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Naqus ( Persian / Arabic ناقوس, DMG nāqūs  'bell', plural nawāqīs ) denotes two different cult instruments used by Christians in Arab countries in the Middle East , which are counted among the stroke idiophones . One is a long piece of wood that has been struck instead of a bell since pre-Islamic times to call the faithful to worship and has now disappeared in the region. The tonewood was carried over the shoulder or hung stationary on ropes. Different wooden pickguards are still in use in the Orthodox monasteries of Eastern Europe as Greek semantron , Romanian toacă and Russian bilo .

On the other hand, nāqūs has stood for a metal hand bell since the late Middle Ages, which is used in the liturgy by Orthodox Christians in Egypt and Lebanon . For the first time, the bells were played during services in the early Christian Coptic centers in Egypt.

The Arabic word nāqūs goes back to the Syrian naqoscha (from naqasch , "to strike") and with the meaning of " gong ", "hand bell", was used in Ethiosemitic languages .


The priest Themel puts the Arabs of Tarsus to flight with his semantron . Miniature in the Greek chronicle of the Madrid illuminated manuscript of the Skylitzes , second half of the 12th century. Chapter XI, fol. 132r

According to Islamic tradition, the companions of the Prophet Mohammed were unsure of what the symbol for the daily prayers ( salāt ) should be. Mohammed therefore chose between a fire, a bell, a Jewish horn ( shofar ) and the nāqūs for the muezzin's call to prayer ( adhān ) . Apparently, in the early days of Fustāt, the Muslims struck the nāqūs as an early morning call to prayer. The sound of the nāqū as a call to prayer could be heard along with the rooster shouts.

Christians have used the nāqūs since pre-Islamic times . The rattle of wood ( nāqūs ) was already mentioned by the poet Labīd (around 560 - around 661), who saw it in villages on the coast southwest of Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula. Archaeological excavations at a pre-Islamic Nestorian monastery on an island west of Abu Dhabi suggest that the church had an upper floor with a steeple, in which there was probably a wooden nāqūs instead of a bell .

In Europe, from around 1285, wheel clocks controlled by an escapement spread , which soon replaced the sexton and were used to mechanically control large church bells. In Muslim countries, mechanical clocks from Europe were welcome to determine the daily times of prayer, but ringing bells to announce the time was frowned upon in public because bells were associated with the Christian cult and their ringing could have impaired the reputation of the muezzin . These reservations had previously applied to the use of the nāqū . The Islamic scholar Abū Yūsuf (729 / 731–798) mentioned in his Kitāb al-Ḫarāǧ ("Book of Property Taxes ") the obligations that Christians had to obey under Islamic rule. This included not hitting the nāqūs before or during Islamic prayer times. Elsewhere it is said that the nāqūs should only sound softly or only within the church. These restrictions are also confirmed by the Orthodox side, such as the Patriarch Michael the Syrian (1126–1199) and the scholar Gregorius Bar-Hebraeus (around 1225–1286). The nāqūs beating loudly in public, was considered a violation of law. For this, at times Christian dignitaries were given permission to beat drums and play trumpets or other musical instruments at special religious celebrations. The kettle drum naqqara and long trumpets ( buk ) have been used to honor rulers since ancient times.

The story of the priest Themel, which is said to have happened at the beginning of the 10th century, is an example of the clashes on the border between the Byzantine Empire and its Muslim neighbors, but also of the attempts to keep religious conflicts small in everyday life. The miniature in the Byzantine Chronicle of Johannes Skylitzes (late 11th - early 12th century) shows how the priest used the tonewood to hit Muslim attackers who wanted to plunder the church in the middle of the service. The priest injured and killed some and drove everyone to flight. The subsequent conciliatory aspect is missing in the illustration. Because a priest was not allowed to use force, the bishop forbade him to continue exercising his office. Themel protested in vain and finally withdrew from the Arabs, accepted the Muslim faith, fought on their side as commander against the Christians and committed numerous atrocities, as the story goes on to say.

The Jewish scholar Daniel al-Kumisi († 946) wrote about the Christians of Jerusalem around 900 that the use of the nāqū was characteristic of them. A report from the middle of the 11th century about a city presumably located in Palestine mentions that the Christians did not pay attention to the existing laws and built a church higher than the local mosque. The church was then torn down, and the loud beating of the nāqūs bothered the Muslims.

