Observations : Islamic Geometric Designs in Coptic Churches

First of all, while here in the Islamic Malay world, we were still debating year after year about if it is okay or not to wish followers of other religions for their celebrations or holidays, I would just like to say to all my friends, followers and readers…

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holidays, and a happy new year. Christmas nowadays, even though it is a Christian holiday, is celebrated all throughout the world, even in the Arab world where Islam is a predominant religion. It is celebrated as a secular holiday mostly nowadays. It is sad to see that some people really wanted to divide everyone according to their faiths, whereas brothers of the same religions as theirs lend no mind to these petty issues. Differences between us, whether is religion, race, gender, or anything else, only acts as a vehicle for us to learn about each other, and in turn, unite us all as humankind. Don’t let the difference segregate us, rather, let it be the reason for our unity. Respect each other and be respected in return. Being closeted and narrow minded, not accepting of other people’s faiths and beliefs and/or accepting the fact that the world is made out of different people will only lead to enmity.  Let us ponder upon the Words of Allah himself in the Qur’an, about accepting and learning our differences :

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوباً وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another (and so build mutuality and co-operative relationships, not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank, or breed enmities). Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.

(Al Hujrat Ayaat 19)

Now we get that out of the way, I want to show you something that might surprise you : Islamic patterns in Churches! or rather, Coptic Churches. And no, not just slightly influenced patterns, but full on Islamic geometric star patterns! Now, given the history of the Coptic Christian and the Muslims particularly in Egypt, how intertwined their histories were, it is not exactly surprising to find the influences of each other’s culture and art in their domains. However, I think this is quite special, given how very closely the patterns in the churches resembles the ones you can find in a Mosque. Insha Allah  one day, when I get the chance to visit Egypt, I will visit the churches and then learn more about it. In the meantime, in the spirit of Christmas and mutual understanding, I will show several examples of these patterns. Noting that these patterns show up in holiest of holy areas like the Iconostasis of a church, really speaks volumes.

A part inside the Hanging Church in Cairo. 12 Pointed stars decorate the wooden wall. 

A wall detail in the entrance of the Hanging Church in Cairo. If not for the crosses hidden in the pattern, you would might think that this is a Mihrab in a mosque!

Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church in Cairo, Egypt. One of the oldest Coptic Churches in Cairo. 10 Pointed stars is shown prominently.

A screen in The Church of St. Michael in the Keep, Monastery of Al-Muharraq, Egypt.  Four fold patterns showing a stylized cross eight pointed stars

Observation – Islamic Geometric in Peranakan Tiles

As I had been travelling quite a lot around the South East Asian region particularly to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, I can’t help but to notice several motifs in the traditional art and culture that might be influenced by the Islamic art. One culture that is quite famous in this region is the Peranakan Culture, or the Baba and Nyonya.

Peranakan are an ethnic group of migrant Chinese settlers who came to the  (Malay Archipelago ) particularly the strait settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore and also parts of Indonesia as well as Thailand, between the 15th and 17th Centuries. As the Chinese intermarry with the locals, they took on a combined culture of Chinese and whatever the local culture might be. Most known of the Peranakan (which means the child of or born of) are the one who live in Malaysia and Singapore, where they have a substantial art and culture derived from the local Malay and the Chinese.

In Malaysia (and sometimes Singapore) They refer themselves to as Baba Nyonya, that is, Baba for the men and Nyonya for the women. Adopting the local Malay tradition and customs, they had made their own unique culture, so it is not uncommon to see Malay influences.

Come to Singapore, Malacca or Penang, where the communities of the Peranakan flourished, you might come across these peculiar and daintily decorated house, often with traditional tiles. Historically these tiles were imported from all over the world, as the Peranakan became more and more established and thus had more easier access to luxury items such as these imported tiles. While these tiles are not traditionally made by the Peranakan themselves, it became synonymous with the ethnic group.

