Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #1

I have not done anything under this Category for a long, long, LONG time and I think I need to post something for this long disregarded category. Only I am thinking to reboot it and change it from a weekly post concentrating on an aspect of Islamic art, architecture and culture to actually Imagining the Islamic aesthetic – visually that is.

I am thinking to post a deconstructed version of Islamic Geometric pattern I find somewhere…might be from the newspapers, the internet, my surroundings, anywhere, any designs that I might find most interesting to emulate, and redraw it in a simpler way, so you can really appreciate the one I am showing.

Without further ado, this is Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #1 –


I found this image from a tumblr site (Mihrab Musings) and it is from a Flickr site of a fellow named Hadi Fooladi. It is a photography of an underside of an Arch, looking over a minaret close by. The location is supposed to be in Iran, and I am not surprised since this kind of elegant decoration is almost always from Iran or somewhere in that region. What strikes me the most is the pattern on the underside of the arch ; it has this carpet like quality of beautiful arabesques and colours, and has an interesting pattern of the ubiquitously Islamic design of the Eight pointed star.

this is my deconstruction of the pattern to the most simplest form –


The original pattern does not repeats since it is on a linear form, on the curve of the arch. However it is quite good to be repeated. Above is the absolutely breakdown of the original pattern, with the colours matching, albeit very dull and inorganic. The pattern is in fact, the classic stars-and-cross design, but with an angeled twist. The red coloured shapes should be squares, should be it in the classic pattern, but in this example it has a rather bird like shape, with the ‘beak’ touching a square outside the star pattern , the ‘wings’ touching the squares that touches the eight pointed stars, and the ‘tail’ reaching the star itself. The result made the ‘cross’ section of the pattern has notches and bumps. In the middle of the notched ‘cross’ is another isolated eight pointed star. However in the original picture it actually -barely- touches the squares of the star pattern, with the arabesques that sprung from it.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #47 – Islamic Fountains

I am still struggling with picture uploading issue of Do I have to  really compress the images to a miniscule proportions? I will try to troubleshoot again and hope that it will be fixed soon.

In the meanwhile, let’s start the year with a brand new Imagining Islamic Aesthetics post (which, I haven’t done in quite a while.) This time we will take a look into the art and architecture of Islamic fountains, and  examine a few famous fountains throughout the Islamic World.

Fountains in the Islamic world is ubiquitous. Usually placed in a public place such as mosques or chosen spots in the city streets, fountains play a role of offering the faithful a place for ritual ablutions before prayers as well as providing drinking and washing spot for the public. It is also utilized in private places such as homes and palaces where fountains are a feature in gardens, often centrally placed. It is also used in private spaces for cooling the air, providing drinking water and offers the pleasant sound of water splashing.

It is known that Ancient Persian developed a system of transporting water into underground channels that feeds underground canal which subsequently brought water for drinking, irrigation, bathing as well as water features such as fountains. This idea and the techniques used by the Ancient Persian was then used by the conquering Muslims in the 7th Century, also taking the traditional Garden designs and fountains. By the 9th Century the ideas and technologies were improved and Muslims studied Ancient Roman and Greek methods and techniques for the transporting of water that includes fountains and pools. Since then the ideas of gardens, pools and fountains spread throughout the Islamic world and metamorphosed into different forms.

Following are a few famous examples of Islamic Fountains –

The Court of the Lions and the famous fountain from where the name of the court was taken. (This picture shows the fountain being repaired and restored, and the statues removed presumably for restoration work)) The garden features a fountain of large vasque held up by twelve lion statues. Water rises from above the basin and flows out of the lions’ mouths, irrigating the four canals of the garden. This is an example a plan taken from the design of a Persian garden ; a pool or fountain in the middle of a cross-shaped canals.

The walkways, garden and pools of the Taj Mahal, seen on top of the platform on which the mausoleum stood. Like the Court of the Lion’s fountain, This garden is also based on the design of Persian Garden, only on a much larger scale. You can see the four canals making the four arms of the cross, and a fountain in the middle.

The Fountain of Qasim Pasha on the Temple Mount site in Jerusalem. built during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent of the the Ottoman Empire, the fountain serves as a drinking fountain and a place for ritual ablution. This is an example of Ottoman style fountain albeit it is plain and unadorned, perhaps due to because it is a humble place for ablution. However the general profile of the structure of octagonal shape, a canopy roof and a small dome above is a consistent feature of Ottoman fountains.

