Primary Source

Maqamat al-Hariri, Kuttab School [Painting]


In this painting of a kuttab, or primary school, boys sit on a mat or carpet huddled close together with their writing boards. Boys, and sometimes girls, learned to recite the Qur'an at an early age, as well as the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in schools called kuttabs. It might be held in a mosque, a building especially for the purpose, or an open courtyard, as in West Africa. This type of school was common in urban and rural settings throughout Muslim lands. The image by 13th century illustrator al-Wasiti (fl. 1237) is from the Maqamat (Assemblies) of al-Hariri (1054-1122 CE), an important figure in Arabic literature. The work is a collection of anecdotes about a picaresque hero, shown in the red robe, who perhaps having just said something outrageous, is shown disputing with the teacher. An interesting feature in several illustrations of kuttabs is the fan suspended from the ceiling, with one of the boys pulling a rope to swing it. Perhaps the boy chosen for this task was the one least proficient in his lessons.


Scene in a mosque; illustration from the 7th maqama of al-Hariri Maqamat, manuscript copied and illustrated by al-Wasiti, executed in Baghdad 1237. MS. ar. 5847 f. 18v., the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

How to Cite This Source

"Maqamat al-Hariri, Kuttab School [Painting]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #243, (accessed January 24, 2022). Annotated by Susan Douglass