of the first millennium in the Eastern Mediterranean region. This paper will provide an analysis of the textile references included, and what they reveal or suggest.