“Such is the Creation of Allah: now show Me what is there that others besides Him have created” (31:11)[i]
Abrahamic religions believe in the universality of God. God who created the earth and the heavens is unlimited and exists in every corner of creation. Every action therefore, whether it be study or love or singing or dancing, has the possibility to be imbued with godliness.
The Quran is described as the literal word of God, a lasting physical legacy which represents the Divine on Earth. “O mankind, there has come to you a conclusive proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light.” (4:174)[ii] The Quran is conclusive. It is final and the end-all-be-all of human knowledge. “Allah knows, while you know not.” (3:66)[iii]
If the Quran is the word of God who is all knowing then it reasons that all knowledge is subsumed into that which the Quran presents. As the carrying vessel for divine knowledge, the Quran is a place of deep and unending inspiration as the 18th Surra Al-Kahf describes, “Though the sea became ink for the Words of my Lord, verily the sea would be used up before the words of my Lord were exhausted.” (18:109)[iv]
Art is a reflection of an artist’s knowledge, experiences, and emotions. The Quran encompasses all of these qualities within itself. These features combined with the underlying theological reasoning present the Quran not just as a wealth of inspiration, but as a wealth of artistic inspiration.
The goal of art, as a loose abstract concept, and the goal of the Quran are complimentary. “Art is a powerful tool for communication and the expression of feelings and thoughts.”[v]Art helps mankind interpret and appreciate the surrounding world while the Quran aims to explain the origins and purposes of the corporeal plane. When merged to form Islamic art, they pursue both explanation and appreciation of life.
The Quran inspires art, but also provides it with meaning. Art praises the Quran, but also makes it accessible. One does not need to be able to read Arabic to understand the beauty of intricate Mosque designs or have a degree in Quranic scholarship to admire Islamic calligraphy. The relationship between the two, the Quran and Art, is reciprocal.
Further the Quran acts as a physical conduit to the Divine, connecting a piece of human art with a larger message. Quranic verses contain their holiness within their individual words. By inscribing holy verses on their pieces, artists seek to elevate artwork to the level of piety and commit art as a form of religious devotion to God. Nowhere is that clearer than in Islamic architecture.
The above photo presents the dome of The Masjid-i Shah, an Iranian mosque. At the base of the dome, a ring of Quranic writings proclaims the word of God. Above, a blue background with deeply stylized white Islamic calligraphy. Covering it all is a turquoise dome, peppered with gold and white arabesque patterns. Each section draws from the Quran and together represent a perfect example of how art relies on scripture for influence and how the Quran is projected by the resulting piece.
The first layer of Quranic establishes calligraphy as a foundational part of the dome’s overall design. The physical representation of God’s word is the highest art form as the Hadith from ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud explains. “ ‘No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?’ He said, ‘Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.’ ”[vi] God is beautiful and so even the name of God or simply its words are beauty. These reach out in every direction as if to call believers to prayer and illustrates how beautiful Islamic art can also serve a spiritual function.
The second layer shows another connection between art and the Quran. As the Quran is a strictly literary document, some concepts may lose their immediacy; something often conveyed through image. The second layer maps the words of God on a blue background reminiscent of the sky. The words cover the sky and are everywhere. Purposeful or not, the resulting image conveys a message of the universality and multiplicity of God’s message. The pattern establishes the omnipresence of God in an accessible medium. Art inspired by the Quran seek to propagate its message and thus makes the message more immediate to more people.
The third layer, the dome, represents the vault of heaven and combines both functionality of the first layer with Islamic symbolism of the second. The dome represents the physical manifestation of a religious concept of a higher heaven as well as testify as a dedication to God. In doing so the layer caps of the roof and includes Quranic theology within it.
The Quran is the deepest source of influence for Islamic artists and portrays itself a pinnacle of divine beauty. The art coming acts as an expression, dedication, and tool to these words.
I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code.
[i] “Surah Luqman .” Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://quran.com/31.
[ii] “Surah An-Nisa .” Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://quran.com/4.
[iii] “Surah Al-Fatihah .” Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://quran.com/3.
[iv] “Surah Al-Kahf .” Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://quran.com/18.
[v] Hussaini, Ambreen Shehzad. “The Quran and art.” DAWN.COM. October 11, 2013. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://www.dawn.com/news/1048957.
[vi] Al-Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. “Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah.” SunnahOnline.com. Accessed March 02, 2018. http://sunnahonline.com/library/purification-of-the-soul/200-allah-is-beautiful-and-loves-beauty.
” Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://quran.com/.
Al-Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. “Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah.” SunnahOnline.com. Accessed March 02, 2018. http://sunnahonline.com/library/purification-of-the-soul/200-allah-is-beautiful-and-loves-beauty.
Hussaini, Ambreen Shehzad. “The Quran and art.” DAWN.COM. October 11, 2013. Accessed March 02, 2018. https://www.dawn.com/news/1048957.