Iconoclastic Islamic Art

Barbara Brend describes Islamic art as a ‘world of irresistible fascination’ and an ‘expression of religion and faith’. From the elaborate patterns to the exquisite calligraphy, it continues to inspire artists till date. According to Zarah Hussain, a Muslim artist, its strong aesthetic appeal transcends time and space, as well as differences in language and culture.

islamic artIslam was founded by Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century AD. He is said to have received revelations from the angel Gabriel about God or Allah. It is a rigid religion and demands complete obedience to the way of life mentioned in the holy book of Islam, the Quran. Shahada, Dua, Hajj, Ramadan and Zakat are the five rules or pillars of Islam that all Muslims have to follow. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the religion was carried forward and expanded by his followers known as caliphs or khalifas.

Islamic art includes works of art produced from the seventh century onwards by Muslim artists as well as others who belonged to areas with strong Islamic cultural influence. It is not limited to the religious art but also all forms of secular art produced from the seventh century till the seventeenth. Islamic art shows influence of Early Christian, Roman, Sasanian or Persian and even Chinese art styles. According to David Talbot Rice, diversity rather than uniformity is the more prominent characteristic of Islamic art. The main characteristic is its decorative and ornamental character. Islamic art focuses more on patterns and Arabic calligraphy rather than figures. The most important and probably the most controversial characteristic of Islamic art is its iconoclastic nature or the absence of human representation.

islamic-manuscript-illumination-2

The holy Quran in the key passage in surah – “O ye who believe, wine and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork; so avoid it and prosper.”– condemns idol worship and therefore any kind of representation of even god is considered sacrilegious in their religion. The Muslims believe that any painter or sculptor who tries to depict the human figure was, so to say, ‘usurping the creative activity of god’. According to an article by the Department of Islamic Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this resistance towards depiction of the human form stems from the belief that the human form is unique to God.

In conclusion, Islamic arts continue to be a fountainhead of the Islamic culture and art itself. It inspires modern artists to focus their art on the ‘real’ picture instead of the selfish expressions of the self, the body and sexuality.

– Tanya Singh

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