Islamic Art



History of Islamic Architecture

Islamic architecture has not only influenced religious places of worship, but also non-spiritual buildings such as palaces, tombs, and forts. The architecture dates back as far as the 7th century [1]. Islamic architecture has been referred to the "architecture of the veil" because the beauty is found within the inner spaces such as the walls, gardens, etc. Since statues and iconic elements are forbidden in mosques, things such as columns, calligraphy, mosaics and other decorations were used. Such architecture has pioneered the use of elaborate and distinct ornaments and rich colors which can be used relatively any where. Unity as a base for life cycle is a new concept of unity that has merged Islamic architecture, which has been reflected on intellectual aspects and art as well [1].

Thoughts Behind Islamic Architecture

The ethic of unity in Islamic architecture is applicable on horizontal projections as well as on radial star shaped decorations and walls which surround the high gateway whose doors can be rectangular, pointed, or circular. The walls of mosques will have such majestic beauty only if standards of beauty and perception are met. Ornamental elements such as oriels, Muqarnasat, sculptures and Arabic calligraphy on stones have opened up a new gateway for Islamic architectural patterns [1]. Calligraphy is also common to be seen upon the walls with quotes from the Qur'ran. With the concept of Allah's infinite power in mind, it is captured by repeating designs that represent and suggest the idea of infinity. The patterns and elaborate designs throughout mosques are in in such a place to generate a sense of peace and harmony and dedicated to praise Allah.

Attributes of Islamic Architecture

Many things throughout history have contributed to the way Islamic architecture has changed and the way it is today. One of the main influences would the be religious aspect, giving the mosque appropriate and adequate space and architecture for individuals to gather and pray [1].Though the architecture has changed throughout the years, there have been requirements that were put in place in the early years of Islam, those being
  • communications among prayers
  • having no columns in the mosque nave
  • having no direct entrance into the nave
  • having several openings for illumination [1].
Architecture can tell a civilizations story. It is what made the people of that group who and what they are today. Islamic architecture is a detailed depiction of what the faith and culture was and has become. It shows how it has influenced cultures around the world and how it has changed and been reflected from region to region.

Itewi, Mahmoud. "Towards a Modern Theory of Islamic Architecture." Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 1 (2007): 153-56. Web. 22 Feb. 2010
Megan Pierskalla

Early Islamic Art

Dome of the Rock Mosque, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock Mosque, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock Mosque, Jerusalem

Islamic art has been around just as long as the Islamic religion. Islamic art began around 622 B.C., the same time Islam was created. All of the art that remains from this early stage of Islamic art are coins, literature and some inscriptions. Following this first stage of the Islamic culture an Umayyad type of art came about as the Ummayads were in power at this time which was 661 A.D. and their art remained the main Islamic art until around 750 B.C.. The Ummayad dynasty of art was more known for their architectural monuments, more specifically mosques including the Dome Of The Rock mosque in Jerusalem (above) spreading all the way into Syria. After around 750 A.D. Baghdad became a major cultural hub with people from European and Asian countries coming to the city in order to trade goods and barter. This newly formed economic and cultural center transformed the art styles of 8th century Islam starting in 750. From 750 until the end of the ninth century a new generation of art emerged from the Abbasid Caliphate. The majority of the art and architecture was found in the cities of Baghdad and Sammara. the Abbasids specialized in ceramics and textiles as well as beginning to experiment with metal work including the coin below.
Grabar, Oleg. The Formation of Islamic Art. New Haven: Courier Companies, 1987.

Abbasid coins
Abbasid coins

Umayyad Art

Often considered formative period of Islamic art. Early in this period Islam was still on its incline and the artists used many of their techniques that had been previously used by Byzantine and Sasanians to do thir metalwork. Eventually, however the artisis under the Umayyad dynasty were able to develop and form their own ideas and techniques to work with different forms of art. This was able to allow the Umayyads to have their own distinct era of art during the first few decades of Islam.

