To learn about the history of money in the Islamic countries, it is essential to know the history of the region. Without learning about the history of the region and its culture, one would not be able to comprehend the monetary system prevailing in the Islamic lands in the past era or the importance of money in their daily life. So, it is pertinent to know that in the initial days of the seventh century A.D., the region that later came to be known as the Muslim Empire was under the subjugation of two major foreign powers of the time. While the countries in the Mediterranean region were ruled by the Byzantine emperors, Iran and Iraq were under the domination of the Sasanian emperors. And the two powerful empires were separated by what is known as the 'Jazira island' - the domain that lies between two major rivers of the region, the Tigris and the Euphrates. However, the rise of the Arabs was so dynamic and fast that within 50 years, i.e. by the middle of the seventh century A.D. the Muslim rulers from the region had not only conquered the Byzantines emperors in Syria and Egypt, but also removed the Sasanian emperors from power. It took another 50 years for the Arabs to establish their supremacy over a vast and dissimilar terrain that extended from Spain in the west to India in the east.
Call it a coincidence or whatever you may, there has been a close link between the local religion and the power of money. To be precise, money has always played a vital role in the religious ceremonies and rituals performed by the rulers of the era. Again, in some religions such as Buddhism, religion was considered to be superior to money and the followers were advised against possessing too much wealth or misusing it. Some discomfort also existed since the earliest Islamic periods over the power of money and the followers were cautioned against its fleeting nature.
In fact, Islam is not merely a religious belief, but a system that encompassed religion as well as politics. Although the subsequent centuries witnessed the rise and fall of several powerful Islamic empires, division of the religion into numerous sects as well as the establishment of different Islamic schools of philosophies, the spirit of the Islamic moral 'faith in one God known as the 'Allah' and his messenger the 'Prophet Muhammad' has greatly helped to keep the followers of this relatively new religion united and tied them with one thread over time and space despite all odds and threats from the outside world. In the very beginning, the Caliphs or Khalifs, who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad traditionally, had a difficult time trying to re-establish a close relationship between the rival sections - one which believed in God and the other who were more engrossed by the worldly issues. This strain is manifested in the outlook of Islam towards money as well as the coinage system itself. The tension was not unexpected as the Islamic system of moral values needed to establish a close relation between the basic requirements of a worldly wise society and the financial prerequisites of the empire, including a well-organized system to collect taxes, setting up a flourishing business system and other such issues.
It is interesting to note that there has been some kind of discomfort over the authority of currency since the initial stages of Islam. Especially, the holy book of the Muslims, the Qur'an has presaged the followers regarding the unpredictable character of money. For instance, it warns that all scandal mongers and backbiters who hoard up money believing that it will endure forever is sure to experience numerous miseries. To quote the Qur'an specifically: "'Woe to every kind of scandal monger and backbiter who piles up wealth and lays it by thinking that his wealth can make him last forever" (Sura). In addition to being inconsistent, Islamist caliphs also believed that money possesses a dangerous propensity to distract the believer from the rightful path. The Qur'an says that while wealth and sons (meaning marriage) are the major temptations in this temporal world and if there is anything that will last forever, it is the good deeds of a person. To be more precise, the Muslims' Holy Scripture says, "Wealth and sons are allurements of the life of this world, but of the things that endure, good deeds are best in the sight of the Lord" (Sura). In fact, it is said that the Prophet Muhammad himself had said that money was a test for his followers. He says, "Money puts my community to the test" (Ibn Hanbal, Book).
Owing to such entrenched uneasiness regarding the influence of money among the Islamist caliphs, Islam itself endeavored to control the influence of money and recommend specific circumstances that served as guidelines that would presumably enable the Muslims to remain morally right despite acquiring money or wealth. The guidelines included several stipulations and giving 'zakat' or alms tax was one of the prominent conditions. The 'zakat' was one of the five key commitments decreed by Islam and worked out as a specific percentage of an individual's possessions.