As these tiles are imported from all over the world, particularly from the UK, Belgium , Japan and China, it is rather unavoidable to see Islamic influenced patterns in the tiles, as Islamic style tiles (particularly those from Spain) were quite common. Thus this does not mean that the Peranakan actually took direct influence on the Islamic art, but simply unintentional coincidence. The Peranakan, even though the intermarry with the local Malay, they adopt the Chinese tradition and religion, thus they do not have any affiliation with Islam.

However, even without the Islamic connotation of these tiles, it is interesting to see that the Peranakan would use something that had Islamic influnece, given that they are not Muslims themselves. Perhaps its a throwback to half of their Malay past and subsequent Islamic heritage.

It is rather difficult to find information about the Peranakan tiles online, however I can attest that I have seen these tiles and thought to myself if there was any possibility that these tiles used by the Peranakan were influenced by Islamic art. As I had mentioned in this articles, it might be just a coincindence, as they are more leaning towards the Chinese adspect of their culture rather than Malay. However, as Islamic cultures in the Middle East were known to be influenced by the Chinese, some form of the art which looks familiar could pop up here and there, particularly the floral designs.

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Peranakan recreated tiles by a Malaysian company named Terracotta. The upper left image, the eight pointed star,  is quite commonly found in Islamic art. from http://jules.ikeahackers.net/2012/09/a-taste-of-peranakan-decor.html

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The LACK side tables are hacked with Peranakan style tiles, done by Arthur Zaaro. Note two of them are quite a common Islamic Zillij pattern . from http://jules.ikeahackers.net/2012/09/a-taste-of-peranakan-decor.html

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The floor tiles has geometric patterns, even the wall tiles looks like they can belong to a mosque or a Middle Eastern home! From https://stories.travel360.com/tale-of-tiles-peranakan-patterns-singapore/

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Geometric pattern on the floor, although not strictly Islamic style. From https://stories.travel360.com/tale-of-tiles-peranakan-patterns-singapore/

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Another eight-pointed stars patterned tiles. Fromhttps://www.dreamstime.com/simple-beautiful-peranakan-tiles-simple-beautiful-peranakan-tiles-babanyonya-image163249295

Observation – Islamic influences on Traditional Malay Textile pt.3

For this edition of the series of observation on Traditional Malay Textiles we shall look into a kind of decorative piece of fabric not very widely known, even in the Malay world – the Keringkam

Keringkam or also known as Selayah is a traditional scarf or headdress worn by the women of Sarawak Malay, worn during special occasions such as weddings, Eid or other celebrations. It used to be worn by the noblewomen due to the expensive price , but nowadays anyone can wear them. Keringkam are usually embroidered using gold or silver thread with traditional Malay motifs such as the Pucuk Rebung (Bamboo Shoot) or different kinds of flower motifs. It is executed on light shawls made out of semi tranparent fabrics such as gauze or muslin. A Keringkam is shorter than Selayah, but essentially similiar in fashion.

In some sense, Keringkam is similar to the Songket or Tenunan fabric as I had noted before in this series of article, but the difference lies in the execution and the materials used to create each of the fabric. Tenunan or songket designs are woven directly into the fabric, as in, not embroidered as the design and motifs of the fabric are the fabric itsself, using thicker fabric, but Keringkam, on the other hand, uses embroidery technique to apply motifs and designs on an already existing fabric, using lighter material than tenunan or songket.

Nowadays it is harder to find Keringkam , even harder than hand loomed Tenunan or Songket, as the technique and the popularity of the item itself dwindled. Furthermore Keringkam are not mass produced, much like Tenunan, and making them requires a lot of time and resources, and those who made them only produce it is a small scale ie in homes.

