Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #37 – Islamic Architecture in the Malay Peninsula

Islam came to the Malay Peninsula as early as the 11th Century, when the king of Kedah, Phra Ong Mahawangsa, abandoned the Hindu faith to embrace Islam, and established the first Sultanate of Kedah in 1136 following the attack of the Indian Chola Navy in the Srivijaya Kingdom of Sangrama Vijayatungavarman in Kedah.

There are three theories of how Islam came into the Malay Peninsula – Merchants, Sufis and the conversion of rulers. Of course, this will be covered in detail in another post. the Malay Peninsula had a strong Hindu and Buddhist beliefs prior to Islam, and when Islam came into the peninsula, the artists of the Malay Peninsula had taken the new aesthetics of the faith and culture and combined it with their existing Hindu and Buddhist culture.

Source - Author- Igor Laszlo

Kampung Laut Mosque in Tumpat, Kota Bahru, Malaysia. It is recognized as one of the oldest mosque in Malaysia, dating back to the 18th Century. Influences of traditional Malay and Javanese architecture is apparent, combined with dome-like finials, the hallmark of the traditional Mosque in the Middle East, though it is still influenced by the temples of the Hindus and the Buddhists.

Author - Vmenkov

Masjid Kampung Hulu in Malacca, Malaysia. Again the traditonal Javanese or Hindu architecture of the Malay Peninsula is still apparent, and even the finial on top of the roof is Hindu in style.

Author - Matahari Pagi

Suriansyah Mosque, Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan province, Indonesia. It was built over 300 years ago, and shows the pre-Islamic architecture of the Banjar.

Author - Dekoelie

Masjid Gedhe Kraton Yogyakarta or Masjid Besar Kasultanan Yogyakarta. The architecture is clearly Javanese, and the three tiered rood is an influence of the Hindu Architecture, where the three tier roof is a representation of Mount Meru, the central mountain figure in Hindu legend and faith.

Author - G.F.J. (Georg Friedrich Johannes) Bley (Fotograaf/photographer).

Minaret of the mosque at Kudus, or Al-Manar Mosque.The Minaret has a very apparent influence of the Hindu Architecture, As it resembled a Hindu Pura, or temple, or more specifically, the Balinese Kulkul tower.

Study – The Three Major Empires of the Islamic World and Their Contribution to the Islamic Art as a Whole

The contemporary Islamic Art that we see today, whether in the decorative or in architectural aspects, are influenced by many different cultures and then refined by the Islamic artisans themselves. There are three major empires in the Islamic History that emphasized on the arts and architecture that gave significant influence and contribution towards the contemporary Islamic Aesthetics. Each of them have a specific field in the subject  of arts on which they are most known for.


Saz-style decoration panel. Earthenware, transparent glaze, painted undeglaze on slip. Turkey: Iznik, second half of the 16th century.

The Ottoman Empire were founded in the 14th Century and continues on until the dispersion of the empire after their defeat in World War I. Along this impressively long time frame were highly significant development in various fields including technology, art and architecture. The vast expand of the Ottoman Empire rule, which stretches out from Turkey to Tunisia, allows Islamic artisans to observe and hence imitate and improvise other cultures decorative arts and also follow their techniques and skills.Thus Turkish Islamic artisans had utilized their knowledge of foreign artistic culture and their technologies, skills and techniques to create their own unique art style, which ultimately contributed to the Islamic Arts and Architecture we see today.

Perhaps the Ottoman Empire’s most popular contribution to the Islamic art is the development of the ceramics or specifically Iznik tiles and I have written an article regarding this type of ceramic early on. The Iznik tiles are immensely popular in the Ottoman Empire that it was used abundantly in palaces and many major Ottoman mosques. It  drew its influences from Chinese porcelain, and it shows with the  fact that many Iznik tiles were done in blue and white colour scheme ; the traditional colours of the Chinese made ceramics. Although blue and white are a few of the most common colours used for making Iznik tiles, greens are also used as well as red ; in fact, the Ottomans are credited for development of bright red pigment, Iznik Red, in ceramics.