Abbasid Art
A centralized capital of Baghdad allowed for the artistic style of the Abbasid period to spread across the whole Abbasid dynasty from Baghdad. Abbasid baghdad does not remain anymore, due to the multiple wars that have taken place in the city. However, some of the Abbasid art and monuments remain in the city of Samarra which is in modern day Iraq. The Abbasid period brought about a new way to shape surfaces called the bevel style and also the period brought about the use of may bright colors in pottery. The Islamic artists of this period also introduced the technique of luster painting over a white glaze. This was the greatest achievemant that the Abbasid era had in the field of art.

Tony Bulgarella

Styles of Islamic Art

In early Islamic art, artists focused on art characterized around pre-Islamic decorations, themes and motifs. Glassware, Textiles and Pottery are a large part of Islamic Art.


In early the early parts of Islam, much of the glassware was based off of Roman techniques. Some art focused around masks and smiling faces, which were present in larger-scale Roman glass-flasks. Early Islamic glass makers in such countries as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran
Roman inspired glass work
Roman inspired glass work
, took the Roman balsamarium, a tube-shaped flask, and added pack animals who give the appearance of transporting the flask. (LACMA)
Glass from this early Islamic period (7th - 8th century) circulated throughout the world, reaching Europe, southeast Asia, and northern China. Glass was also shipped in large quantities and recycled, making dating and origin very hard for excavators. Three spots in the Arab world have yielded the most Islamic glassware through excavation: Fustat in Cairo, Epypt; Samarra' in Iraq; Nishapur in Iran. (METMUSEUM)
Glassware can be divided into six main categories; scratch-engraved, faceted, with disks, with raised outlines, with slant-cut decoration, or with linear decoration. In scratch-engraved techniques, many fine cuts were made using a pointed tool with a topaz stone mounted on top to create the cuts in different geometric patterns. In faceted art, the "honeycomb pattern was typically used to create small facets distinction
Scratch-Edged Plate
Scratch-Edged Plate
in glass. Raised or imprinted disks were influenced by the Greek word for "naval" -- "omphalos". For the raised outlines, backgrounds and details were cut out of the glass, leaving the outline only. In glass with lines, the cut by the artist made the between the slant-cut and the linear-cut. Straight lines were used for linear, while more slanted lines were used for slant-cut. (METMUSEUM)


Textiles played a significant role in early Islamic culture. Textiles served as clothing, home furnishings, and even tents. The trade and manufacturing of textiles was a highly successful craft in the early Islamic period. Textiles were often seen as luxury goods, signifying
Tapestry fragment
Tapestry fragment
wealth and status. Not many early textiles were able to be recovered in recent days. Textiles were often reused because of their value and were worn down. In Egypt, some were preserved in graves where the conditions are damp and dark. These preserved textiles and cloths have fabrics that are common today, such as cotton, silk, wool and linen. The vivid colors represent the complexity of the early textile technology. Many textiles and tapestries were inscribed with names of rulers and the date and place of manufacturing. These fabrics are known as Tiraz from the Persian word for embroidery. (LACMA)


A technique of luster painting really advanced the art of pottery in early Islam. Luster painting is an over-the-top way of decorating
White bowl with geometric design
White bowl with geometric design
pottery developed in Iraq, spreading to the rest of the Arab world and into Spain. Pottery with luster painting were regarded as luxury hardware because of the complex, time- and money-consuming nature of the skill. Lusterware ranged in color from bright golds to deep reddish-browns. It was often very difficult to produce lusterware with multiple colors, so many of the early lusterware was monochromic. Many Chinese porcelains were used as inspiration throughout the Abbasid court. The Muslim potters strived to replicate the white color of the Chinese pots. (LACMA)


Jenna Michlin


Islamic decorative handwriting (calligraphy) has been a very sacred, spiritual aspect within Islamic art ever since Islam began. Islam being the first religion with the distinction between the "People of the Book" and those who have no written revelation, the concept of beautiful writing holds a special place in Islamic culture. The importance of keeping the Qur'an in the best possible form was, and still is, central to the religion. When Islam introduced figural representation of the Qur'an, it led Muslims to develop an unimaginable variety of styles within their calligraphy. The Qur'an was regarded as the "Divine Word", and it had to be written as beautifully as possible. Like all Semitic scripts, the Arabic text of scripts runs from right to left, is angular, and has spacing configured according to beauty and not grammar. Each letter can change shape slightly, according to its position within a word. (source 2)

Among all arts, calligraphy can be considered the most typical expression of the Islamic spirit and faith. In the Qur'an, the importance of perfection in writing is emphasized several times.

