Islamic Art and its Relation to Islamic Values
In overview, art and religion possess a close correlation. The progression of religion’s connection to life has been equivalent to advancement in art over the years. Both facets donate to their common undertaking to redesign or restructure society with a perspective dedicated towards the communication of a vision to the personality of human beings or to at least, provide him or her with a holistic perspective on the existence of man and the relayed celestial circumstances. Consequently, religion has been a resource of influence for nearly all aestheticians and artists. From the inception of man’s history, the facet has acted as a defining moment within the progressive civilizational demonstration of man. Numerous forms of art such as sculpture, music, painting, poetry, and calligraphy have been deeply influenced by extreme religious consciousness. With respect to Islamic art, it may be difficult to depict the holy aspects of the respective religion in detail. However, with respect to the different forms of Islamic art, it is possible to understand the artistry’s illustration of the values embedded within the Islamic faith.
Generally, Islamic art expresses the representational and spiritual nuances of the religion via a timeless and metaphorical lingo. In spite of considerable illustrations depicting the image of God (Allah) in terms of visual imagery, other forms of art represent the Islamic faith and the values that it embodies. One of these art forms constitutes calligraphy. Within the realm of Islamic artistry, this form of expression emerged initially within Arabic script. The purpose of this style was to put in writing the content conveyed by the Holy Qur’an. This Arabic script would later develop in several styles, which comprised Naskh and Kufi, further proving itself compellingly appealing in relation to art (George 21). Through calligraphy, the Arabic script attained a holy status. This is because of its readiness to communicate to the people regarding Allah’s message to the world. Reframed as an art form, calligraphy was capable of influencing the dissemination of the message portrayed by Islam throughout its environs.
Accordingly, there arose a want to record the scriptures as well as devise an attractive writing style for the words. All this assumed a key responsibility especially in the progression of the script, while correspondingly, encapsulating legibility, and lucidity at beauty. Therefore, within this stage, Arabic script stopped from being mere lettering and became Islamic calligraphy decorated by professional and innovative artist-scribes. The development of Islamic calligraphy would later evoke an artistic and religious influence even in the contemporary age. Consequently, Islamic calligraphy has become an art form that is necessary to practice and understand within the doctrine of Islam. As a technique utilized to document the Qur’an, one cannot fail to understand the magnanimity to which the respective art form affects the religion of Islam. Simply, the level to which the writings of the Qur’an have become immensely sacred is not only attributable to the religious significance they assume, but also to the role that an art form, such as calligraphy assumed in facilitating the spread of the Islamic faith.
Ornamental writing is also another form of Islamic art. Different from calligraphy, this art form arose out of the need for beautifying other religious and non-religious physical structures upon which the Qur’anic words would be applied. In short, ornamental writing was mainly evident in the decoration of disparate objects such as paper, wood, cloth, glass, and utensils. Interestingly, this respective art form was considerably imperative especially in embedding, embossing, or engraving the Ayat (verse) or the Words of the Holy Qur’an onto the range of materials appropriate for decoration (George 34). Aside from being applied on objects, ornamental writing was also utilized in the decoration of Arabic structures such as the mausolea, mosque, and the palaces. In this respect, artists would either carve or lay whole sections of the Qur’an around minarets and domes, arches as well as doors. The sole objective of this was to illustrate similar religious earnestness in relation to the illustration of iconic images portraying the martyrs and the saints in Christian churches.
Similar to the art of calligraphy, ornamental writing arose from the desire to beautify and sanction the structures that Muslims utilized with the blessing of Allah. Like other religions, consecration was important especially in emphasizing the sacred state that Allah embodies in Islam (Michon 47). As such, the decoration of different structures ranging from glass materials to mosques was viewed as a way of desecrating or simply, blessing the materials used by Muslims on a daily basis. Hence, in an effort to please Allah, ornamental writing became an important aspect of Islamic art based on its precise relation to the religion of Islam. Artists would generally involve themselves in these decorations not only to please Allah, but also to beautify the materials upon which they imposed their religiously oriented creativity. Moreover, while attempting to decorate such structures, ornamental writing also focused on ascertaining the monotheistic aspect of Allah and the belief of the Islamic religion.