Cup and saucer. India, Mughal Dynasty, 18th century. Jade inlaid with gold threads, emeralds, rubies and glass.

Between 1526 to 1858, India was ruled by a Muslim empire named the Mughals. The empire came to a stop after India was seized by the British and exiled the last Mughal Emperor, Badahur Shah II. As it was the case with the Ottoman Empire, The Mughal Empire had their own distinct style of art and architecture, mostly influenced by other South Asian cultures, the Persians and the Hindu empires. They have taken styles from the other cultures as well as knowledge and techniques. They mostly took their techniques from the Persians, and they took aesthetic decorations and skills from the Hindu cultures. As a result, a clash of Islamic Persian architectural features and Hindu influenced decorations can be seen in the  structures the Mughals had left, such as the Taj Mahal or Humayun’s Tomb, in India.

As well as being capable of creating impressive monuments, they also have a very refined taste for decorating daily items and surrounding themselves in wealth and beauty. A very unique trait of the Islamic art in the Mughal empire is the usage of semi-precious stones and other kinds of articles of luxury materials inlaid into many things such as carvings in the walls of a tomb or mosques or for daily items such as boxes and the like. These gemstone carvings were mentioned by the Mughal Chronicler Abu’l Fazl and can still be seen today such as in the Taj Mahal.  Craftsmen of this skill are still operating today for modern consumers, reflecting the artistry of their Mughal ancestors.


A view of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran at night

The Safavids rule the land of Persia from 1501 to 1786 and differentiated themselves from the other two empires mentioned above with their Shiah (one sect of the Islamic faith) beliefs of their Shahs (rulers in Persian). During their period, like the other two empires, had developed significant achievements in various fields, thanks to their central location in Persia where there are lots of merchants and travelers coming to and from the East (China etc) and the East (Middle East). As a result, they received and taken a considerable amount of knowledge and skills from the two sides of the World, for example the techniques of creating ceramics from China and different architectural designs and technologies from the Middle East.

During the Safavids rule,the field of Architecture flourished, and they had created many impressive architectural wonders such as the Shah Mosque in Isfahan and many different palaces, many are still standing today. The usage of different kinds of decorations for the monuments can also be seen such as the ceramic tiles, which were Chinese influences, and Muqarnas from Turkey. Persian Islamic architecture is a very significant influence to the contemporary Islamic architecture, as many Muslim architects opt to follow the plan, in a whole or in parts, of the Persian architecture. This can be seen when Persian architects were employed for building monuments in distant lands, such as the Jame Mosque of India.


Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #36 – Ottoman Architecture

I’m sorry for the late weekly Imagining Islamic Aesthetics post! If you are a fan of the Stars in Symmetry page on Facebook and check the page back often, you will know that I am in a  very unhealthy condition (and am still) so posting would slow down…but I try my best to keep on posting for your reads. I was working yesterday (even with my condition) and I only went home at almost 10.30 in the night, so I was very tired by the time I finished my work and I didn’t even checked my emails, went to bed immediately.

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, I would like to put the spotlight on Ottoman Architecture.


Author - Simm

Suleymaniye Mosque in the background  and Rustem Pasha Mosque in the foreground. Ottoman mosques have very distinct features. As most of the Ottoman mosques plans are based on the Hagia Sophia, a church in Constantinople (present day Istanbul), the mosques features and shares similar characteristics – flat, 1/4th of a sphere domes supplemented with miniature domes, thin pointy minarets and usages of decorative ornamentation such as Muqarnas or usage of Iznik Tiles.

The Topkapi Palace seen from the Bosporus Sea in Istanbul, Turkey. Ottoman palaces are sprawling sites that features gardens and fountains and contains many rooms such as the Harem or the Baths for the Sultan. This Topkapi palace houses a museum that holds Islam’s most precious artifacts – the Prophet Muhammad’s various items such as his swords, robes and even a preserved strand of hair believed to be a strand of his beard. The museum opens during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.