All these instructions notwithstanding, followers of Islam worked out numerous monetary mechanisms. Looking at things from the practical aspect, Islam's ban on interest on loans actually turned out to be a major impediment both for doing business as well as banking purposes. The Islamic caliphs were in such unease regarding the moral values during monetary dealings that they created a special position called the 'muhtasib' to oversee the ethics of business transactions in most prominent Islamic metropolis. The 'muhtasib' was a representative of the ruling authorities and, according to the Islamic rule, was appointed to the post owing to his extraordinary ethical veracity as well as profound understanding of the Islamic law known as the 'sharia'. The key responsibility of the 'muhtasib' was to ensure that the guidelines of the Islamic law of 'sharia' were adhered to in all business transactions and his duties included scrutinizing the weights and measures as well as undertaking checks for forged currency. In addition, it was the duty of the 'muhtasib' to ensure that all traders were ethical in their dealing and did not charge any interest on loan and also to handle all instances of hoarding sternly. Though the system was implemented on several grounds, most people belonging to the religion sulked over it.
The Arabs who triumphed over a vast expanse of lands from Spain in the west to India in the east become heir to two most important financial structures through their conquests. The Byzantine Empire in the west used a coinage that was basically based on gold and its main coin was called the solidus. On the other hand, the main metal used for coinage in the Sasanian Empire, covering geographical regions what is now known as Iran and Iraq was silver and the drachm - a term derived from the Greek work drachma, was its main coin. During the initiation of Islam, traders at Mecca had accessibility to three types of coinage - solidus of the Byzantine Empire, drachms of the Sasanian Empire as well as some coins from Ethiopia. The Muslim rulers in the west initially used the coins of the Byzantine Empire, but later produced replicates that conformed to the Islamic standards. They removed all influences or signs of Christianity such as the cross from the Byzantine coins. On the other hand, in the east the Arabs pursued the silver coins of the Sasanian Empire while manufacturing their dirhams instead of the drachms. While they preserved the portrait of a Sasanian emperor and the fire altar symbol, they added the Islamic message 'bismillah' denoting 'In the name of God' in Arabic as well as the name of the Islamic governor in a language called Pahlavi or Middle Persian or in both languages.
With the restructuring of the coinage in 696 A.D., the Sasanian coins virtually became obsolete in most regions. However, the system was to re-emerge in some of the eastern provinces ruled by the Islamic kings around one generation later. The reform launched a totally innovative coin that was explicitly Islamic in nature. Initially, the Arab rulers introduced the gold dinars and soon after launched the silver dirhams. Their experimentation with the Islamic coinage was, however, limited to messages and none of the coins included any figure or symbol - something prohibited by Islam. According to the Islamic history, there were two main reasons for affecting a coinage reform during 696 A.D. The first one goes like this. It is said that a fierce argument occurred between the Muslim caliphs and the Byzantine emperor Justinian II during the rule of the caliph Abd al-Malik. According to the ninth century historian Baladhuri, the caliph Abd al-Malik became the head of the Arabic papyri and his influence extended from Egypt to Byzantium where he preached the phrases relating to the 'Oneness of God' through the papyri. The caliph's move antagonized Justinian II who said that the inscription introduced by the Arabs had annoyed the Byzantines. Emperor Justinian warned the Arabs to either discard the Islamic inscriptions on the dinars, or face other consequences, including references to the Prophet Muhammad on the Byzantine dinars that would make the Arabs unhappy. Perturbed by the warning from the Byzantine emperor, caliph eventually decided to change their coins.