Portable tonewood in the form of a double paddle, which is still used occasionally in Romanian monasteries: Toacă in the Sinaia Monastery .

In general, the nāqūs was often at the center of cultural tensions between Christians in Arab regions. After Caliph Al-Walid I had the Byzantine cathedral of Damascus converted into an Umayyad mosque around 705 , al-Masʿūdī reports of an incident that caused irritation. At the moment when the caliph climbed the minbar in the mosque to address the believers, a nāqūs was heard. The proximity between the church and the mosque often seems to have caused noise.

The founder of the religion Baha'ullah (1817-1892) wrote several thousand writings called “tablets”. A font from 1863 is entitled Lawḥ-i-Nāqūs ("Table of the Bell"). Baha'ullah, who calls for entry into the declared paradise of Bahaitum , personifies himself as the wooden tablet, at the tone of which believing Eastern Christians rush to prayer.

In the work A Visit to the Monasteries of the Levant (1849) by the English travel writer Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche (1810–1873), there is an illustration of a simandro ( semantron ) called tonewood with which a monk in the courtyard is holding of a Greek monastery calls to prayer. The monk holds a long board that looks like a double paddle with one hand in the tapered center and presumably hits it with an elastic stick ( wabil ) in the other hand. The illustration shows an instrument that disappeared in the Arab world at the end of the 19th century.

Hand bell

In addition to the tonewoods, the small bells that the Copts used in worship in Egypt , which have come down from ancient Egypt, are called nāqūs . The oldest bells are known from the New Kingdom . The Christian Copts took up their forms again between the 3rd and 6th centuries. According to Hans Hickmann, the origin for the later use of bells in the Roman Catholic liturgy could have been in Rome during this period.

There are handle bells as half-shell stem bells without clapper. The shape of another nāqūs type is reminiscent of a bedside lamp. The mushroom-shaped bell with a round base and a total height of 29 centimeters and a bell diameter of 22 centimeters is too heavy to hold in your hand. This nāqūs was used in the Catholic Church in Egypt in the middle of the 20th century, but not in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Exclusively metal idiophones traditionally accompany liturgical chants in the Maronite Church in Lebanon . These include nāqūs made of two metal half-shells on a handle, which are struck with a metal stick and sound like triangles , as well as larger cymbals, pair cymbals and marawe ( marawih , Sg.marwahah ). The latter consist of a metal disc on a wooden handle about one meter long with small metal parts attached to the edge of the disc and are typologically related to rattle drums and sistras . The church receives the holy sacraments at the sound of nāqūs and marawe . In the 1970s, additional melodic instruments (such as keyboard , kanun , oud , kamantsche and nay ) were introduced into Maronite worship.

In the narrative collection Thousand and One Nights , the idiophone kāsāt (Sg. Kās ), large bowl-shaped cymbals, appear in the battle scenes among the numerous musical instruments . The different bells jalajil (Sg. Juljul ) and ajras (Sg. Jaras ) served as decorations on the valances of horses and camels. The sound of the cymbals qalaqil ( Sg.qalqal ), which were attached to mules and camels, should frighten the enemy. Then there are anklets of women and the magic wand qaḍīb (Pl. Quḍbān ), with which the rhythm was often struck in early Arabia. The nāqūs used by Christians , which was a striking plate made of wood or metal, is mentioned in two stories in the Arabian Nights , in which it calls the faithful to prayer from the roof of the Mary's Chapel.

A diminutive of nāqūs is nuqaisāt , which the Berbers in the Maghreb mean to cymbalize fingers .

