بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
This work presents the unique art designed and developed by the Islamic culture over it’s history, it was created feesabilillah and is also available on iBooks. Any comments and suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, kindly make dua for us, Jazak Allah Khair.
The Essence of Islamic Art
From the first thousand years of Islam, since the first the revelations to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to the great Islamic empires of the eighteenth century, Islamic civilization flourished, Muslims made remarkable advances in philosophy, science, medicine, literature, and art. The uniting of so many diverse cultures under one religion allowed for the quick dissemination of the latest discoveries to all parts of the Islamic realm. Paper making from China, “Arabic” numerals from India, classical science and philosophy, along with significant contributions in chemistry, physics and mathematics were all quickly shared via the trade routes the Islamic international civilization had established from Western Africa and Europe to Asia.
Islam fostered the development of a distinctive culture with its own unique artistic language that is reflected in art and architecture throughout the Muslim world.
Gradually, under the impact of the Muslim faith a uniquely Islamic art began to emerge. The rule of the Umayyad caliphate (661–750) is often considered to be the formative period in Islamic art. One method of classifying Islamic art, is according to the dynasty reigning when the work of art was produced. This type of periodization follows the general precepts of Islamic history, which is divided into the rule of various dynasties, beginning with the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties that governed a vast and unified Islamic state from Africa to the borders of India and China, and concluding with the more regional, though powerful, dynasties such as the Safavids, Ottomans, and Mughals.
With its geographic spread and long history, 1400 years, Islamic art was subject to a wide range of regional and even national styles and influences as well as changes within the various periods of its development, the principles of Islam where applied to local culture to produce unique works, each region of the world flourishing at various periods in Islam’s history.
Even under these circumstances and influences of varying world cultures, Islamic art has always retained its intrinsic quality and unique identity, whether the artisan was African, Arabian, Persian or Indian in origin. Islam embodies a way of life people throughout its lands are committed to, historically it served as a cohesive force among ethnically and culturally diverse peoples among the many nations it was found in, Islam was the common language and the art produced by and for Muslim societies had basic identifying and unifying characteristics. Perhaps the most salient of these is all-over surface decoration. The four basic components of Islamic ornament are calligraphy, vegetal patterns, geometric patterns, and figural representation.
Surface patterns on works of art created in the Islamic world have been prized for centuries for their beauty, refinement, harmony, intricacy, and complexity.
Geometric motifs were popular with Islamic artists and designers in all parts of the world, for decorating almost every surface, whether walls or floors, pots or lamps, book covers or textiles. Islamic artists combined geometry with existing local traditions, creating a new and distinctive Islamic art that expressed the logic and order of the universe.
The study of geometry fed an ardent preoccupation with the stars celestial bodies and astronomy. All this in turn nourished the Arabic passion for creating infinite, decorative patterns. The cultivation of mathematical analysis, in particular, had a harmonizing effect. Islam cultivated the abstract study of the universe and the environment, this combined with it’s related doctrine of harmony with the universe and its creator (Tawhid), allowed Muslim intellectuals to recognize in geometry the unifying intermediary between the material and the spiritual world.
The development of this new distinctive art, in part may have been due to the discouragement of portraying animate objects in Art on the basis that it leads to idolatry and the psychological sicknesses in society associated with it. The Heart of man was created to embody noble attributes and in this way man through his qualities and individual personality will know his creator.
Tawhid in its perfected form is the harmony of man with his environment, if man’s self is not in harmony with his surroundings and at peace then he is blind to his creator who manifests himself through his creation, man’s otherwise turbulent nature would blind his perception and he would be dominated by emotions such as anger, hate and lust.
How can man recognize the value of peace if he thirsts to satisfy his desire, in this way and because of the effect of idols in their many forms have on society, whether movie stars or pop idols, the prophet (saws) said in relation to animate objects in art “Those who make pictures (of them) will be punished on the day of judgment. It will be said to them: Bring to life what you have created!”
This is because they have challenged God’s place within man’s heart, so on that day they will be challenged in turn because of the false nature of the idol and its effects of stoping man from ennobling himself.
Muslim’s held the belief that the Heart of Man is the throne of the Merciful (“Qalb al Insan Arsh al Rahman”), because of the hearts role to acquire noble qualities by which man perceives the world and its creator and then shapes it according to his vision.
For Muslims this is the reality of the fundamental formula of Islam “There is no divinity other than God” (“La ilaha illah Llah”), meaning there should not be in mans heart anything greater than God. Muslims “see in figurative art, a fundamental error or illusion in projecting the nature of the absolute into the relative, by attributing to the relative an autonomy that does not belong to it. In this way, Islamic artists did not seek to express themselves as such, but rather aimed to ennoble matter and its natural order”.
In relation to this Allah said to man “Have you seen him who chooses, for his god his own lust? (25:43), “For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind” (22:46).
This inner blindness about which the prophet Muhammad (saws) explained, “Indeed Allah does not look at your appearance or form, but rather Allah looks at your Heart”, Allah judges man by the quality of his heart whether it embodies beautiful attribute’s or wretched ones. These teachings served to direct mans energy and capacity towards the things which would spiritually and materially benefit him in life through the creation of a balanced society.
Instead of covering buildings and other surfaces with human figures, Muslim artists developed complex geometric decorative designs, as well as intricate patterns of vegetal ornament (such as arabesque), with which to adorn palaces and mosques and other public places.
The development of infinitely repeating patterns was used to represent the unchanging laws God placed in nature, as He said “AND [remember:] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them without [an inner] truth” (15:85). In this way the rules of construction of geometric patterns provide a visual analogy to religious rules of behavior.
Both the contemplation of and the creative skill in making patterns lead in their own way to an understanding of the perfection found in Nature as it moves the elements, either a mathematical representation of nature or the moon in its orbit. Islamic patterns, unique as an art form, was unitary in its aim and function, the symbols inherent in Islamic patterns and geometry express the connection between the material and spiritual world, the world of Angels and the world of Man, they bring to life what is expressed in metaphors and allegory and are directed towards that undifferentiated unity between the two worlds.
“We have explained in detail in this Qur’an, for the benefit of mankind, every kind of similitude: but man is, in most things, contentious (18:54)
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