The second reason that led to the reform of the Arab coinage system in the seventh century A.D. was conceivably more significant. According to the Islamic history of the period, the Muslim clerics were increasingly becoming agitated over the use of imagery in official and religious perspective. At the same time, the clerics were strongly against the practice of engraving the images of the prevalent rulers on the coins as they thought that this was in violation of the Islamic ethics. It is interesting to note that when the Arabs changed their coinage system, they also introduced a new benchmark for weighing gold. The Arabs changed the earlier standard weight of gold used of 4.55 grams by the Byzantines to 20 Arabic carats equivalent to 4.25 grams. The new weight of gold was now called the 'mithqal'. While there was only one standard weight for gold, the Arabs used a range of weight standards for silver depending on the local dirham. However, during the early stages of the coinage reform, the standard of weight for silver was between 2.8 grams and 2.9 grams. The reforms also influenced the copper coins in use and henceforth, copper coins only with messages in a text form called the 'shahada' were produced. Although the people did not strictly follow the new system or guidelines, coins with an assortment of symbols, including candlesticks, palm trees and animals like gerboa and elephants, were in circulation by the eighth century A.D. These symbols were actually linked to the different mints that struck the coins.
While the Arab coinage system underwent several changes in the later periods, the basic characteristics of the coins had already come into existence by the eight century A.D. reforms. The new Arab coins contained a message upholding the oneness as well as the exclusiveness of God on their obverse side, while, in the initial stages of the reforms, the reverse side of the coin carried a message that was a conversion from the Christian principle vis-à-vis the Trinity. Later, in 750 A.D., the Arabs also changed the message on the reverse side and substituted it with an avowal regarding Prophet Muhammad's character as the messenger of the Almighty or the Allah. The new phrases inscribed on the reverse side of the coins are called the shahada or the kalmia. The new coins also had the names of the mints that struck them and the date of their manufacture.
The second and a more important reform of the Arab coinage system were undertaken during the reign of Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun who ruled between 813 A.D. and 833 A.D. It was Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun who had enforced a consistency on the coinage system that prevailed for many centuries to come. Till the eleventh century A.D., all secular rulers in the land under subjugation of the caliphate of Abbasid used the same coinage system, whereas they were in circulation in Iran and Iraq till the middle of the thirteenth century A.D. According to the Islamic historians, the continuance with the coins introduced by Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun was an indication of the fact that the rulers of these small kingdoms owed their loyalty to the Abbasid caliphs as the religious chief of Islam. It is interesting to note that although the reign of the Abbasid caliphs weakened giving rise to numerous independent dynasties, the importance of the Abbasid caliph as the 'lieutenant of God on earth' remained unchanged. This legacy continued for many centuries and offered authority to the Muslim rules across the Islamic world. In fact, all such Muslim rulers usually undertook the ritual of acquiring the caliph's permission for their ascendancy to the throne as well as inscribing the Abbasid caliph's name along with their own on the coins issued by them.
Apart from being referred to as the 'lieutenant of God on earth', the Muslim rulers of the era preferred to designate themselves in numerous other ways as well as in different perspectives on the coins issued by them. In fact, the Muslim rulers of that time who considered themselves as chiefs of the Islamic population, like the Abbasids, Umayyads, Zaydis, Fatimids and many others, were self-styled as 'imam', 'commander of the believers' and 'caliph'. On the other hand, the secular rulers functioned as the representatives of the caliphs and referred themselves as the 'sultan' denoting sovereign or the 'malik' or 'shah' meaning the king. Some of the rulers even amended some of the titled and referred themselves as 'the most religious' or 'the most glorious'. Moreover, some of the Muslim rulers of that era took on personal titles or laurels like 'al-Zahir' or 'al-Mustansir'. These honors were not hereditary and many of these titles eventually turned out to be their names by which they are famous or infamous in history. Like in Europe, many of the Muslim rulers of the era loved to have an array of titles. However, it was unfortunate that considering the size of a coin, only a few of these titles could be accommodated in the currency.
