Islamic Aniconism

Islamic Aniconism














Islamic Aniconism

Since the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632, Islam has spread to numerous countries and regions around the world. Muslims conquered vast regions in the Middle East, central Asia, North Africa, Spain, and regions of India as Islam spread. The conquered regions were obliged to conform to Islamic traditions and lifestyles as they adopted the religion. In turn, the unique styles of Islamic art were developed as result of cultural fusions in the different regions that were conquered. Islamic art was used for purposes such as book illustrations, pottery, metal-ware, and architecture. The conquered regions formed an integral part in the development and growth of Islamic art such as late Byzantine, Persian and roam art all influenced exiting art styles in Islam.

Islamic art and artistic forms were governed and limited by two primary religious restrictions namely, the imitation of God, through creation of images that competed with God’s role as the creator of life. The term “aniconic” has been used by Oleg Grabar (1973) as a means of reference to the growth of Muslim culture towards all forms of representation of figures (Grabar, 2000). In addition, he also uses the term iconoclasm as a term of reference to the period within which the Christian icons were destroyed in the 8th century in Byzantine Constantinople, currently Istanbul in Turkey (Grabar, 2000). Aniconism largely focuses on the prohibition and the need to detest from the reproduction or production of any forms of figural images within Islamic art.

In addition, another restriction in Islam was the use of costly materials for reproduction of art to detest from worship of material and expensive products. Thus, this provides an explanation as to the widespread usage of brass, wood and clay or porcelain. Using cheap materials they were able to avoid possible worship and adoration of objects made from expensive material due to their worth (Berlekam, 2011). A majority of artistic items had similar approaches to their production and exhibited similar characteristics.

The restriction of production of images depicting life resulted in the distinction of Islamic comparable to other artistic styles in the similar period. Artists ensured that they avoided the depiction of like forms and focused on the developed of distinct art forms termed as arabesque. The arabesque largely consisted of complicated designs made from vines patterns, flowers, and leaves. Such forms of art are widespread in ancient and modern Islamic architecture, cooking ware and textiles (Grabar, 2000). In addition, there is also application of patterns from straight lines and differing geometric patterns.

Another essential trait of Islamic art includes the widespread use of calligraphy. Arabic may be written using a variety of differing calligraphic styles. Examples of calligraphic styles include Kufic scripts that consist of geometric styles and the Naskhi that is made up of rounded elements (Berlekam, 2011). Religious books, art objects and wall decorations largely applied the use of Arabic scripts, which moves from the right side to the left side. For instance, the usage of floral and intricate designs has been applied on the Koran, which is a holy text for Islamic faithful.

Book illustrations provided avenues for development and growth of Islamic art and painting. Artists of Islamic art developed numerous illuminated manuscripts that were laden with pictures and differing designs (Berlekam, 2011). Such paintings were used to enhance the reading of works that covered a variety of subjects such as literature, history and scientific works. In addition, the variety of non-religious texts used images of animals and humans. Religious texts such as the Koran employed ornamental designs given the prohibition of using lifelike images. Famous texts such as the Kalilah and Dimnah provide an example of the illustrations used in Islamic manuscripts. Chinese and Mongol influences are evident from the ink paintings that incorporated landscapes is some Islamic art (Berlekam, 2011). However, a majority of Islamic texts maintained the ornamental approach in developing manuscripts and covers for literature works.

Architecture such as religious places of worship, mosques, is elaborate examples of basic Islamic architecture that incorporate differing and distinct artistic styles. In addition, madrasas that are used as religious education centers, palaces and tombs are all examples of the application of intricate Islamic artistic styles that make Islamic art forms distinct from other forms of art that were present during a similar period (Berlekam, 2011). The initial mosques to be built were made of clay and wood. With the growth and spread of Islam, it was imperative to shift to new styles of architecture, which resulted in the use of bricks and cur stones. Ancient mosques were modeled after churches and synagogues given that there were no Islamic styles of architecture.

For instance, Dome rock of Jerusalem that was built in 691 derived its architectural style from Christian churches in the Byzantine Empire. The mosque also uses Greco columns and distinct mosaic decorations. With the need to separate Islam from other religions, Muslims designed architecture for religious places of worship (Berlekam, 2011). The Great Mosque in Damascus that was developed in the early 700s is made up of rectangular courts with passageways that are covered (Berlekam, 2011). In addition, the inclusion of washing areas and fountains such as the one in the Great Mosque in Damascus has become dominant features of modern mosques. Domes, minarets, towers are common features of Islamic architectures and are used as venues to call up Muslim faithful to worship.

Inside the mosques, there are decorative forms that may resemble scales, honeycombs, and stalactites. For instance, mosques that were built in regions covering North Africa, Spain, Persia were covered using tiles. Domes and minarets increased in mosque architecture in the period between 1500 and 1600s (Berlekam, 2011). Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul is an elaborate example of the transformation of Islamic architecture. Other basic structures built included madrasas that were built next to mosques to teach the young about Islam. Tombs also featured the use of distinct Islamic art forms such as sultan Hassan’s tomb built within a mosque.

Palaces used by caliphs and other noble Islamic rulers were built in isolation away from the crowed cities. They resembled roman architecture such as fortresses. Domed palaces became prominent among affluent rulers and applied stucco reliefs. The use of stucco reliefs, carved vines and abstract patterns were common among the rulers (Berlekam, 2011). They all contributed to the growth and application of arabesque decoration in Islamic architecture. Inscriptions in palaces’ wall such, as no conqueror but Allah” is present in a majority of palaces built for ancient rulers

Decorative arts were used for a variety of purposes and on differing items. Palaces, mosques and other residential areas were the primary areas that applied decorative art forms as a means of enhancing the aesthetic value. In addition, the use of arabesque carvings on plaster, wood and stone adorned doorways, pulpits and prayer niches of mosques (Berlekam, 2011). Some decorative styles applied quotes from the Koran as a signification of the devotion to faith possessed by an owner of a palace or home.

In conclusion, Islamic art continues to grow as it interacts with different cultures during the spread to new regions. The restriction of developing lifelike forms in any means still governs the development of art in Islamic countries (Berlekam, 2011). This provides an essential view as to the application of flower and vine patterns in Islamic homes, palaces and places of worship. In addition, the use of calligraphy to inscribe Arabic quotations has grown over time with influences from writing styles in other cultures and regions drawn from around the world.























Berlekam, P. (2011). Wonder, image, and cosmos in medieval Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Grabar, O. (2000). Mostly Miniatures: An Introduction to Persian Painting. Princeton University Press.






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