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The Unity of Islamic Arts



This book opens a new door to the study of the aesthetics of Islamic Arts; it is a research that has gone beyond preconceived conclusions that previously discussed the beauty of these arts. The researcher stood face-to-face infront of these arts with no mediator, and he contemplated them with the perspective of an Arab who has lived the true aesthetic experience.

The researcher took the artistic works as a whole, then he studied composition in them starting from the premise which states that the terminologies and the techniques in the arts are not owned by anybody; rather, they are for all nations and are in fact continuously rejuvenated. Nevertheless, the only way to recombine these terminologies and techniques is through originality, which is unique to each nation having its own ideals and distinctive cosmic view.

If we take the Islamic architecture, we find that it was not fixed on one design, yet it conveyed one message to be accomplished.

For example, the Sultan Hassan school and mosque in Cairo is composed of several stories with a patio in the middle. Surrounding this patio are four spacious halls topped with a semi-dome. In another place in Cairo, there is a building that solemnly extends horizontally on a wide land; namely Ahmad Bin Tolon Mosque which was built four centuries before the Sultan Hassan Mosque.

The source of this inspiration in the first mosque is derived primarily from the horizontal wideness of the patio, and from the alleys that are spread on the four directions. If we our imagination free, we feel that the patio provides a station for the body of the wide space, as though it were a “hand” lying in the center of the building. Thus, the inter-spaces between the pillars and the arcs of the alleys extending inside the built sections become the “fingers” of this spatial “hand”. What we feel in front of this scene and in such surroundings is an attempt to lift this building a little bit off the ground.

Moving to Sultan Hassan Mosque, the source of inspiration starts from the space of the patio and extends to reach the four halls forming spacious curvatures. These spaces are extended upwards making the four halls seem like big air protrusions designed to lessen the weight of the building.

The Islamic Art strived to move the fixed whereby everything in the universe is mobile and mortal because only God is permanent and immortal. The art also strived to overcome the apparent contradiction among the parts of one artistic work, and uniting them in an equilibrium characterized by a “unifying familiarity” detached from the equilibrium that results from the conflict among the parts, thus resulting in a state of strain and tension. This shows that the reference of the Islamic art, despite its varied and contradictory parts, is one where God’s creation is one in all places.

If we refer to the Arabic dictionaries to look up the word “composition”, we find that it means “uniting different elements with familiarity”.

From another perspective, the book pointed out that the pilgrimage rituals are very important to highlight what we talked about. Everybody knows the importance of the pilgrimage and its rituals across the Islamic history, and the impact it has on Muslims from a religious perspective as well as a solidarity perspective. However, pilgrimage has one more important effect; the aesthetic inspirations it leaves in the hearts of Muslims. These inspirations are especially caused by rotating around the Ka’aba.

If we contemplate together the motion of rotating around the Ka’aba, we find ourselves facing two important things. The first is the Ka’aba building with its geometric shape– square and cube – which symbolizes a steadiness that is engraved in the ground. The second are the circular consecutive loops caused by the continuous rotation of the pilgrims. The first is the location occurrence, and the second is the time occurrence. 

We deduce that these inspirations put the Muslim, during his rotation with other believers, in a strong aesthetic state because of what it carries from the fundamentals of art; namely moving the fixed. How would it feel if this fixed was the cube that symbolizes the most absolute form of steadiness that is engraved in the ground! This reminds us of the big challenge facing creative art.

Thus, the book shows that the aesthetics that we have briefly pointed out have encompassed Islamic architecture as well as calligraphy and music in the Islamic world for centuries.












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