As mentioned earlier, the Muslim clerics of the seventh century A.D. strongly opposed the use of images consisting of figures of any nature. The prohibition was, however, applicable only in the religious perspective and printing or engraving images of any mosque and the design of the Qur'an were banned, especially on official items like a seal or the coins. Nevertheless, one will find several fascinating omissions to the ban vis-à-vis coins and these cases demonstrate the troubles for some Muslim rulers in strictly following the decrees issued by their religious clerics. Many coins from the era have imageries that characterize the common art of that period. These designs were basically created with a non-religious perspective on mediums such as ceramics or metals. An interesting and exceptional succession of bronze coins issued during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by the Turkoman dynasty that ruled over a vast area that now comprises southern Syria, eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq is an excellent example of such coins that were minted without strictly adhering to the religious laws. The designs on these coins were not only unique in nature, but were also derived from an assortment of intricate and dissimilar origins.
It is interesting to find that some of the most basic or original coins of the Arab rulers carry the Byzantine Christian images that include the Dragon and coroneted Jesus Christ and St. George. Later, from the middle of the twelfth century onwards one would find Arab coins bearing prehistoric Sasanian and Hellenistic engravings of head portraits of rulers. Around the same time, coins were also struck with various other images, including astrological signs. Despite the fact that only the coins minted on the Byzantine model were in circulation in that period, there are numerous cases of the samples resembling each other intricately making it appear that the die-cutters had easy access to the models.
Many experts are of the view that the similarity in the manifestation of these coins, especially those that were struck on the basis of the primeval models, are proof of a politically inspired archaic curiosity of the manufacturers or issuers in the ancient culture of the area. It may be mentioned here that Kaykhusrau II of the Saljug dynasty of Anatolia (1077 A.D. to 1307 A.D.) who ruled the region between 1237 A.D. and 1246 A.D. issued silver coins with the images of sun and a lion. While the image of the sun is considered to be an astrological symbol, the coins had antique Persian names inscribed on them, which the experts have attributed as the ruler's interest in the restoration of the Persian court of that era. Years afterward, Iranian dynasties like the Pahlavis and the Qajars also established a connection with the past splendors of the primeval and pre-Islamic period. Rulers of these dynasties particularly depicted the magnificence of the ancient Persian era on their coins and further public means. The images of the lion and the sun engraved on their coins continued to be the national emblem of Iran till it was swept by a revolution.
Gold, silver and copper were the three primary metals used by the Islamic rulers to produce coins. In this context, historian Baladhuri narrates an interesting story involving caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (634 A.D. to 644 A.D.) who proposed the use of camel skin to manufacture coins. And interestingly, when the caliph made this suggestion, his counselors pointed out that if camel skin was to be used for making coins, soon there would be no camels in the region. For the earliest Islamic rulers accessing gold resources was a big problem. In fact, the main resources of gold for the the initial Umayyads were the gold coins from the Byzantine Empire and the treasure that they had seized from the Byzantine rulers. Although ancient records state that a gold mine was in operation in the Hijaz, located south-east of the holy city of Medina, for a short duration in the eighth century, the Muslim rulers mainly resourced their gold requirements from Africa. That the accessibility as well as supply of African gold had increased slowly, but gradually for the Muslim rulers during the ninth century is evident from the fact that a large number of mints set up in the eastern regions of the Muslim empire had begun to manufacture more gold coins or gold dinars during this period than ever before. It may be mentioned here that earlier these mints were mainly producing silver coins.
The kingdom of Ghana had been mainly controlling the entire gold trade across the Sahara region till the North African Almoravid dynasty invaded the region in 1062 A.D. While a small amount of gold mined from the region were converted into ingots or bars in Timbuktu, the major portion was transported as gold dust to the mints in North Africa to manufacture gold dinars. In fact, the part of Spain under the rule of the Muslims and different cities of North Africa gained most from the development of gold trade in the region. Such was the benefit from gold trade that an approximation done by the Islamist geographer Ibn Hauqal during the end of the tenth century demonstrated that the revenue earned by the ruler of Sijilmasa, a main city on the western route through which gold trade was conducted was around 400,000 dinars yearly. When measured according to the metric system, the quantity of gold earned by the Sijilmasa ruler through trade stood at a whopping 1.7 metric tons annually!