Due to the process of making of Keringkam, like Tenunan or Songket, the designs are mostly geometric in shape. It may or may not be influenced by Islamic designs and art language, but considering Islam is an integral part of the Malay life, the fact that Islamic geometric designs might play a part is not discredited. Although this is to be noted that the designs on a Keringkam are somewhat finer than Tenunan or Songket, as they are made on a smaller scale, so that rigid geometric shapes are not exactly common. Keringkam designs, as I had seen, are more flowery and more rounded, perhaps due to the process, than Songket or Tenunan.

A Keringkam on display showcasing the carefully embroidered motifs.

Credit : https://www.hmetro.com.my/nuansa/2019/03/438104/warisan-keringkam

 

A Keringkam on featuring the Gunung Beranak motif, showing how geometric the decorations can be

Credit : https://www.hmetro.com.my/nuansa/2019/03/438104/warisan-keringkam

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A closer look at the Keringkam Embroidery

Credit : https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2018/03/16/making-keringkam-shine-again-project-launched-to-preserve-sarawak-malay-traditional-embroidery

Another closer look of yet another Keringkam piece.

Credit : https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/sunday-vibes/2019/09/521469/bringing-shine-back-disappearing-heritage

A delicate blue Keringkam with scattered flower motif

Credit : https://kuchingkampungheritage.my/2019/03/24/songket-dan-keringkam/

Stars in Symmetry 10th Anniversary!

This day on the 7th of December, 2009, Stars in Symmetry was born!

It felt a long long time ago that I was sitting in front of my old first laptop, wanting to satisfy my need for Islamic art and architecture, I learn independently and with what I have known, I disseminate that information in the form of this blog.

I admit that I also tried to make some income from this blog in the form of adverts, merchandises and other small ventures. I would like to clarify that I had not made any single cent off this blog, despite all the ads and merch I was selling here. In fact, I lost some money because I was trying the paid plan for WordPress, that is the custom URL and other perks. Alas, it was not sustainable, and I had to cancel the plan after one year.

However, the main reason I created this blog was for the sheer happiness and enjoyment Islamic art and architecture bring me. Looking at a perfect geometric design in a mosque gives me a sense a wonderment and excitement, the sight of a beautiful calligraphy in an illuminated Qur’an fills me with serenity, and the beautiful curves of a dome and the height of a minaret makes my heart feels the awe on the wonders. Learning about these beautiful form of art simply increases my curiosity and my appreciation of the work that goes to creating these majestic art forms.

For this 10th year anniversary, I am again refreshing the look of the blog, trading the recent one into a more modern look, new more interactive plans in the future in par with the technological advancements of today, new Youtube channel, insha Allah, new merch, as well as a new logo! It is based off the old logo, but cleaner (now I can use Photoshop Illustrator!) with a fresher colourway, keeping with the theme with my Atelier Azim logo.

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Here’s hoping for another decade of enjoying and appreciating Islamic art, architecture and culture, and I hope you will come together with us on this journey!

Appreciation – Istanbul Trip Pt.9 – Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque and Tomb

After visiting the Fatih Mosque, we proceeded to another mosque complex in tthe area. It was not as large of a complex as Sulemaniye Mosque, but it still commands a magnificent presence over the Istanbul skyline.

Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque is the second oldest imperial mosque, commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent for his father, Sultan Selim. Architecturally it was different from Sulemaniye Mosque I had visited before – it is shorter and smaller. Apparently it was another architect who made the mosque who goes by the name Alauddin, instead of Sinan, who built Suleymaniye mosque. It was much simpler, being a square hall, with quite a  lower dome .

Nearby the Mosque there was a complex of tombs, apparently where Sultan Selim were laid to rest. Some tiled decorations in both of the mosque and the tombs are made using the Cuerda Seca method, which is rather different than the later Iznik tiles. You can see the difference up close – the designs have a dark blue or black border around them, because of the firing method used in this technique.