Miscellany – My New Business, and My Reasons Behind it…

You might notice the presence of a new banners in the home page, both on the left side and the bottom of the page, and that, my readers, is one of my business ventures I am actively introducing you…and not only for my personal financial gains, but actually it has quite some to do with this blog itself.

I am currently doing a shift work in the largest Hospital in my country, Brunei. While though, Thank God, my salary is acceptable enough to support myself and my family, I still need some few extra income not for my personal pleasure, but for my ongoing search of knowledge, especially the Islamic Art and Architecture kind.

I do not hold any diplomas or degrees, and you can categorize me in the
“college dropout” or “school dropout” kind of people…But I actually made a huge mistake in choosing what I wanted to study in my school years and as a result, I had to forget my wish to further my studies, now that I am having a full time job on my hand. But I excell (or at least, good at it) in Literature and Arts. I was some sort of “copy machine” for my friends in English classes, and though there is no art subject offered in my school, my friends (and a few teachers as well) noted my penchant for art…especially in Islamic aesthetics, though I still have no clear idea about it at that time, only having perusal of my observation.

I want to carry this blog further, and strech its limit. Again, it is all about the passion of Islamic Art.

One day I was thinking, while driving past one of the largest mosque here in Brunei. I was lost in my mind noting the usage of Islamic and Malay motifs on the facade of the mosque, the Architectural style derived from for the plan of the building (Turkish, if I might add!), the sublime gardens decorating the grounds…and I thought, would it be great if I took pictures featuring this mosque and write a descriptive book with it? It was a great idea in my mind…but I need money for it, because my salary isn’t enough to cover merely the expense of having a professional camera set…let alone to write a book.

This is one of the reason I joined the business : to get some income so that I can pursue my literature dream.

Another thing is that this business is about travel : they (and as their independant distributor, me) are selling holiday packages for the mass. Get this – they are selling resort packages that is actually up to five-star accomodations for ,in my honest opinion, and doing hotel and airfare bookings for me, my family and friends) a very, very cheap price. Imagine staying a six-nights-and-seven-days five-star resort for as low as just US$250?

I am very, very VERY sceptical in the first place, but I read the official website again and again and I joined the business, and what do you know, it is for real.

Why does this have to do with the blog? Well, I wanted to see the real Islamic Art and Architecture for real. I have described so many things about it, and yet, I only have very limited access to a real example (I generally only have the internet and books, as well as exhibitions here in Brunei, which I might add is very limited) so I need to go abroad and see the real thing. I want to go to Damascus, Cairo, Morocco or Spain and visit the Taj Mahal, the Alhambra, the Mosques of Cairo, the Hagia Sophia in Turkey…I want to experience the real thing first hand, so I can take this blog further…and also to add to my book writing ideas.

The Alhambra. One of the places I wanted to visit in my entire life. *drools*

So to make this simple, this TVI express business is about the travel industry. You can  get discounted ticket offers as well as bookings for hotels and resorts, alongside if you are interested, a chance to start a business. To have more ideas regarding this company please click here.

If you have any problems, questions or you want to join the business, I will gladly attend to all your inquiries. Just email me at or call me at (international) 6738 8894807.

Thank you for reading!

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #35 – Arabesques

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics I would like to focus one part of the three Islamic Aesthetic Canon – The Arabesque.

Arabesque is a motif used by Islamic artists in the form of stylized vegetal representations, usually being geometric or symmetrical. It is often combined with the other subjects of the Islamic Aesthetic Canon that is Geometrical shapes and Calligraphy. As it is the case with Geometrical Patterns, Arabesques usually done in infinite pattern and it is done in a way that it exudes perfection – thought to be a representation of the perfection of God, or in an opposite matter, imperfections are intentionally made in thought of only God can create perfection, though this idea is disputed.

Author - Atif Gulzar

A tile from The Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, showing the usage of geometrical patterns combined with Arabesques. It is famous for its extensive faience tile work. It was built in seven years, starting around 1634-1635 A.D., during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. It was built by Shaikh Ilam-ud-din Ansari, a native of Chiniot, who rose to be the court physician to Shah Jahan and later, the Governor of Lahore. He was commonly known as Wazir Khan. (The word wazir means ‘minister’ in Urdu language.) The mosque is located inside the Inner City and is easiest accessed from Delhi Gate.