"If all the trees in the earth were pens, and if the sea eked out by seven seas more were ink, the Words of God could not be written out unto their end." (XXXI; 27 - trans. M. Lings) (source 1)

After the death of the Prophet, the Arabs conquered many empires and many lands extending from Spain to India. With victory comes gain, but the Arabs could not haul back all the foreign art presented. The art settled to reside in their songs, stories, and poetry; their language. As the Islamic Empire grew, their exposure and acquirement of foreign arts grew as well. This plethora of foreign mastered talent and Islamic mastered talent grew into what is now known as Islamic art. As the progression of Islamic architecture also blossomed, the growth of Islamic calligraphy followed as well. The evolution of beauty within Islamic architecture sparked the flame of creativity within Muslim artists. Forbidden by religion to decorate mosques with human figures, these artists satisfied their thirst through calligraphy. Using Arabic expressions from the Qur'an, they decorated the ins and outs of all their mosques and beautiful structures leaving a spiritual and calming art for everyone's splendor. (source 3)
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external image Shah_Mosque__Isfahan.jpg

The Arabic alphabet has 28 consonants and no vowels; short vowels are usually omitted. The Arabic language also has a variety of scripts within the language. One of these scripts is the Kufic script which usually uses square type designs. The Naskh script and Thuluth script on the other hand, are more rounded. Other well known scripts are: Nastaliq, the ascendant script; MaghribiI, the western script; and the Tughra which is highly ornamental.

The Kufic script is the script in which many earlier copies of the Qur'an were written appearing in many different styles itself. The "square Kufic" usually is seen on tiles around walls and circular domes. This style of Kufic uses rectangular lines which enables the letters of the alphabet to be manipulated into geometrical objects. Within all these styles of writing, we are able to appreciate the beautiful language of the Qur'an through the intricate patterns of unusual beauty in Islamic calligraphy. (source 3)

Kufic Style (Squared)
Kufic Style (Squared)

Kufic Style (Squared)

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Naskh Style

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Thuluth Style



"The beauty of writing is the tongue of the hand and the elegance of thought."
- Ali ibn Abi Talib (source 1)

"Handwriting is jewelry fashioned by the hand from the pure gold of the intellect."
- Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (source 1)

Islamic calligraphy symbolizes much more than just beautiful scripture and beautiful decoration. Qur'anic calligraphy is the blood of the Islamic revelation, representing the soul's longing to the Divine Message (the Qur'an). The drawings made these artists not only symbolize the cosmic order of natural space, but also the space of Islamic architecture. The letter ba' is founded to be the principle of both Islamic calligraphy and architecture. The spiritual substance of the Qur'an and calligraphy has been the backbone, till this day, for traditional Islamic calligraphy. A form of art in which writing expresses an honor to faith. (source 1)

1) Nasr, Hossein Seyyed. Islamic Art and Spirituality . New York: State University of New York Press

2) Schimmel, Annemarie, and Barbar Rivolta. Islamic Calligraphy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992.

3) Ahuja, Mangho, and A.L. Loeb. Leonardo, Vol. 28, No. 1. The MIT Press, 1995

Esmat N. Osman


A small majority of Muslims believe that some instruments (drums, guitars, wind) are forbidden in Islam. This group believes the use of these instruments is a direct sin to god. Others believe that drums are the only permissible instrument. A small percent of Muslims believe that all music, whether it’s considered to be god-worshipping or not, is a sin. The sincere Muslim who is following the Quran will not find in the Quran any prohibition of music or singing. Any prohibition of music or singing that is talked about among some Muslims has no basis in the Quran. (1)

The visible signs of music and religion in ancient Arabia, confirms that the Arabs of the peninsula had indeed inherited and were conservators of the Mesopotamian cultural heritage. Music was largely delegated to women, mostly of the higher class. (3) The male 'mughani' (singing men) and 'mitrib" (musicians) and the 'alati' (instrumentalists) were written about by Ibn Musa al-Nasibi in 1860. (2) This proves that music was a very influential art in Islamic Arabia.