The Hindu Kush and Transoxiana in the Middle East had huge deposits of silver and hence the mines. The chief source of silver was at a place called Panjshir located north of the present Afghanistan capital Kabul. Till the empire in the region disintegrated into smaller independent states in the ninth century A.D., these mines were under the control of the Abbasid caliphs. Unfortunately, by the middle of the tenth century A.D. it became evident that the layers of silver deposits in these mines were diminishing owing to rampant mining and this meant that a severe scarcity of silver was in the cards. Between the period around 1000 A.D. and 1150 A.D., the mints located in the eastern parts of the Muslim Empire began reducing their silver coin output and the mines located in the western parts also followed soon. The mints that continued striking silver coins against the trend, suffered huge losses and eventually had to be closed down.
According to historians, 'Viking trade' could possibly be another reason for the shortage of silver in the Islamic world as the Vikings took the silver from the Muslim states to the north - Scandinavia and other northern European regions. It may be mentioned here that from the ninth century onwards, the Rus, better known as the Vikings, undertook explorations in the east sailing down the course of the Dnieper and Volga rivers traveling across the Caspian Sea to reach Persia. These Vikings carried with them slaves, amber, furs, honey and wax to the Near Eastern (settlements in the region that somewhat corresponds with the modern Middle East) markets and exchanged their merchandise in return for silver. Incidentally, like the Muslims, the Vikings also used the silver coins by their mass and not their value as a currency. That large amount of coins mainly belonging to the Samanid and Abbasid dynasties of the Islamic world have been discovered later in Russia and Scandinavia occasionally along with weighing scales, jewellery and other valuable objects bear testimony of this fact. Some of the coins from the era also reached as far as England mostly slashed into parts to fulfill certain weights. Some these coins have also been found bearing scratch marks denoting that they have been examined for their silver content.
With the supply of silver practically becoming scarce for over a century, the financial scenario in the Islamic world was bound to change and it gradually became dependent on other metals such as gold and copper. After a long lapse, the Ayyubids dynasty (1171 A.D. to 1250 A.D.) founded by Saladin in Egypt overthrowing the Fatimid dynasty was the first Muslim rulers to resume minting silver coins extensively. And by the middle of the thirteenth century, the Islamic world witnessed plenty of silver coins in circulation. This time, some supply of silver seems to have come from Europe. Originally, the Crusaders brought along with them large quantities of the metal and stuck their own silver coins much before the Muslim kingdoms started minting silver coins in their region. In addition to this, there was another source of silver - the mines situated in Anatolia. These silver mines were being used by the Saljug rulers of Anatolia since the thirteenth century.
As a result of this new development that led to the availability of plenty of silver coins, silver as a metal once again substituted gold in the manufacture of coins. This was significant considering the fact that so far gold has been the dominant metal for currencies in the Near Eastern regions thus far. In fact, gold coins had become a rare item during this period. The scarcity of gold coins during the reign of Saladin who ruled between 1169 A.D. and 1193 A.D. has best been described in the records by the noted historian of the period Maqrizi in 1422 A.D. According to Maqrizi, any mention of a pure fold dinar during the reign of Saladin was like talking about the wife to an envious husband and acquiring a pure gold dinar was something unbelievable, like entering the gates of the paradise. Unlike in the regime of the Fatimid Emperors when gold dinars were the prevailing currency of the empire, during this period gold was basically treated as a commodity and a form of money that was weighed rather than counted. Instead of gold, silver and copper were now the main metals for minting the state's coinage.
Egypt witnessed an economic down turn in 1250 A.D. when the Mamluks took over the reigns of the country. The economic slump was attributed to several reasons, including unfavorable consequences owing to the instable regime that was unable to tackle the strong competitions from foreign powers, especially the Byzantine rulers, the Portuguese and the Venetians. These powers were now progressively making inroads in the long distance trade across the Indian Ocean, something that was under the total domination of the Egyptian rulers so far. The Venetian currency 'ducat' was in extensive circulation in the Mamluk Empire around the fourteenth century and most merchants choose to deal in 'ducats' rather than the gold dinars of the Mamluk sultans as the former emerged to be a more stable currency. The merchants considered the gold dinars issued by the Egyptian empire to be undependable.