Author - le dieu

ornamental plasterwork from the Alhambra. Excellent workmanship of Islamic artisans can be seen here in the Alhambra, where finely detailed carvings, such as this one, is done all over the palace.

Source/Photographer - Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), 2009-02-28

Fragment of a decorative frieze. Earthenware with moulded decoration under turquoise glaze, Timurid art, 1st half of the 15th century. From the Shah-i Zinda in Samarkand. Arabesques like this is common and often used as a background for calligraphy, especially as building decoration.


Ottoman alem – 18th century – Collection of Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Alem is ornament made out of metal, probably as finials. The figure above shows the richly decorated in Arabesque artifact .

Folio from a Koran; Title page (Sura An-Najm)Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. H: 32.6 W: 25.2 cm. Egypt. All of the Islamic Decorative Canon are utilized in almost everything from decorating buildings to daily items and ornaments to documents and manuscripts, more so with important books such as this Holy Qur’an.

Technical – The Basics – Building a Tesellation with One Simple Shape

I once had posted about how to make a prism Geometrical shape under the Technical section (you can read it here). But if you are lazy to click the link, the following picture might spark your interest –

So for this post, it is about arranging simple shapes like this one, into a beautiful geometric pattern or a tessellation. Muslim artisans had founded quite a number of ways of creating patterns out of simple shapes, along with creating complicated patterns with a number of different but equally simple rhombuses, diamond shapes, squares and the like.

For this kind of shape (prism) there is two common ways in the Islamic world of aesthetics that this shape can be arranged-

  1. Prisms, Squares and Crosses The prisms are arranged in a cross shape, and by arranging in such a way, it will produce a square shape in the middle. This is a very simple pattern, mostly utilized for tiling for floors in Islamic or Muslim environments such as palaces (even in non Islamic areas) , not as wall tiling as it is too simple and not impressive enough to be featured on walls.
  2. Prisms and Stars – This pattern is more common and used more as an Islamic pattern, as wall tiling. The prism shapes are arranged in a row and column, vertical and horizontal alternately. By arranging the shape this way it creates four pointed stars space (resembling the ninja throwing stars, Shurikens, if I might add) between them (highlighted in blue in the figure above)

7th of December…Happy 1st Birthday Stars in Symmetry!

It was exactly one year ago since I started this blog. In recent years I had a keen interest in Islamic and Arab art and architecture culture, but I never know anything about it in fine detail – only rough ideas about how different aesthetics are in different countries and yet still follow the same particular style.

As I built this blog from a scratch, I began improvising myself and try to learn what makes each Islamic areas so unique from each other, and yet still resemble Islamic aesthetics in a whole- from books, the internet, Wikipedia, observing photo archives. Against all odds and through pressing matters and stressful times, the blog came to be and I am now dedicated to posting articles here for your reading pleasure (hopefully!)

I have learned quite a lot from this experience and it has since last year made me more keen on my surroundings. But without you readers I would be uninterested to keep this blog up. I had met a number of good people from this blog and exchanged ideas and knowledge and accepted criticisms and building comments and I am very pleased to know people who have the same interests as mine. I personally thank you all for reading my blog for this whole year, and I am hoping you keep on reading.

As for the blog, I am giving it a make-over of sorts. In my opinion the blog is now simpler and cleaner, with the posts are now extracts, so you just have to click read more to…well, read more! And since the posts are shortened you do not have to scroll down a long, long page for something you want to read, or to browse older posts. I hope you like it, and I, as usual, appreciate any comments!

Once again, thank you for reading my humble blog and hopefully the year to come you will still be reading this blog, and there will be more quality posts from me!

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #34 – Modern Islamic Architecture

Now that I have a (most of the time) stable internet connection, I can now write posts on a regular basis again after quite some time of unintended negligence of the blog. Yay!