A fountain in the Mosque of Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco. The western North African countries, particularly Morocco, are famed with the beauty of the Zellige tiles, and it is no surprise that they would be used in one of the country’s grandest and beautiful mosque. This fountain perhaps serves as drinking fountain or just an ornamental one, since the mosque provides a separate ablution area for the faithful.

A fountain in the Palace of Azem (Qasr Azem) in Damascus, Syria. Fountains in Syria, Egypt and the surrounding east coast of Meditteranean countries commonly are octagonal basins with a fountain spout in the middle. It is often made of stone, particularly marble, and decorated with mosaics of tiles and mother-of-pearls common to the area.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #46 – Illuminated Qur’an

Illuminated manuscript in general, whether Islamic, Christian or any other religion or groups that used illumination techniques in their works and manuscripts, is a artistic decorating technique that utilizes gold or silver, usually used for special books like a prayer book, a Bible or in this case, a Qur’an.
Gold or silver is usually painted on special pages of the Qur’an such as the opening chapter of the book, The Surah Fatihah, the first 5 ayat (verses) of the first chapter, the Surah Al Baqarah and the last pages of the Qur’an.
As Qur’an is very special to the Muslims as it is their holy book it is befitting that illumination is a preferred decoration for the sacred text. Other manuscripts such as poem books or miniature books are also sometimes decorated in gold or silver, but Illumination is most grand in Qur’an.

AN ILLUMINATED OTTOMAN QUR'AN, COPIED BY AHMED NAILI OF GALATA (D.1813), TURKEY, DATED A.H. 1193/A.D. 1779 Arabic Manuscript on paper, 303 leaves, 15 lines to the page written in neat naskhi script in black ink, ruled in a thick gold border, verses separated by gold rosettes with coloured dots, sura headings in white against gold ground cartouches with coloured floral decoration, illuminated marginal devices comprising flowerheads issuing sprays in colours and gold, tenth verses marked with a gold 'ashr' in the margin, double page frontispiece decorated with enjoined coloured flowers against blue and gold grounds, the text within cloudbands against a punched gold backgound, within a contemporary gilt-stamped morocco binding with marbled-paper doublures and flap. 20 by 13cm. Photography/ Text © Sotheby´s


Mushaf sheets is dated 1211 A. H. (1796 C. E.) Size: 17 x 12.4 cm. The copy was made by Hafiz Mustafa. The book was bought in Damascus in 1896. Location: National Library of the Czech Republic. Photograph © National Library of the Czech Republic.


Photograph ©HAT SAN'ATI Tarihçe, Malzeme ve Örnekler, Istanbul.
Dimensions of Written Surface: Recto: 9.5 (w) x 19 (h) cm Script: Ottoman naskh This fragment contains on the top line the last two verses (ayat) of the last chapter (surah) of the Qur'an, entitled Surat al-Nas (Chapter of Mankind). This particular chapter extols seeking refuge in the Lord from Satan, who, like the spirits (al-jinn), whispers evil things in the hearts of people (116:5-6). The verses at the top of the folio are separated by two ayah markers shaped like gold disks with five blue dots on their peripheries. Immediately below the last verse of the Qur'an appears a prayer in five lines praising God, the Prophet Muhammad, and all Prophets (or messengers, al-mursilin) of Islam. The continuation of this terminal du'a (or formulaic prayer) continues in illuminated bands on the folio's verso (see 1-85-154.74 V and James 1992b: 178-9, cat. no. 43). The prayer is beautifully calligraphed in large Ottoman naskh in alternating gold and blue ink. This prayer is said upon completion of the Qur'an (al-du'a ba'd khatim al-Qur'an), in which God is praised as the all-hearing (al-sami') and the all-knowing (al-'alim). It continues the initial, non-illuminated five-line prayer on the folio's recto (1-85-154.74 R) and serves as an appropriate closing to the Holy Book. In some cases, illuminated terminal prayers in rectangular bands such as this one precede a four-page treatise on how to practice divination (fal) using the letters of the Qur'an (see 1-84.154.42 R). Although only one illuminated folio remains, it originally would have created a double-page illuminated du'a. This layout is typical of Safavid Persian Qur'ans from the second half of the 16th century (see James 1992b: 178-9, cat. no. 43), as well as Ottoman Turkish Qur'ans from the same period. For instance, a similar prayer appears immediately at the end of an Ottoman Turkish Qur'an dated 980/1573, now held in the Keir Collection in London, England (VII.49; Robinson 1976, 294). Due to similarities in script (in which three lines of text in gold alternate with a line in white ink), composition, and illumination, the prayer fragment here probably dates from the second half of the 16th century as well.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #45 – Islamic Stars in our Daily Life