Several later period Mamluk rulers endeavored to counteract the influence of the ducat and following several attempts they were eventually successful in issuing a new gold coin that was able to match the power of the ducat. The new gold coin, called the ashrafi, was first minted in 1425 by the Mamluk sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf Barsbay who reigned from 1422 A.D. to 1437 A.D. It is quite evident that the new gold coin - ashrafi, derived its name from its issuer sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf Barsbay. The ashrafi had 3.41 grams of just about pure gold and as a currency enjoyed an equal monetary valuation as the ducat. Henceforth, the ashrafi became the typical term to portray an Islamic gold coin in Iran, India as well as the Ottoman territories.
Usually copper coins that were of small denominations were used for day-to-day transactions in the early Islamic world. According to the fifteenth century writings of Maqrizi on coins of the era, copper coins known as 'falus' were only used by the people for local dealings and not purchasing expensive items or paying for volumes of services. Like in any other part of the world, there existed vast differences in the earnings as well as expenses capacity between the rich and the poor even in the Islamic lands. Here is an example of economic discrepancies prevailing in Egypt during the eleventh century A.D. During this era in Egypt, the salary of a servant was one dinar a month, while the remuneration of a judge was around 100 dinars. If one wishes to know the purchasing power of a dinar in those days, it may be emphasized that while one dinar could fetch 100 kg of wheat, the cost of an exclusive embellished coat from Damietta would cost around 1,000 dinars.
Incidentally, the rulers of that era spent large amount of money on particular events such as on the conclusion of the month of fasting called 'Ramadan'. On such occasions, the rulers distributed large amount of money as charities among the deprived. It needs to be mentioned here that the caliphs of the Fatimid Empire in Egypt particularly struck 10,000 tiny gold coins called kharubas, each having the weight of a carob seed (the seed of a tree found in the Mediterranean region called St. John's bread) and donated them to the employees of the State on a specific feast day called the 'Thursday of the Lentils'. It is interesting to note that even in contemporary Iran gestures resembling coins are still distributed during marriage ceremonies. In addition, during the ancient times, women also pierced the copper coins and stitched them on their clothes or head dresses as a fashion statement. The quantity and value of the coins used in the women's dresses depended on the affluence of the woman's family, but they were essentially the women's personal assets that they were free to use in any manner they wished or even discard or give away according to their desire.
While possession of gold continued to be the most important nature wealth for the people of this era, the next most important source of revenue for the state as well as the people was trade and commerce. While merchants gained heavily from trade, especially long distance trade, the state earned huge amounts from the merchants by levying high harbor and customs duties. For instance when the ruler of Yemen Rasulid sultan al-Nasir enforced very high taxes on the commodities arriving by ships at the port of Aden in 1420, most merchants were annoyed and they boycotted the port of Aden. Instead of harboring their vessels at the port of Aden, the merchants now straight away sailed to Jeddah. The excavation of Chinese coins at the near port of Siraf in the Persian Gulf at a later stage bears evidence of the fact that long distance trade between China and the Islamic nations across the Indian Ocean was a common affair during the reign of the Abbasid rulers. The discovery of stockpiles of Chinese coins at this port provides an interesting proof of how these coins were used by the people of the era in trade and commerce.
