If someone wanted to know the story behind a major world religion, one of the first things they should refer to is its art. Major faiths like Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism all have their own artistic traditions, and the Islamic faith is no different. Islamic art spans a heritage of more than a thousand years, with the first documentation of it going as far back as the 7th century. It is not limited to the art of only one civilization or country, nor does it encompass only one form. In fact, the large body of Islamic art that exists in contemporary times includes various forms like paintings, textiles, glasswork, calligraphy, and architecture.
What is it that distinguishes Islamic art, and where can one find evidence of both the artistic and the religious inspiration that characterizes Muslim works of art? For those who are interested in learning about this aspect of the Islamic faith through resources like Muslim Pro
, here is a brief introduction to Islamic art.
Key Concepts in Islamic Art
One of the most important facets of Islamic art is that depiction of the human form is forbidden, as per Sharia law. According to the tenets of the Qur’an, human depiction is a form of idolatry. Thus, it is quite uncommon to see humans (or even animals) appear in Islamic art. The tradition mostly encompasses patterns or motifs, one of which is the arabesque ornamental design. It consists of intertwined and flowing lines, oftentimes incorporating floral or vegetal motifs like foliage, tendrils, and blossoms. The arabesque design is thought to articulate the basic structural soundness of the world, which is what gives it its beauty.
Some scholars of Islamic art believe that early artists showed a form of purposeful restraint or humility in their artistic style. This was to acknowledge the divine will of Allah expressed through creation, as well as the belief that only Allah was capable of producing any kind of perfection.
In the Islamic faith, calligraphy is considered one of the highest arts of all. Calligraphic inscriptions are permanent fixtures of Islamic art, for example in the adornment of Qur’an manuscript covers. Many works of Islamic calligraphy still take their cue from the Kufic script, an early Arabic script known for its distinctive angular form.
The Islamic calligraphy tradition draws its importance from its relationship to the sacred text. The holy words from the Qur’an take on new significance and imbibe new life thanks to their artistic rendering in calligraphy.
Islamic Art: Common Applications in Contemporary Times
Whether one is a believer of Islam or not, Islamic art should not be regarded as a mere artifact of an ancient past. In reality, Islamic art is very much alive in the contemporary world and has an important place in modern Muslim life.
For one, Islamic architecture serves an important modern-day function in the mosque, or the house of prayer. The mosque is patterned after the prophet Muhammad’s own living quarters in Medina, which is the second holiest city in Islam. The prominent domes, minarets, and columns that are a universal staple of Islamic mosques also distinguish them as holy places where the Muslim community can gather and worship.
The tradition of Islamic calligraphy is also very much alive in the present time. Contemporary Muslim calligraphers are turning to newer and more freeform styles to refresh ancient calligraphy techniques, thus establishing a new relevance for the sacred text among younger and more modern audiences.
Islamic art is also prevalent in everyday life, like in the home. It’s present in the tapestries and glassworks that adorn a Muslim residence. It also decorates the sajjada, or prayer rugs, upon which the salat or daily ritual prayer is performed. On something that is as commonplace and as frequently used as a prayer rug, art can serve the function of guiding a pious Muslim into the private, sacred, and solemn space of prayer.
Celebrating Timeless Islamic Art in the Modern Era
Religious art can do a lot to preserve the story and belief system of its concerned religion. It can help keep the essence of the faith alive, and it can also give believers something concrete to anchor themselves on as they practice their faith in their everyday life.
If you are a practitioner of the Islamic faith, it is good to have an awareness of the deep and beautiful historic tradition of Islamic art. It will nurture in you a sense of purpose and faithfulness that will endure, even as the world around you changes.
You can get a sense of both the past and the present, and celebrate the timelessness of the Islamic faith, through mediums like the Muslim Pro app
. Check out the app and other resources like it, and share this part of your faith to inform and inspire others!