This article is just a casual look into Geometric shapes, particularly Islamic stars and motifs, and its role in the daily life as aesthetics. These pics were all taken by me, in the time frame of  between Ramadan and the early weeks of Shawal and the Eid.(Although I have to considerably resize all the photos to a fraction of the original size just because WordPress doesn’t allow a 12mp picture to be posted. My bad.)

A biscuit I was munching on after Iftaar (breaking the fast). Actually it was two biscuits sandwiching a lump of coarse, sticky pineapple jam, the other one with the lump of jam was already in its way to the digestive system of my body. A little close inspection and you would realize that the shape resembles a 12-pointed star. Get me another bunch of these and I will make you an edible wall covering.

A fabric on sale in a Mall here in Brunei. It was intended for making a women’s dress. I was just passing by the stall that is selling it with my parents and I immediately stopped and thought, Zellige! So I stayed a few minutes since my mum was also looking at something else. I thought, I should post this on my blog. The colours, though in my opinion a little bit somber, but the splash of orange was a nice touch and gives it a modern look. Just saying.

A small key-chain bag I bought as a souvenir when I was in Bali, Indonesia.  It is a small bag suitable for keys and loose change chained to a key ring and wrapped in Batik fabric. I took it because it looks nice and the colours are good enough for a guy like me to tote around and wait…isn’t that the ubiquitous Eight-pointed stars and cross pattern so much loved in the world of Islamic art? I guess people tend to notice the snowflakes design before the geometric pattern.

I had a rather crazy idea of making lamp shades when I saw a few modern light pieces with Islamic design influence online. This one is an utter failure, but it still casts pretty shadows off my walls in the night. I replaced the IKEA lampshade with my own creation made using perforated with star designs construction paper (!) laminated with plastic. I need to concentrate and take it slow, because this was made in just a day!

In Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore (not sure about the Indonesians), During Eid or Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Malay kids were given green (or in this case yellow, since these days it comes in a myriad of colours already) packets filled with money called Angpow/Angpao– a tradition taken from the Chinese where they would give children and unmarried girls and boys red Angpao during the Chinese New Year. I received these when I was a child and stopped around my early teenage years (my nephew who is 14 this year still received it, no fair!). this is the pack I was going to give to my nephews and nieces and I noticed the beautiful panel of Arabesques and Islamic geometric star.

All that is done, I would like to convey a deep sympathy for the family of two girls who died in a freak accident ; a tragic incident here that causes a wide stir among the Bruneian population. Just a few days ago an unfortunate accident happened in the Primary School in Mabohai, Brunei where two preschoolers died  when a teacher of the school reversed her car and ran onto the children. I don’t have any ideas about how  the unfortunate mishap happened other than this, and since the local news were also unreliable, it is only safe to say that only the poor victims knew what really happened. I would like to say deep condolences to the families affected…May Allah guide their souls.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics # 44 – Tughras

Tughras (Ottoman Turkish: طغراء; Ṭuğrā) is a signature or a seal of an Ottoman Sultan used in his official documentations as well as minted on coins of his reign. Every sultan in the Ottoman empire had his own Tughra and it is drawn by the court calligrapher or nişancı. It is also used by leaders of other countries such as the former president of Russia Vladimir Putin and the Japanese Emperor Akihito. It is also used by former Turkic states such as the Khanate of Kazan.

Scanned from an image of an original document (Mulkname) in the Istanbul Topkapi Palace Museum Archives. Document from reign of Orhan I (1326-1359). This is officially the first Tughra for an Ottoman Sultan

Tughra of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520). Tughras are often heavily decorated since it is the signature of the reigning Sultan. It is also designed to be complex as to deter counterfeits of the signature.

Meskuk 500 Kuruş coin minted in Kostantiniye (Constantinople), 1336/1. Coins are minted with Tughras of the current reigning Sultan.

An Ottoman Sultan’s Tughra on a medal called the Gallipoli Star.