Such a stockpile of wealth, well-known as the 'Sinaw hoard', which was buried in the central regions of Oman around 840 A.D. comprised 900 coins and pieces. The most antique of these coins dated back to the Sasanian regime of the sixth century A.D. Among the remaining coins found in the stockpile, there were dirhams from the Abbasid and Umayyad regimes. Interestingly, these coins were found to be struck at as many as 59 mints in the Islamic region extending over a vast region from North Africa to Transoxiana. According to historians and archaeological experts, the stockpile of coins excavated at the site probably belonged to some resident of the region or may even have been the wealth of a trader who gained enough from long distance trade across the Indian Ocean. The discovery of the 'Sinaw hoard' as well as many other hoards from the era at different places bears evidence of the fact that coins from the Islamic region were practically in circulation over an undefined area. This is perhaps owing to the fact that the Islamic coins of the period contained a good proportion of silver and may be also because the Islamic world was not restrained by political barriers.
Early Islamic coins were all struck manually and machinery was used to manufacture coins for the first time in Turkey. The move to strike coins by machine was actually the brainchild of the then Turkish ruler Abd al-Mejid I who reigned between 1839 A.D. and 1861 A.D. The use of machines to mint coins were a part of a rejuvenation program called 'tanzimat' undertaken by Abd al-Mejid I with the main objective to enforce the European benchmark of law and management in his country. Later, in 1876, Iran also established a mint in Tehran where coins were manufactured by machines. Even after the transformation in manufacturing coins, the Ottoman and the Qajar coinage preserved their conventional manifestation - copper coins in the shape of big discs bearing the 'tughra' or seal of sultan Abd al-Aziz (1861 A.D. to 1876 A.D.) on the observe or front side and the name of the mint and date on the reverse or upturned side.
Nevertheless, the Islamic coins virtually turned out to be a fusion object as European colonialism or imperialism spread rapidly across the globe during the twentieth century and the diverse coinages being minted in mechanized process in the West. For instance, the coins of Morocco were manufactured in Berlin and Paris, while the coins of the cities situated in the southern part of Yemen were minted in Birmingham. It is interesting to note that some provinces such as southern Arabia and the Gulf espoused coins that were manufactured on the model of the East India Company currency and the Maria Theresa thaler, a popular coinage among the trading community of the period. And like in many other regions of the world, a new metal alloy called cupro-nickel was introduced in the coinage of the Islamic world and used frequently by the mints. Another significant development was that the coins were now issued in a larger assortment of denominations and most of them did not bear any religious inscription or fable. The revolution of the coinage system had another effect - now the dates on the coins were inscribed mostly in Christian era (very few coins carried the Islamic era) and they appeared in both the Arabic as well as Roman lettering. At the same time, the ancient prohibition against the use of images of figures on the coins was now done away with and most coins minted during the twentieth century carried the head portraits of the rulers issuing them.
Compared to other regions of the world, paper money came into circulation quite late in the Islamic region - as late as the middle of the nineteenth century. The Ottoman rulers of Turkey were the first to issue paper currency in the Islamic world when they issued notes in different regions of their empire in the 1850s. The Iranians were quick to take the cue from the Ottomans and began circulating banknotes from the later part of the 1880s. Even the European colonial authorities issued banknotes or legal tenders and when the countries under foreign rule gained independence, most of them started circulating their individual paper money. However, as these countries were then still to develop their own currency printing systems, most of them in fact got their paper notes printed in different developed Western nations.
It is interesting to find that although over the decades the currency now prevalent in the Islamic regions have crossed several stages from where it actually began, it has still preserved certain connections with convention. The contemporary banknotes issued by the different Islamic nations on purpose declare their state's uniqueness and virtuously portray images of their most significant antiquities or heritage. However, all said and done, the present day currency, even in the Islamic world, is mainly on paper.
Before we conclude this discussion it is pertinent to mention about an interesting occurrence vis-à-vis the paper currency in the Islamic world. Soon after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations imposed a sanction on the invader and this included that the country would no longer be allowed to print its currency notes at the British company called De La Rue. Compelled by the sanctions, Iraq under Saddam Hussein decided to print their own paper currency. However, this meant that the notes would now be of an inferior quality as well as the security mechanism for this important process would be significantly reduced.