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Allah In My Art: Islamic Architecture Part 1

by Farida Haji

The Series Allah In My Art is a humble effort to explore elements of the Islamic Arts through a perspective of faith and understanding of Allah through the eyes of an artist.

The Inspiration

هُوَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْخَـٰلِقُ ٱلْبَارِئُ ٱلْمُصَوِّرُ ۖ لَهُ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُۥ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ ۖ وَهُوَ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلْحَكِيمُ

He is Allah, the Creator, the Producer, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

[Sura al-Hashr 59:24]

Artist Zaenab J Immaduddin, shares an insightful understanding of one of Allah’s 99 names.”Al-Musawwir, an exceptionally alluring name of Allah. He has created the universe in a variety of shapes, forms, colors, and designs. He has created worlds and beings that are diverse and unique, each testament to the Craft of their Creator. The root word saad-waw-raa, gives the word ‘musawwir’, which denotes the capacity to form, fashion, figure, shape, sculpt or picture something. It also offers another meaning–to incline or lean towards something or to make something bend or lean.”

The chief characteristic of the Muslim artistic expression in the field of architecture is

  1. The profound and innovative amalgamation of geometric and biomorphic designs.
  2. The poetic expression of words through calligraphy.

The Significance of Geometry in Islam

The evolution of Islamic Geometrical Patterns (IGPs) was influenced by diverse ruling dynasties. The basic 6- and 8-point geometrical patterns were introduced during the late 9th century and are the most pervasive Islamic adornments. Besides their originality, the simplicity in the construction of these patterns drove architects to use geometrical elements in almost all structures.

These developments began with a dot. Creating simple geometrical shapes constructed from a circle and a set of tangential circles with the same radius. Grids of circles were used as constructive bases for the simplest regular and semi-regular tiling with equilateral triangles, squares, hexagons, and octagons.

Muslim philosophers, artists, and scholars regarded geometry as the gate that shows us Allah in Art, ‘la illaha illal lah, there is no god but Allah’. Suggesting that the dot in geometry represented Allah.

Works of Art

1. Dome of Rock, Interior

Dome of Rock Interior Allah In My Art: Islamic Architecture Part 1

The colossal golden dome is unmistakable. However, every new group that conquered Jerusalem altered the structure in their own way. The geometrical patterns reflect features that have been altered and borrowed from other empires and ideologies. The diverse cultural, religious, and scientific philosophies are represented through the structure’s many geometric forms.

2. Jameh Mosque, Iran

Floral Motif Jameh Mosque Allah In My Art: Islamic Architecture Part 1

The 12th-century Jameh Mosque in Yazd, Iran, boasts of a series of ceramic medallions in a narrow range of white turquoise blue brown shades that glisten over a surface of hexagonal azure tiles. 

The central point of the motif that generates the entire composition radiates a flawless geometrical plan through two six-pointed stars. The compact design is adorned by delicately floral rosette impulse based on a rhythmic twelvefold modulation.  

3. Garden in a harem

Garden in a harem Allah In My Art: Islamic Architecture Part 1

This 18th century miniature Garden in a harem, attributed to Faiz Allah, a skilled artist and familiar with the concept of linear perspectives. Inspired from the Persian garden (Persian, pairidaeze, from whence ‘paradise’, in Arabic, firdaus) the structures or so called palaces are divided into four regular areas with the same number of water channels that converge at the centre of a fountain, symbolising the four rivers of paradise.

4. The 8-Pointed Star Mudawwara (Medallion)

8 Pointed Star Mudawwara Medallion Allah In My Art: Islamic Architecture Part 1

Drawn to the rich tapestry of Islamic art, including the physical and symbolic beauty of Islamic architecture. Zaenab J Immaduddin finds inspiration in facades, medallions, stucco grilles, bands, mihrabs, domes, minarets, and Kufic inscriptions.

She writes, “in the 8th Risala of ‘Ikhwan al Safaa’ (Brethren of Purity), Sanai’ ‘Amaliyyah (Crafts and Professions that Depend on Physical Actions) Imam Ahmed al Mastoor AS states:  “Know O Brother that skilfulness in any craft is the emulation of the Creator who is al-Musawwir — the Fashioner, the Wise. It is said that He loves a talented, skilful craftsman.

The ornamental value, zeenat, of traditional architectural marvels, the construction, and the symbolic meanings and principles behind their geometric and biomorphic patterns draws me towards them. Their timeless element makes me want to re-construct them with more accuracy and proficiency.”

5. Then Which Of The Favours of Your Lord Will Ye Deny?

Maryam Cheema Allah In My Art: Islamic Architecture Part 1

Maryam Cheema is a multidisciplinary artist focused on empowering artisans through arts and culture. Mughal architecture inspired her with its use of geometry: complex arrangements made with precise details to create perfect proportions of shapes and angles, reflecting the language of the universe and the greatness of creation.

Recently, she has created artwork with geometric patterns taken from distinctive Islamic architectures. The geometric precession, entrenched design and patterns that come together to form uniqueness, and the repetitive elements that reflect the infinite greatness of the creator are what is illuminated in Maryam’s work. Her work depicts her quest, which is best explained through the verses of the Quran. It is fascinating to know how her work and unworldliness are growing alongside each other. As she looks back at the difficult Covid times that are continuing, her heart bleeps with hope and love. The pandemic has made her move close to nature and its Creator.

Understanding Art

 Geometrical beauty and awareness is a complex system of creative and accurate expression gives us an insight into the completeness of Islamic structures. These architectural marvels are visible and tangible entities that radiate Allah’s existence in everything constructed by humankind.

Next week, we shall explore the different types of Islamic structures and artists who are inspired by these architectural wonders. 

References & Photo credits:
1. Islamic Arts by Luca Mozzati
2. An Illustrated History of Islamic Art & Design by Moya Carey