Based on the religious importance this art form portrays, Islamic calligraphy, and ornamental writing assumed an important role in capturing the values of the Islamic faith. One of these values produced by both art forms constitutes the belief in only one God. Accordingly, the utilization of calligraphy and ornamental writing based on the Qur’an illustrated the tendency to move away from idolatry. Other religions, which utilized figural arts, illustrated a possible inclination towards the worship of material objects and several manufactured gods (Michon 54). As such, the development of both art forms, despite beautifying Islam, resolved to commit Muslims to the belief in Allah and His only prophet, Muhammad. Therefore, by adopting these variants, Muslim artists and religious leaders were capable of documenting the words of Allah and the Holy Qur’an, which would function as the main medium through which Muslims would come to understand the monotheistic aspect of Allah and the values regarding the worship of one God.
Architecture also comprises another imperative form of Islamic art. In fact, in comparison to the previously mentioned variants, the form of architecture is regarded as the most significant aspect of Islamic artistry. Widely asserting, it constitutes the hallmark of customs and traditions related to Islamic art. Accordingly, the dominance of Muslims within the scope of architecture needs no commentary since the respective art form consistently motivates non-Muslim artists. In addition, the art form brings to mind the admiration of the contemporary area of architecture. Undeniably, within the holy architecture of this religion, the Mosque gains primary consideration. Defined as Masjid in Arabic, the Mosque literally stands for a vicinity of Prostration (Sujud) and a place of worship that enables communication between man and Allah (Michon 78). Structures such as the Great Mosque of Kairouan are significant examples of the supremacy of Islamic art and the manner it influences strong relationships between the worship of Allah and artistic ingenuity (Michon 78).
Indeed, it is impossible to deny the role that Islamic architecture assumes in pushing the faith. Structures such as the mosque have been viewed as the primary religious structure of the religion within any vicinity. Additionally, religious importance has been attached to such structures based on the role they assume in enabling interaction between Allah and man. Hence, as long as the building reveres such a relationship, it is deemed worthy to undergo classification as Islamic art. Aside from mosques, other forms of Islamic architecture also exist. Based on the sacredness they exhibit, such structures have also been established as forms of Islamic art. These comprise the madrasas and the zeyarat (which comprise the sacred tombs) (Ende and Steinbach 25). Such art forms, aside from being scenic, maintain considerable spiritual and religious importance. Interestingly, the zeyarat offer striking illustrations of architecture according to the Islamic faith and therefore, possess a strong religious identity similar to other related art forms.
Islamic architecture assumes a role in capturing the value of religion and education. Accordingly, the Islamic faith perceives religion and education as important values and even, necessities for every human being. As such, structures such as madrasas and the mosque play an imperative role in illustrating the significance of these values to the human life. By allowing men to interact with Allah and gain knowledge from the imams and teachers of the Islamic religion, the respective art forms provide individuals with spiritual and physical nourishment (Ende and Steinbach 98). Moreover, Islam emphasizes on leading a purposeful human life. Hence, with both spiritual and physical enrichment, Islamic architecture assumes an important role in disseminating the values of religion and education based on the positive impact they impose on any person’s life on earth.
In conclusion, it is impossible to deny the significant relationship between religion and art. Similar to the effect that icons of saints imposed on the Christian religion, the different forms of art within Islam also assumed a role in producing distinct values associated with faith. Art forms such as Islamic calligraphy and ornamental writing emphasized the value of monotheistic belief; the belief in a single Supreme Reality. In addition, the art form of Islamic architecture accentuated the values of religion and education and the effect they pose on human life. Hence, with such examples, it is hard to refute the significance that religion imposes on art.
Ende, Werner, and Udo Steinbach. Islam in the World Today: A Handbook of Politics, Religion, Culture, and Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. Print.
George, Alain. The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy. London: Saqi, 2010. Print.
Michon, Jean-Louis. Introduction to Traditional Islam, Illustrated: Foundations, Art, and Spirituality. Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2008. Print.
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