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First Islamic Coin in History

First Islamic Coin in History

Throughout the era spanning the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his early companions, the Arab society and nascent Muslim community employed currency that originated from neighboring empires. Predominantly, gold and bronze coins were procured through importation from the Byzantine Empire, whereas silver coins were primarily sourced from the Sasanians. The early Muslims relied heavily on these empires as their main suppliers of currency. It was not until the reign of 'Uthman ibn 'Affan, the esteemed companion of the Prophet and the third Rashidun caliph, that the Muslim community initiated the issuance of their own coinage.

During 'Uthman's reign, following the triumph of the Muslims over the Sasanian Empire and the subsequent acquisition of their territories, the necessity arose to introduce the first Islamic coin. This imperative stemmed from the cessation of Sasanian authority and the Muslims' inability to interrupt their minting operations. Emulating the stylistic characteristics of the Sasanian drachm from the era of Yazdigerd III, the final Sasanian monarch, this inaugural Islamic coin was minted. It is important to note that while there is a possibility of earlier Muslim-issued coins, no conclusive evidence or discernible markings on these coins exist, leading to the recognition of this particular coin as the definitive first Islamic coin.

The following is a Sasanian drachm from the reign of Yazdigerd III:

It is noteworthy that the entirety of the inscriptions present on the coin are rendered in the Pahlavi script, which represents the written form of the Middle Persian language. The obverse side, serving as the front face of the coin, features a portrayal of the Sasanian king Yazdigerd III adorned with a crown. Positioned to his right is his name inscribed in Pahlavi, while to his left, an inscription in Pahlavi can be found that roughly translates to "may his glory grow". On the reverse side of the coin, a scenic depiction of a fire altar is accompanied by two attendants, symbolizing the religious affiliation of the Sasanians, namely Zoroastrianism. Typically, the right side bears a Pahlavi abbreviation denoting the mint where the coin was produced, while the left side exhibits the Pahlavi inscription denoting the regnal year of minting for this drachm.

The initial Islamic coin replicated the design elements found on the drachmas of Yazdigerd III, featuring both the likeness of the Sasanian king and the representation of the fire altar. Presented here is an exemplary specimen of the first Islamic coin, showcasing a high-grade condition:

The Arab-Sasanian style dirham (known as drachm in Arabic) clearly exhibits the influence of Sasanian aesthetics. However, what sets these Islamic coins apart from earlier Sasanian counterparts is the inclusion of an Arabic word or phrase in the outer margin field on the obverse side. In the case of this particular dirham, it bears the addition of the "basmala" (which translates to "bism Allah" in Arabic, meaning "in the name of God"), albeit in a rather rudimentary Arabic script. Other examples of Arab-Sasanian coins feature various phrases, such as "jayyid" (meaning "good") and even the complete kalima ("there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah") on later issues during the Umayyad period.

In addition, it is noteworthy that Arab-Sasanian coins typically include the date and mint name in the Pahlavi script, with only a few exceptionally rare later issues deviating from this practice. Regarding this particular dirham of 'Uthman, it bears the Pahlavi mint abbreviation for Sijistan, indicated as "SK". The mentioned date corresponds to the regnal year 20, aligning with the latter part of AH 30 and the majority of AH 31 in the Hijri calendar.

The production of Arab-Sasanian coins persisted throughout the reigns of the Rashidun caliphs, Umayyad caliphs, Zubayrid rulers, anti-Umayyad rebels, and the Kharijites. Despite the reformation of coinage in AH 77, which transitioned to purely Islamic issues without any Byzantine or Sasanian influences, the minting of coins in the pre-reform style continued for several years thereafter.

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