Detail of the Ottoman Tughra, at the Gate of Felicity in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics # 43 – Fatimid Caliphate Art and Architecture

I had promised that I will post Imagining Islamic Aesthetics posts twice per month in my last IIA posting, so here it is, enjoy!


For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics I would like to focus on Fatimid Caliphate Art and Architecture. Since this blog focuses on art, I will not elaborate much on the history of the caliphate…not for the time being though. I will do another full article on the Fatimid Dynasty, as well as the artistic and architectural impact they had done to the Islamic art and generally to the creative world itself.

The Fatimid Caliphate was founded in 909  before being taken over by the Ayyubids in the year 1171. The Fatimids founded the Egyptian capital of Cairo or Al-Qahira in 969,  and their rule reached  Palestine, the Hijaz peninsula, most of north Africa and even a part of Italy. Since their area of power is a where trade routes between the Indian subcontinent and the Mediterranean cross the Fatimid Caliphate was a successful and rich period of Islamic dynasty. The opulence of the Fatimid court led to a rediscovery of appreciation of the arts.

Ewer with birds. Body: rock crystal (Fatimid art, late 10th century–early 11th century); lid: filigreed gold (Italy, 11th century). From the Treasure of Saint-Denis. Rock crystal artistry is particularly prevalent in the Fatimid era.

Panel with hunters. Carved and engraved ivory with traces of paint, 11th–12th century, Egypt. Figurative representations were not uncommon in Fatimid Egypt and was a subject of many artifact done at that time.

Author - Memorato

Museo dell’Opera del Duomo: Griffin-shaped fountain spout. Bronze. Early 11th. century artwork from Al-Andalus or Fatimid Egypt (from Palermo ?) Fatimid art and sculptures were also appreciated outside the Muslim world and even used to hold sacred items and in churches.

Author - Md iet (talk). Original uploader was Md iet at en.wikipedia

Insciption above the main portal of the Al Aqmar Mosque, Cairo, Egypt. The Kufic script were mostly used in the Fatimid era, from monumental inscriptions to amulets.

The Al-Azhar mosque seen in the Sahn (courtyard) The Al-Azhar mosque is also a part of the Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest university in the world. Al-Azhar was taken from the name of Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, whose full name is Fatima Az-zahra

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #42 – Modern Mosques

I realized that I haven’t been posting anything for quite a long time…As usual I am pretty busy with work and other responsibilities that I couldn’t find the time to blog. But anyway now I have some time to kill I decide to post some things that I meant to post weeks ago!

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics (which, I want to point now, it will be a post per month or maybe hopefully every fortnight ) I will bring out the topic of Modern Mosques. The last time I touched the topic of Modern Islamic architecture was a general outlook of Islamic architecture of today. For this Imagining Islamic Aesthetic we would like to focus on the religious side of Islamic modern architecture. Please do bear in mind that Islamic architecture doesn’t mean that the architectural style is exclusive only to the religion ; Islamic architecture covers a wide scope  in which it is utilized in Islamic countries mainly but also used for secular buildings as well as by different religions under the countries.


An example of modern Islamic architecture. The mosque is located on a corniche by the red sea. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Judging from the architectural style it is still pretty much traditional, however the materials used are not, hence being labelled modern.

The dazzling alabaster marbled Istiqlal mosque of Jakarta, Indonesia, seen from the base of its tower. The national mosque of Indonesia, also the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. This mosque is quite a popular tourist spot in Jakarta, even Barack Obama once visited the mosque with his wife in his visit to Indonesia. There are very little features that follows traditional mosque architecture for example the mihrab and the domes. It is a good example of modern contemporary mosque.

h_kinani Original uploader was H kinani at en.wikipedia

Hajja Soad mosque in Khartoum, Sudan.  Another mosque that departs from the traditional mosque architecture, favouring sloping roofs instead of domes and a sharp, tall pyramidal minaret.

Author - Asjad Jamshed

Faisal mosque in Pakistan . Named for Faisal of Saudi Arabia, it is the largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia and one of the largest mosques in the world. Another great example of Modern mosque

Photo taken by Finlay McWalter on September 4th 2005.