The first building I visited was the Turbe, or the tomb, of Sultan Selim. The front portico of the octagonal tomb was richly decorated with the tiles I had mentioned earlier. It was more characteristic of Iranian or Persian tiles, in my opinion. Colours of deep cobalts and emerald greens were prevalent in the decoration, which is rather different from from the Sapphire blues, turquoises and reds I am used to see in the other mosques. The painted decorations were uniquely Ottoman, perhaps it was made at a later date. The interior itself is decorated with Ottoman paintings, although not as decorated as, say, Sultan Suleyman’s tomb. The sarcophagus of the Sultan is covered in black velvet embroidered with golden Islamic calligraphy. The entire sarcophagus is covered with a glass case, presumably to protect it as of course, it is an important historical significant monument.

After paying respects to the late Sultan, we proceeded to the mosque complex. We entered into the building from the front main entrance. On the exterior, the mosque complex has the same architectural language as the other Imperial mosques in Istanbul – a courtyard with pillared corridors in front of the main prayer hall, with two tall, needle shaped minarets. However, as I had noted before, the mosque’s architectural detail were a bit different from the others. From the start you can see that the mosque building it was a lot shorter and more stout looking than the other imperial mosques. You won’t be able to see cascading domes and half domes flowing down the sides of the main prayer hall, but this mosque features a prominently singular dome, very similar looking to the Hagia Sophia dome. The shape is rather rigidly square, without any extrusions you might see commonly on the other mosques such as corridors, on the sides of the main prayer hall.

Upon entering, the feel of spaciousness permeates the prayer hall – there are no gargantuan buttress pillars to be seen here, only large arches on the four sides of the mosque, supporting the main, and only, dome. The hall is built in natural stone, with what seemed to be exposed brickwork, very unlike the other mosques I had visited. Iznik tiles (which I imagined a later addition) decorates the windows as arches, in the typical colours of turquoises and teals and cobalts. The hall had less windows, so even though light still enters the mosque, it is a little bit darker than the other mosques I visited. As usual with Imperial Ottoman mosques, stained glass windows are used, particularly on the upper rows. A Muezzin Mahfili sits left of the Mihrab instead of the usual central position. A Mimbar in marble with a pointed roof not unlike the minaret outside, sits on the right of the Mihrab. The decoration seems much simpler than the other mosques. Perhaps due to the fact that it was built for a late Sultan, as opposed built for a current ruling one?

The dome is also a simple affair. A singular medallion of calligraphy directly under the center decorates the dome. A row of stained glass window decorates the circumference of the dome, allowing light to enter the hall. Above the windows a border of painted ornament very common of the Ottoman decoration language ran along the dome in red and blue. Supporting the dome are four large arches, and between the arches in the spaces are painted calligraphy medallions evoking the name of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, as especially interesting, the amalgamation of the names of the four rightful caliphs – Abu Bakar and Umar in one medallion, Uthman and Ali and on another. I unfortunately cannot read the central medallion well, even when it was zoomed in. Can anyone fill me in the details? I think it is the Surah An Nur 24:35 but I could be wrong.

After the short visit we proceeded to the next venue in our agenda. We went a bit farther from the Old city, quite near the old city walls of Edirnekapi.

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The  compound of  Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque.

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The dome above the sarcophagus of Yavuz Sultan Selim, in his tomb. Blue painted decoration dominates the building.

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A tile decoration outside the doors of the tomb. These tiles were made with the Cuerda Seca method, as you can see the black borders prominent in the green and yellow shapes.

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A calligraphic panel featuring a verse in the Ali Imran Chapter of the Quran. This seemed to be of later work, as it looks like an Iznik tile panel rather than the ones outside the tombs.

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The main entrance of the mosque. The delicate Muqarnas sits above the portal, decorated with medallions in gold. hat is the purpose of the medallions? Other than decorative, I imagine that they were remnants of Seljuq decoration influence.

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The calligraphic roundel featuring the amalgamation of the names of two of the four rightful caliphs ; Uthman and Ali

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The Mimbar. Wholly made in marble with a conical roof very characteristic of Ottoman imperial mosques.

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The dome of the main prayer hall.  Simple and yet beautiful