Monthly Archives: March 2013

Internet Finds – More Islamic Art Influenced Interior Design

I actually saw these articles from one of my favourite website, Apartment Therapy, in early February. However, I keep forgetting to post  plus I was a bit too busy since the beginning of the year that I only remembered just recently. It is a funny thing too, because I find them very interesting and also I actually gasped and wowed at the second one!

All pictures are courtesy of Apartment Therapy. Please click on the images to go directly to the articles.

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The first articles takes a peek into the apartment of a Venezuelan lawyer and focuses on her custom made Mandala bookcase. The Mandala design looks -and certainly can be described as – an Islamic 12 pointed star. According to Veronica, the owner of the unique bookcase, she wanted a library, but also wanted to be different, so she commissioned a carpenter to make it for her. I liked that she added Oriental style accessories to the room i.e the rug and the lantern in the middle of the coffee table.

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The second is a before-and-after article, a very dramatic transformation of a plain small room into a very busy-yet-peaceful dining room. Perhaps it is the Moroccan Zellige inspired wallpapers that strikes me the most, but actually it is the harmony of the patterns in the room that really amazed me. The whole room is designed by Matthew Patrick Smyth, who is obviously inspired by Moroccan patterns, and added modern, minimalistic furniture to it.

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Study – Did King Offa Rex Converted to Islam

Perhaps this posting does not discuss about Islamic art at all, but it is quite an interesting topic to share. In one of my previous article, I had discussed about the influence of Islam in Christian art, and one of the example is a coin bearing the stamp of Offa Rex (King Offa) on a supposed copy of a gold dinar from the Abbasid Caliph. A comment on the article  from a reader speculated that King Offa might converted to Islam during his reign, but the Pope in that time erased historical records on this subject.

So the question remains – Did the Anglo-Saxon King, Offa of Mercia, converted to Islam?

The idea that this famous king converted to Islam and hence professing his acknowledgement of  the truth of the faith is quite an attractive notion to Muslims. But what evidence do we have? As I had mentioned before, a copy of the Abbassid gold dinar stamped with the Latin inscription Offa Rex were found and displayed in the British Museum. A Muslim scholar, Dr A Zahoor, suggested that this is the proof of the king’s profession of the Islamic faith, and wanted to publicly announce his new found faith by minting these Islamic coins bearing his name.

The Coin in question

Unfortunately, the coin does not represent any evidence showing that King Offa converted to Islam. One glaringly obvious sign to point out is that the Arabic inscription in the middle, where the Latin text Offa Rex is stamped, is upside down. Furthermore, the Arabic inscription surrounding the coin is, when it is quite clear and faithful reproduction, the word ‘year’ is jumbled – something someone who spoke Arabic would never do. It is clear, with these signs, that neither King Offa nor his officials could not read or speak Arabic. Giving that translated Qur’an were only made after his reign, it is quite certain that King Offa had no idea of what the inscription meant.

Another important point to think about is that copying – whether it is coins, art styles or fashions are a very common practice in those days. Copying the coins of other kingdoms is a well-known practice to ensure that the coins were accepted in international trade. ‘Oriental’ products are in demand at that time, so to obtain such luxuries require the currency accepted by the Caliphate.

Historically, King Offa supported the Pope and the Christian Monasteries means that Islam is not a part of his life, and the fact that he went to great lengths to establish his own Archbishop supports this fact. He annoints his heir with intensely Christian ceremonies. He granted lands to make monasteries and nunneries (which, by logic, should he be a Muslim, he would build mosques instead). He pays tributes and alms to the Church, and even the Pope (in this case Pope Leo) praised him for his generous donations. All these facts leads to the fact that King Offa was not a Muslim.

In my opinion, perhaps the coin in question is an early example of Orientalism – the admiration or patronage of western individuals of Middle East or Islamic art and aesthetics. Frankly speaking, speculating whether a king converted to Islam or not based on a coin minted during his rule with Islamic stamps, even though it is vaguely plausible, is still that – vague. Unless there are more evidence showing such claims, King Offa of Mercia did not convert to Islam.

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Observations – Masjid Ash-Saliheen

I am not really sure about the actual Romanization of the mosque’s name, but in Arabic it is مسجد الصالحين

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I went out for a little short excursion around the city. I always wanted to come to this mosque, because I knew that it was decorated with Moroccan or Andalusian theme which means…Zellige!