The Seljuk Turks, once a nomadic tribe had a very strong role in the influence of Islamic music. The Sufis have by far had the most influence on music in Islam. Qawwali is the most widely practiced form of Sufi music in South Asia, particularly Pakistan and India. Songs of praise to Allah the prophet Muhammad have been sung very regularly since the beginning of Sufism. The Hamd comes from the Quran and is a song of praise to Allah. A na’at is a song of praise to the prophet Muhammad. Below you will find an exert from the Jawad-I-shikway. (4)

Of elegant form (Muhammad),
The prophet of the people,
The intercessor of nations,
The prelate of prophets,
Leader in the path (of religion),
The faith of God, the place of descent of Gabriel.

external image moz-screenshot.pngexternal image moz-screenshot-1.pngRumi-and-Whirling-Dervishes_1.png

The Mawlawi Order participating in Whirling Dervishes. They are called Whirling Dervishes because of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of God).

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 9/12/08.

The Sacred Music of Islam. Sama’ in the Persian Sufi Tradition. Leonard Lewisohn. British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6. (1997)

Music in the World of Islam. Amnon Shiloah. Wayne State University Press. Detroit Michigan. (1995)

Indo-Muslim Religious Music, on Review. Regula Qureshi. Asian Music, Vol.3, Indian Music Issue. (1972) University of Texas Press.


Lucas R. Heiman



Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (September 30, 1207-December 17, 1273) was born in present day Tajikistan, within the domains of the Persian Empire. He was a famous Persian philosopher and a mystic of Islam (Sufi). Through his works he inspired the Dance of Whirling Dervishes also called Sama. Rumi’s poetry encourages positive reasoning, unlimited tolerance, goodness, and awareness through love and charity. Rumi’s popularity has spread considerably since September 11, 2001. His heart-felt themes of mysticism and spiritual joy, which originated through distorted versions in English, remain popular in the West to this day. He is said by some to be “the greatest mystical poet of all time.” (4) Below you will find examples of Rumi’s poetry that have been translated to English.

-In your light I learn how to love,
In your beauty, how to make poems,
You dance inside my chest, where no one else sees you,
But sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.

-The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; don’t go back to sleep. (1)

-Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving-it doesn’t matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi


Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz (approximately 1321-1389) was born in Shiraz, Iran. The name “hafiz” means reciter. He allegedly could recite the Qur’an in fourteen different forms, according to his poetry. Hafiz’s diwan (a collection of poems, especially Arabic or Persian) (3) contains 418 ghazals, 5 odes, 41 quatrains, and 3 small mathnavis. Features of his diwan include the Saqinameh, Ahuye Vahshi, and Muqanninamah. (2)

During the height of Hafiz’s popularity, the province of Fars was ruled by the Muzaffarid dynasty. Shah Shuja (Muzaffarid ruler) was not interested in Hafiz’s poetry. His poetry was very controversial at the time in Persian literature. The controversy had to do with whether Hafiz uses allegorical symbolism alongside profane love to convey Sufic messages. Many scholars in the West have rejected this idea of any Sufistic value to the poetry of Hafiz. Many Western scholars have a problem understanding the material of Hafiz’s works due to poor translation of the Diwan. (2) Below you will find some of Hafiz’s poetry that has been translated to English.

The small man builds cages for everyone he knows. While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners. (5)

Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the god who ever does anything weird,
But the God who only knows four words,
And keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with me, come dance.”

Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz


The Painter’s Key. Editor: Robert Genn. Accessed 23 February 2010.

The Life of Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz. Iraj Bashiri. Copyright 1979. Accessed 23 February 2010.

“divan”. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Accessed 25 February 2010.

Soudabeh Sadigh. Cultural Heritage Agency. Accessed 22 February 2010.

Belly Dance to the Music of Americanistan. Poetry of Rumi, Hafiz, and other.
Accessed 23 February 2010.


Lucas R. Heiman