For this 33rd Imagining Islamic Aesthetics post, I would like to discuss about the modern Islamic architecture or also known as contemporary Islamic architecture ; modern as in clean minimalistic style of architecture (in my opinion and seeing with my untrained eyes) combined with the elegance and traditional Islamic motifs and patterns.

In recent years, architects (whom are really unnecessarily Muslims themselves) prefer to combine modern aesthetics with traditional Islamic designs rather than to strictly follow older Islamic architecture and blueprints – this is particularly true for modern Mosques or other Islamic related buildings such as Syaria (Islamic law) courts and the like. Usually, modern Islamic architecture does not stick to one particular Islamic style but rather combination of different styles. This amalgamation of old and new is also utilized for secular buildings in Arab countries.

King Faisal Mosque in Islamabad Pakistan. This mosque is the brainchild of a Turkish designer Vedat Dakolay who took inspiration from Bedouin Arab tribes tents and the minarets from his own home country, combined with sleek modern features  and is considered one of the most outstanding contemporary Islamic architecture.

Author - Nepenthes

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The tower is designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, designers of many contemporary skyscrapers and tall buildings all over the world. The design is said to be inspired by Islamic pattern and it is said that when one views the tower form above or below the tower, it invokes the sight of Islamic domes. It is now one of the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Author – Donnyhoca

The Mihrab and Prayer Hall of the Şakirin Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The architect of the Mosque is a local architect Hüsrev Tayla, while the interior designer is Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, said to be the first female interior designer to work for a mosque. According to Turkish press it is one of the most modern mosque in Turkey.

The KLCC or the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was the tallest tower in the world from 1998 to 2004 before the title was taken over by Taipei 101. Designed by the Argentinian architects César Pelli and Djay Cerico the buildingwas build over the course of seven years. Cross-section of the building reveals that the architects used the traditional Islamic eight-pointed star for the towers, as well as the facade to be designed resembling Islamic patterns.



Study – Influences of Sassanid Empire in the Islamic Art and Architecture

One of the empires that influenced the Islamic aesthetic is the Sassanid Empire. The influence of the Empire was widespread ; not only it was apparent in the home of the civilization that is Persia and its surroundings, but the influences can also be noticed and seen throughout the Islamic empire to a certain extend.

A short introduction of the Sassanid Empire

The Sassanid Empire, also known as the Sassanian Empire, was the last Pre-Islamic empire of Persia, under the rule of the Sassanian Dynasty from 224 to 651. It succeeded the Parthian Empire and was recognized as one of the main powers in Western Asia and Europe alongside then Roman and Byzantine Empire. During the time of the Empire, it encompassed the areas of Central Asia that includes Iran, some parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, The Caucus area of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan, parts of Turkey, Coastal areas of the Arabian Peninsula that faces the Indian ocean and the Persian Gulf Area.The Sassanid Empire witnessed the peak of Ancient Persian Empire, and considered one of the most important historical periods of Iran. The cultural and aesthetic influence of the Sassanid Empire not only affected the Arabic/Islamic empire, but also played a prominent role in European and Asian Medieval art.

A Sassanid coin, Hormizd I, Afghanistan issue copying Kushan designs.


The Influence in Islamic Architecture

The Muslim architects had taken a number of Sassanid architectural inventions ; infact, Islamic architecture borrowed heavily from the Sassanid Architecture. Domes, while not perfect in a sense, was utilized in Sassanid buildings later to be incorporated into Islamic ones. Arches were used as well and later were improved by Muslim architects. Iwans were also used and carried on by the Islamic architects to be used in Islamic buildings for example the Jame Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. Perhaps one of the greatest example of Sassanid influence on Islamic architecture is the copying of the fire temple tower found in the center of Sassanid cities. The tower was a spiral tower and copied by Islamic architects to be used as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Samarra in Baghdad, Iraq, though it is not practical to use the tall spiral tower as a place to call the faithful to prayer.

The Spiral Minaret of the Samarra Mosque in Iraq, a copy of the fire temple tower of Sassanid origins.