A bit of history of the mosque first – The mosque first open in July 2012. It was built in an area of 2,100 square meters, near government offices complex in the capital. It is much smaller than other grander mosques in Brunei but when it lacks in size it makes up in the decoration. it was built in the Moroccan and Andalusian style with decorations flown in specially from Morocco. when it was officiated, the presses claimed that the mosque was ‘a sight to behold’

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A sight to behold indeed, it was. At the gate, you can clearly see the petite mosque across the green fields. The road leading to it is decorated with wrought iron lamps stylized with filigrees similar to Moroccan ones. As you can see here, it has two tall minarets, flanking the main prayer hall, with an azure dome in the middle.The whole building were made to look like it is constructed out of adobe, however it is not, considering Brunei is a tropical country and rain is in abundance, if it is constructed out of adobe it might wash away the building. Instead it is made of modern concrete.

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This is the view of the southern minaret, seen from the parking space. The minaret looks more Turkish with its conical roof and sided body, which is different from the main building style. If it follows the Moroccan/Andalusian style it would be a tall, square structure with a small, shorter balcony tower on top. Also, there would be only one minaret.

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Inside is a real life oasis. In the middle of the courtyard stands a marble fountain with authentic Zellige decoration, bathed in an abundance of sunlight, thanks to the retractable, clear roof above. the fountain is surrounded with palms and other desert plants, as well as large vases, invoking the spirit of North African mosques. Brass lamps sits next to the pillars, and more of them are hung across the ceiling perimeter around the courtyard, which is made out of trellis. The late afternoon sun shone through the trellis ceiling, giving a Mashrabia effect, light and shadow playing perfectly on the marble floor.

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Every aspect, every room of the mosque were given the Moroccan treatment. Here we see the ablution room, where the walls are lined with Zellige in soothing, earthy colours, and even the taps were made of carved, hammered bronze taps! For your information, there are two ablution rooms (not counting the female ablutions, where I don’t think I was allowed in) and each of the rooms are given different coloured Zellige tiles ; the South ablution room is decorated with green hued zellige, while the northern one were given blue hued tiles.

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This is the view of the Main Prayer hall itself. Clearly no expenses were hold while building this mosque. The Zellige tiles were hand made and flown in from Morocco. Al Quran verses were painted on a brown border  above the Zellige panels. The lamps, hanging from the tall, lofty ceiling are large, bronze lamps decorated with Arabesques. The shelves holding copies of the Holy Qur’an were made of wood with trellis design and arches. the Pillars are huge cylindrical slabs of marble, supporting arches of red and white – an apparent tribute to the Mosque of Cordoba. To be honest, this is the closest I get to Zellige tilework, and it was an awesome sight to behold.

 

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Observations – KL Visit – Islamic Art Museum – The Conclusion

I have actually finished the KL Visit – Islamic Art Museum series of articles after a year (the first article was posted on the 24th of February 2012) and honestly saying, I thought I would take longer than that. So what did  I learn from this experience? My first time in Kuala Lumpur, the Metropolitan city of Malaysia, and my first time visiting a museum, fully dedicated to Islamic art and Architecture, all while successfully dragging my not-appreciating-art family to it?

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An Arabic themed restaurant in the Museum of Islamic Art and Architecture Compound

My first thought is – I want to return to Kuala Lumpur.

Unlike many (or most, if not all) Bruneians travelling to KL, I was more interested in cultural aspect of a vacation. People in Brunei are usually into shopping ; and lots of it, giving that things there are much more cheaper than back in hometown. My own family (my parents and my oldest brother) were more keen to go to shopping malls and avenues, which, may be interesting, spells a tiring, uninteresting day for me. And that is mostly the reason Bruneians come to Kuala Lumpur again and again.

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Decorative headscarf pins on sale in an open air shop somewhere in the Jalan Masid India Avenue

I am eager to return to KL not because of the cheap, cheap stuffs and sale, sale, sale, but for the museums and other places I haven’t been able to visit during my vacation with my family. I wanted to revisit the museum with a better camera, naturally. Even if the museum to be honest, not as large as I expected, I wanted to see more. When I was there I was only floating by the exhibits for the fear of losing sight of my parents, who, again did not really share the same artistic interests as I do. I wanted to examine each and every artifact, to see closer the manuscripts and ceramics and armours and fabrics. I know I have more to learn from there.

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A newer mosque at one end of the Jalan Masid India Avenue.

I also wanted to visit the mosques especially the older ones. I did not have the chance to visit any mosques since our days were mostly filled with excursions to the shopping malls. I only had a glimpse of the mosques around Kuala Lumpur which mostly obscured with large trees or more commonly, tall, tall buildings.

Perhaps, one day I can visit Kuala Lumpur again, and if that day comes, I am hoping to be able to visit the sites with Islamic cultural and religious significance.

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Peek-a-boo!

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