Arti islam


An article by Brunilda Basha. Understanding the Islamic art is directly related to understanding the message of the religion, as well as the aesthetic use of the various elements which serve to the Divine purpose. Through the works of Muslim masters and artists throughout the time, since Islam was proclaimed as a religion, various forms of Islamic aesthetics have emerged such as: arabesques, calligraphy, florals, geometric shapes and many other elements. All these art forms aimed to convey the philosophy of faith, the worldview of life and the rational thought of creation and, not infrequently, serving as a catalyst to push man into spiritual introspection over the meaning and the connection of ‘Creator-Creation’.

For 13 centuries, decoration has been a connecting element between buildings and objects from all over the Islamic world – from Spain to China, from Turkey to Indonesia. Dalu Jones, in his essay on “Decorative Elements: Surface, Pattern and Light”, states that Islamic Art should be considered in its entirety, because every building and object embodies somewhat identical principles, although the art in each building differs in style, idea, shape or design; having its own individuality. Visual ornaments or decorations, aside from walls and ceilings, are also present in carpets, pillows, dishes, furniture, and beyond. It is interesting that regardless of geographical position, whether the Mosque of Cordoba or the schools of Samarkand, the same light and the same Islamic art shines in every work of art.

This is thanks to a key principle of Islamic art, the Unity. This is the primary concept of that art, as stated by many scholars who have explored Islamic art. It all starts with “tawheed” – Oneness. The main principle of Islam is the Oneness of God and his worship. Man, by his nature, often seeks a corner, place or building to be alone, to pray to God, so the physical representation of this environment is very important and essential. This kind of unity is then applied to every art form, as well as to reflect the unity of the cosmos, of the world around us. Every form or figure, if we look at it from the perspective of symbolic meaning, reflects a value and principle within the framework of Universal harmony.

arti islam
Expression of the unity of the universe in mandala design

Another important concept is that of the Eternity, which is related to the Infinity of God. The elements of art, which start from a point expanding in all directions, invite to meditation, reflection and amazement. Plato says: “Beauty is the splendor of the truth” and in Islam, beauty is quite objective as it expresses the immutable truth, the Divine. This principle, as Oleg Grabar puts it, equips his observer with considerable freedom. He can choose the point of view and the angle he wants to look at that model, just as he can get lost in the details. He can pick a single motif and pursue it in a triangle or consider its variations in a dozen triangles. He may ask for component models or for effects of light and shadow.

arti islam
Example of the aesthetic element which expands in all four directions

In the Islamic faith, it is not permissible for prayers or worships to be performed by addressing to statues, figures or any other being than God. At the same time, drawings of animal or human faces are forbidden, so the concept of abstraction was a creative way of expressing the inner feelings of Muslim artists and architects.

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Dome interior of Shaykh Lutfollah Mosque

Two other principles are: Rhythm and Symmetry. According to Etikan, S. the decorations involve many regular shapes repeated in regular rhythm. Although they do not draw contours, they are located within circles which turn into polygons. Motifs with more circles and other polygons are also created at the intersections of those shapes. Symmetry is also a very present element in many buildings. This was present in the facades or architectural plans, as well as in the decorations. For example, we can mention the symmetry of the Al-Mustansiriya school in Iraq or the floral ornaments of the Alhambra palace.

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Details from Alhambra Palace

Traditional elements of Islamic decoration

As mentioned above, Islamic Art and Islamic Architecture is created on the basis of the essential harmonies of nature, along with various symbolic meanings and theories of perfect proportions. Repetitive patterns are a symbol of the idea of the infinite and timeless, infinitely expandable; symbol from the inner dimension of Islam on the importance of unity. Depending on this, Muslim artists developed certain decoration techniques and elements, which reflected the universal message and spirit of that faith. The purpose of each aesthetic element was in service of the connection between the Creator, the environment and Man. Among the traditional elements and forms of Islamic decoration and embellishment we can list: Geometry, Calligraphy, florals (plant motifs), arabesques, mukarnas, figures, light and water.

Arti islam
Dome of Rock - facade


The geometry and proportion were obvious features of Islamic arts. They have been used since its inception to create unique geometric shapes and have served as the basic structure of the Islamic design process. Hasan Fathy says that the science of “sacred” geometry aims to create a space in complete physical/environmental harmony, which reflects the Divine concept of harmony of humanity and it is a means to display the way of life according to the Divine faith, the perception of the world and the rational thought of life. It is worth noting that the application of geometry in Islamic art was a perfect choice, given that in Islam the painting of life figures, animals, people or even sculptures of living beings is forbidden. So, playing and manipulating geometric figures in the right proportions, creating such abstract and endless mosaics, was innovative and creative. Their application took place in the exterior facade, in the interior spaces, in mashrabiyyat, in the windows, ceiling and wall decoration, in the flooring, in the cladding of the minarets, in the entrance gates (iuanet), as well as in the interior decoration of furnitures; whether shelves or pulpits.

The applied proportions in the formation of geometric shapes, had the awareness of designers and builders on the laws of space and their ratios, skillfully creating aesthetic values. But beyond the pleasure of the eye and beauty, geometric shapes invite to understand the connection “universe-man-nature. Are not geometric shapes found in nature, in man, in the universe? If we look around we will see that every cell of existence is built on arithmetic calculations or geometric patterns, whether molecules, atoms, cells, man, nature, honeycombs, snow crystals; which although coming in different shapes and sizes, the hexagon is predominant, the tree trunks consist of perfectly circular rings, or the round shape of the moon on the 15th day of the month, or the cosmos itself. The mathematical harmony of the universe and the golden average proportion can also be seen in the proportions of the planets in our solar system.

“Muslim artists aimed to stimulate the ends of the human mind by stylizing and creating endless patterns. Thus, the user of a given space is not merely a mere observer of certain forms, but he floats through his strong connection with the cosmos and nature, allowing the mind to travel to infinity and to have the opportunity to meditate on the greatness of the Creator.

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Grand Mosque of Kairouan-Tunisia


Calligraphy is considered as one of the most important and essential elements of Islamic arts. Almost all buildings have some kind of surface inscription in stone, mortar, marble, mosaic or painting. From Spain to China, Islamic architecture and calligraphy are inevitably intertwined. Mosques, tekkes, mausoleums, libraries, and even baths or market places, hold masterpieces of calligraphy. It is an element which has been present both in ancient times and today. Through calligraphy was tried to combine art with spiritual meaning and aesthetic beauty. So, a message was conveyed through words and letters. At the same time, that word was used by the artist as a tool and decorative element of the facade where it was applied. The inscription can be a verse from the Qur’an, lines of poetry, or names and dates. In many cases it stands alone, in other cases it becomes part of a whole composition with florals in different reliefs. Its “sanctity” lays in the fact that it was first and foremost the language of the Qur’an. Over the centuries, calligraphy evolved and appeared in different styles and forms such as that of Kufi, Thuluth, or Divan, developed in Ottoman period and had a success not only in the Arab world, but also beyond. Due to the elegance and aesthetic values ​​of the early 14th century, some Italian paintings present a delicate, fluent script, which at first glance seems to be Arabic.

arti islam
Minare Qutub - Delhi

To be continued…

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