Deconstructing : “Weird” pattern in Suleymaniye Mosque

As I had noted in one of my posts under the Istanbul series I had found a rather peculiar pattern on the carpet of the Suleymaniye Mosque. Perhaps a modern or new take on a classic pattern, this nevertheless it is rather unsettling, for me at least, as a stuent of Islamic art and Islamic Geometry.

The carpet is part of the carpeting for the main prayer hall, where it becomes a border. I *think* it is carpeting for the corridors on the side of the main hall, but my memory could betray me. It is in a dark tan colour, light mauve and light blue. A floral pattern not unlike Iznik tiles further embellish the pattern executed in white with black borders. The colours looks a bit faded ; perhaps it has not been replaced for quite a while. However, this is not the issue I am addressing…

It is the pattern itself. Again whether it is intentional or not (I believe carpeting this large would be made with machinery, thus have their limitations) or just ,again, simply a modern take on a well known classic eight fold pattern, I will not be able to know. I think I stared at the carpet for a few minutes when I saw it, trying to deconstruct it and trying to make sense of the pattern. I feel a bit betrayed, for the lack of better word, to see such a weird pattern in one of the greatest mosques in Islam. I would expect a better executed pattern in a setting such as this, but again I could understand that it could be an effort to breathe a new life to a classic but rather overused pattern.

This is the pattern I am talking about.


Below I had marked the problematic shapes I found within the pattern, namelya square and a half bow-tie shape.


This is a (amateur) computer rendition of the said pattern with the strange shapes coloured ; red for the squares and yellow for the half bow-ties. The blue line marks where the borders of the pattern in the carpet. I honestly think they would be better off repeating the eight pointed stars with the projected triangles of the center pattern rather than making thse awkward shapes. It feel like there is no flow ; the line stopping abruptly at the sharp corners of the squares.


Below is the classic rendition of this eight fold pattern. Instead of the sqaures and half bow-tie shapes used in the above pattern, I replaced them with octagons, marked in green and in bold lines. This creates a visual flow to the pattern, so that your eyes naturally follows the line continuously without any abrupt stops, unlike the pattern with the squares. With the octagons,  five pointed star shapes is created instead of arrows.


Deconstructing – The Walkway Pattern in Taman Jubli Perak Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah

I am now adding different categories in this blog to write with – three categories, in fact. One will be Constructing, to replace the old category Technical. This category will mainly focus and discus on different patterns in Islamic art, and how to create them, using traditional methods and equipments. I will also discuss alternative methods of making a pattern, if applicable. I had posted articles on how to create the common polygons in Islamic art, but I think it was a messed up, incomplete works. So I will start all over again, with more precise methods, step by step, from the ground up to the more complex ones. Actually, this way I am learning how to make the patterns myself. This category is essentially exploring the beauty of Islamic art and delve into the background and discover more beneath the face of the geometrical wonders.

The second one will be Reviews. this will be a whole new category. This category will focus on products such as book…yes, mainly books. Over the years I had obtained a number of books in different subjects but mainly concerning Islamic art ; whether a DIY book on how to make a pattern, a historical reference book or an art book or any book that touches on the subject of Islamic art and architecture, I will try to ‘review’ or at least give my thoughts about one book and whether if it is worthy of your library…and your hard earned money.

The last one will the the category this article will be in, and that is the counterpart of the Constructing category – Deconstructing. This is replace the old Imagining Islamic Aesthetic category. It will mainly discuss on a different parts of a pattern, essentially dissecting a pattern and make us understand how that particular came to be. Most of the time it will be patterns that I find, perhaps from the internet, newspaper, television shows and perhaps from one of my walks and travels.

For this post, I am going to deconstruct a pattern from my very last post, the one about a park in my hometown Bandar Seri Begawan. Just as a refresher, I went to this park during a short break between a session of mad dash from my workplace to my studies. The park is just off the old city center, and sits near a river, with its own jetty. The park, which full name is Taman Jubli Perak Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, was built to commemorate the current Bruneian Sultan, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah for his Silver Jubilee of ruling the country.


The Park I mentioned, bathed in the green glow of lights in the middle of the night.

As always, many contemporary buildings including recreational parks include some Islamic art in the plan, or perhaps just a reference. This abides to the country’s motto Malay Islamic Monarchy, and in an attempt to reflect that motto in daily lives of the people, references of Malay motifs and/or Islamic art are made in various places. It is quite a refreshing thing to know that people are starting to realize Islamic art that is essentially had been a part of their life. However, seeing it becomes more and more common and in a way, abused in an attempt to ‘modernize’ certain patterns, rather left me discouraged.

17062013595The pattern of much curiousity

In the park there is a great fountain, sitting in the middle of the whole area. On the walkway leading up to the fountain, lies a linear series of Islamic patterns, done in granite or some sort of stone. The pattern, while recognizable, aren’t traditional in the Islamic art sense, but perhaps in an attempt to get the modern look without sacrificing the Islamic aesthetic contemporary developers in the country are yearning – or required, maybe?- the pattern itself becomes a rather awkward motif. Nice to look at, in essence, but then again, when you look at hundreds of traditional patterns daily, there is just something amiss with this curious tessellation.

a1A rough sketch I did

As I ponder the pattern, pacing back and forth on the walkway on which the pattern lied in the middle of the night with no one around, I began to make sketches, eager to dissect the motif. The pattern itself is based on a twelve-point star, which is very common in the Islamic world of art, only this time, it is made with granite, instead of on carved wood, or plaster, or mosaic, for example. That is completely acceptable. However, the connecting pattern between the twelve-pointed stars are indeed a curious little pattern in itself. Perhaps an innovation on the architect’s side, perhaps to avoid any complication of plagiarism.

a2Side by side, as it was in the park

Or perhaps, the designer merely wanted a pattern that was Islamic but conforms to the straight line of the walkway. Only the actual designer knew the story. Should the pattern be repeated in a traditional way, there would be no ‘flow’ in a sense that an enthusiast of Islamic art would know the lack of it. It would clearly show grid effect to the pattern, resulting in a rather unpleasant unnatural consistency throughout. However, should the square pattern be refined, a little tweaking, it would make a fine one, although it is still not seen in traditional setting. The square between the stars itself consists of a highly stylized eight-pointed star, almost in the shape of a cross. Arrow shaped polygons surrounds the central cross, terminating in smaller arrows as it touches the twelve-pointed stars.

a3The presumption of the pattern, should it be repeated

Again, the designer did not adhere to the traditional patterns, but invented his own pattern. In order to make the pattern work in a straight layout, he created another distinct shape. To be repeated, however, the pattern doesn’t  fare well. In the end, it is still a work deserves to be applauded, for creativity and originality. Although, honestly, it is sad to see in order to fit into the modern vocabulary, a classic pattern had to be recreated into a different almost bizarre,albeit original, pattern.

a4The pattern colourized and arranged as it was in the park