What Is Calligraphy In Islamic Art?
Having Islamic art in a short article would be kind of an impossibility with the 1300 years of history, but we are going to do our best and our wish to show you a different perspective of that art.
Also, our wish to show you not destroyed buildings or ruined lives results in a dark and fear-inducing religious extremism. But eye-watering and awe-inspiring beauty, a result of a groundbreaking spirituality!
The visual arts of (Mainly) the Middle-East, upon which Islam has had a profound influence. Books have been written about Islamic Arts, and they have existed for nearly 1300 years.
Now, let it say that we know and comprehend how some people don’t seem to agree with the term “Islamic Arts.”
It is believed to be a part of an Orientalist view of Islam. But there’ no refusing the fact that Islam has inspired Muslim artists and their works to a profound level.
Thus, we will be leaving the discussion on the definition for another time and perhaps another article and will be focusing on the works mentioned earlier of Islamic Art.
So, let us begin this small journey into comprehending the Islamic Arts in the way all such journeys start. By looking into the history of it all.
Looking back and within
It is the 7th Century A.D, and a relatively new monotheistic religion is spreading fast in the East. Islam expands and allows the Christians and Jews who were living within the Caliphate to keep on living as usual.
Within the Caliphate, artists keep developing their arts. Some with an already preexisting mindset and some are influenced by this “new” religion.
The people of the three Abrahamic faiths living and working in the same lands, ruled by the same people, living similar lives. It was bound to affect their arts.
That is why the term Islamic Arts doesn’t just cover the works of Muslims under its “umbrella” but those of Christians and Jews that lived within the Islamic Caliphates as well.
It was during that era, the time of the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), that we’re starting to see the signs of the birth of the Islamic Arts.
Architecture is quickly inspired by the preexisting Byzantine culture, though its imagery of people replaced images of cities, trees, and plants.
Even the coinage that was produced for the Caliphate doesn’t include “pictures” of the monarch (Caliph). But instead, inscriptions are written in Arabic. It is, after all, forbidden to produce images of living creatures created by God.
Keep in mind that even back then, particular styles within Islamic Arts existed. A man in Syria was just as likely to name the style of his architecture ( Byzantine or Syrian ) as it was to call it Islamic. But there were those forms of art that were to be purely Islamic.
Islamic Art calligraphy
Such an art, without a doubt, was calligraphy, one. If not the, most important art forms in all of the Caliphates.
Muslims believe that the Qu’ran is a scripture provided by the divine (Allah) to the Prophet Mohammed. And Qu’ran is treated with the utmost respect and adoration.
Thus, verses of the Qu’ran written in various forms of calligraphy have been found in many a piece of art across the Caliphates.
These inscriptions are usually further decorated by geometric and vegetative motifs ( For example, flowers). And are placed anywhere from palaces, to mosques, to madrasas (Religious schools) to mausoleums.
Honestly, if we’re talking about the Islamic Arts. The importance of calligraphy cannot be overstated. It was the art form that engulfed and completed most other arts in the Islamic world.
Keep in mind that while no animals or humans were openly depicted in Islamic works of art. Islamic arts themselves were far from aniconic.
If you’re looking for proof, look no further than the private residences of men such as Khirbat Mafjar and Qasr Amra. Where there are several decorations of figurative paintings and sculptures.
After all, as already stated, not all who practiced the Islamic Arts were Muslim and thus bound by Sharia law.
It is also extremely likely that as a Westerner, I haven’t seen much importance being placed in the Islamic world when it comes to arts.
People blame this on different things. While some cry racism or bigotry. It is my personal belief that our real cultural differences are to blame.
While both the East and the West have valued and will always value architecture, the West was more focused on sculptures and paintings.
You merely need to see the most valued art pieces of our times to understand this reality. The Mona Lisa (one of my favourites), The Creation of Adam, Donatello’s David, Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch.
All these pieces of art depict humans in a way that is forbidden in Islam. On the other hand, carpet making, ceramics, and metallurgy were never really appreciated as art forms. At least not in the way that they valued in the Islamic world.
Thus, it is pretty safe to say that the artistic values that are extremely loved in the West are non-existent in the East and vice versa.
For many people, glassmaking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone says, “Art.”. Yet the Islamic Arts dominated this department for most of the Middle Ages.
Having “inherited” most of the glass-producing territories of the Sassanid and Roman Empires. It soon became apparent that the beauty of those as mentioned earlier “Islamic” vegetative and geometrical motifs. When applied to glass was near unmatched.
This art form was also readily displayed and thus widely consumed. This widespread demand both from within the Caliphates and from.
Without allowed said art form to evolve at a neck-breaking pace with differentiation of effects used for Beauty becoming more and more complicated.
Let it also be noted that it believed- though not sure -. That those primarily responsible for such great pieces of art were Jewish minorities in various cities.
The Dome of the Rock
As one couldn’t talk about surrealism without talking about Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali, one couldn’t complete an article talking about Islamic Arts without mentioning the Dome of the Rock.
The earliest among the several grand Islamic architecture works of art, the Dome of the Rock is a shrine on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.
It is considered to be among the sacred sites for the religion of Islam. It is also an excellent piece of architecture decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine style (minus the depiction of humans).
Also decorated by faience and marble. It displays what is perhaps the beginning of a great tradition in the art of tiling in the Islamic world.
It was in the Dome’s image that many high buildings were built throughout history. Such buildings are the Mausoleum of Sultan Suleiman, the Magnificent located in Istanbul, and the New Synagogue in Berlin.
Suleiman the Magnificent, in particular, was fascinated by the Dome of the Rock. As it is known that he was the one that had the inscription “Surah Ya-Sin” (Heart of the Qu’ran) across the top of its tile work.
The Dome of the Rock has suffered a lot of destruction throughout the centuries. Both by human interference and by time itself. Yet, it still stands as a monument of the Islamic Arts. And it’s considered the most recognizable landmark of Jerusalem.
A closing remark
Art is a worldwide phenomenon. It is, for many, what gives purpose to human life. A way to express what we think is right and beautiful about life and a way to achieve spirituality.
It is one of the few ways that humankind has discovered that achieves- in a way- immortality. Artists both from Europe and those that practiced the Islamic Arts signed their works for that very reason.
So that their actions would remain and remind people of artists who are long gone and the greatness of which they were capable.
We ought to value all art as well as the cultures that have promoted them more for that very reason.
As for Islam, regardless of your views on it. It is vital to understand its cultural and societal significance and to show some respect for it.
Please, don’t let anyone turn you into a hating beast that sees ugliness everywhere it looks. There’s more beauty out there than anyone could hope to imagine. Start looking for it instead 🙂