Gebel Naqus

A rock mountain on the coast of the Red Sea in the southwest of the Sinai Peninsula (northwest of the coastal town of el-Tur and southwest of the Katharinenkloster ) is called, according to a legend, Gebel Naqus ("bell mountain"). The sandstone rock gave its name to a geological layer made of a silicate sand deposit that occurs in southern Sinai. The "white sand" with a high proportion of silicate is suitable for glass production. The West received knowledge of the legend through Bernhard von Breidenbach's travelogue , who was traveling on the Sinai in 1483. According to this, there was once a monastery in the remote area near el-Tur, which disappeared so without a trace that no one knows its location anymore, but from which the sound of the prayer bells can be heard at certain hours. The natural scientist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen (1767–1811), who was at el-Tur in the summer of 1810 (during the date harvest), was the first European traveler to locate the mysterious sound of bells on the slopes of the Gebel Naqus and also found the physical explanation. SEETZEN saw that from the caked sand layer begins to slide down the steep slopes of the hill covered at noon, when the sun beats particularly hot, loose sand, thereby causing a noise that it to the sound of aeolian harps recalled. Captain Palmer, leader of an English expedition as part of the Royal Geographical Society on the Sinai Peninsula in 1868, reported on Arabs who stated that the sound from the mountain could only be heard on Fridays and Saturdays and that it came from the beaten wooden boards of the sunken monastery. The English writer William Henry Davenport Adams (1828-1891) also pointed out in 1879 that under the mysterious nāqūs one should not imagine a bell, but a wooden board.


Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Patrick Hughes: A Dictionary of Islam. WH Allen & Co., London 1895, p. 430 ( letter N. )
  2. ^ Richard JH Gottheil: The Origin and History of the Minaret. In: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 30, No. 2, March 1910, pp. 132–154, here p. 134
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  7. Ralph-Johannes Lilie: Introduction. In: Thomas Pratsch (ed.): Conflict and coping: the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in the year 1009. De Gruyter, Berlin 2011, p. 2f
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  9. Finbarr B. Flood: The Medieval Trophy as an Art Historical Trope: Coptic and Byzantine "Altars" in Islamic Contexts. In: Muqarnas, Vol. 18, 2001, pp. 41-72, here pp. 62f
  10. Tablet of the Bell (Lawh-i-Naqus), also known as Tablet of Praised be Thou, O He (Subhánika-Yá-hu): Wilmette Institute faculty notes. Bahá'í Library Online
  11. ^ Robert Curzon: Ancient Monasteries of the East or The Monasteries of the Levant. (Title of the 1854 edition) Reprinted by Gorgias Press, New Jersey 2001
  12. Musical Instruments: In: Aziz S. Atiya (Ed.): The Coptic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6, Macmillan Publishing, New York 1991, pp. 1738-1741 ( online )
  13. ^ Hans Hickmann: Miscellanca Egyptologica . In: The Galpin Society Journal , Vol. 4, June 1951, pp. 25–29, here p. 29 and Fig. 8
  14. ^ Hans Hickmann: The Rattle-Drum and Marawe-Sistrum. In: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1/2, Apr., 1950, pp. 2–6, here Fig. 2
  15. Guilnard Moufarrej: Maronite Music: History, transmission, and performance practice. In: Review of Middle East Studies, Vol. 44, No. 2, Winter 2010, pp. 196–215, here p. 209
  16. ^ Henry George Farmer : The Music of the Arabian Nights (Continued from p. 185, October, 1944). In: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1, April 1945, pp. 39–60, here p. 51
  17. Nuqaisāt . In: Sibyl Marcuse: Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary . Doubleday, New York 1964, p. 369
  18. ^ FS Ramadan: Characteristics of White Sand Deposits in Southern Sinai Region, Egypt. ( Memento from February 20, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) In: Middle East Journal of Applied Sciences, 4 (1) , 2014, pp. 100-108, here p. 106
  19. ^ Carl Ritter : The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula. Vol. I, Haskell House Publishers, New York 1865; T & T Clark, Edinburgh 1866, p. 161
  20. ^ Carl Ritter: The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula. 1866, p. 155
  21. Carl Ritter: The geography of Asia. Volume VIII. Second Section: The Sinai Peninsula, Palestine and Syria. First section: The Sinai Peninsula. G. Reimer, Berlin 1848, pp. 162f
  22. ^ FW Holland: Recent Explorations in the Peninsula of Sinai. In: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1868-1869, pp. 204-219, here p. 216
  23. ^ William Henry Davenport Adams: Mount Sinai, Petra, and the Desert, Described and Illustrated. T. Nelson and Sons, London 1879, p. 38 ( at Internet Archive )