Glasgow Central Mosque is located on the south bank of the River Clyde in the Gorbals district of central Glasgow, Scotland. The architecture follows loosely on traditional styles, but the materials used are modern as well as the details. The main dome is made out of glass and allows natural light into the main prayer hall.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetic #40 – Famous Islamic Monuments

With the expand of the Islamic Empire and more and more people come to embrace the Islamic aesthetics, the people by time built great monuments of Islamic architecture each with their own flair and style. All over the world there are excellent examples of these Islamic monuments, and some of them stood as the best. For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, we will look into five of the finest monuments that feature Islamic architecture that stood as the testament of the influence and wonders of the Islamic Aesthetics, according to location and style.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Palestine-

Author - Deror Avi

The Dome of the Rock or Qubbat As-Sakhra (قبة الصخرة‎) is one of the most important Islamic Shrine after The Grand Mosque of Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. It is completed in 691AD under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik, built on the Temple Mount where it is believed that the Temple of Solomon once stood. The Muslims believed that a rock inside it, the Foundation Rock is where Prophet Muhammad once stood before ascending to the Heavens in an event called the Mi’raj.

The Dome of the Mosque is often confused with the al-Aqsa Mosque, which stood nearby. It remains one of the most popular tourists spot in Jerusalem, alongside the Wailing wall of the Jews and the Church of the Holy Sephulchre of the Christians.

The Shah Mosque in Iran

The Shah Mosque or the Masjid-I-Shah as it is known in Persian is one of the most beautiful example of Islamo-Persian architecture. It stood on the north-side of the Naghsh-i Jahan Square, and built during the Safavid period which started construction on 1611. The Shah Mosque is said to be one of the most magnificent masterpiece of Islamic Persian Architecture.

The Mosque, along with the Naghsh-i-Jahan Square is registered under the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the best sites to see in Iran. Its beauty mainly because of the seven-coloured tiles and the beautiful calligraphy.

The Alhambra palaces in Spain

Author – comakut

Al-Qalat Al-Hamra (لْقَلْعَةُ ٱلْحَمْرَاءُ,) or simply known as Alhambra, translated as the Red Fort or the Red One respectively, is a complex of fortress and palace built during the 14th Century by the Emirate of Granada of Al-Andalus, occupying on the hill of Assabica. It is the last palace of the Nasrid Dynasty. It is rediscovered after it fall under disrepair after the Reconquista in the 19th Century by European travelers and scholars.

It became many inspirations of songs and poetry, and it was registered as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it became one of the well known Islamic architecture, as well as a major tourist site for Spain.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia (Greek for Holy Wisdom) or Aya Sofya in Turkish was once a church, but later is converted into a mosque when Sultan Mehmed took over Constantinople (old name of Istanbul) in 1453AD and then secularized to become a museum under Mustafa Kemal in 1935. The former mosque is the main inspiration of all Turkish Mosque, for example the Blue Mosque which stood just in front of it. The Architecture is Byzantine in style, but when it became the inspiration of Islamic mosques in the Ottoman Empire, it became synonymous with Islamic architecture.

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Author – Dhirad, picture edited by J. A. Knudsen

The Taj Mahal in Agra India is in fact a tomb dedicated by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It remained one of the most recognizable monuments in the world also considered as the most beautiful structure. It is the finest example of Mughal Architecture combining Indian, Islamic and Persian architectural styles. It is made out of white marble with decorations inlaid with semi-precious stones.

The Taj Mahal became one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1983. Millions of visitors came to India to witness the symbol of love that is Taj Mahal.





Imagining Islamic Aesthetic #39 – Nasrid Art and Architecture

Now I am restarting the IIA (Imagining Islamic Aesthetic) after a long time not posting any articles under this category. For this edition, I would like to focus on one of my favourite Islamic period, in the artistic sense, the Nasrid period.

The Nasrid dynasty, or Banu Nasr in Arabic was the last Muslim dynasty that ruled Spain, rising to power after the collapse of the Almohad Dynasty in 1212. The Nasrids are known for their expansive palaces and mosques, as well as highly developed arts. Below are few of great examples of Nasrid art and architecture.

Nasrid situla from the Alhambra of Granada, Made of cast, engraved, nielloed and fire-gilded bronze. At the rim (repeated): “The continuous happiness”. At medallions: “Happiness and prosperity, blessing and wishes come true”.

Alhambra-type vase, made in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.It comes from Hornos (Province of Jaén, Andalusia, Spain).

Lamp from the mosque of Oran (Algeria). It is a bell reused and transformed into a lamp.It was made in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

mosaics and arabesks on a wall of the Myrtle court, Alhambra, Granada, Spain. The tiling, called Zillij or Zellige in Morocco can be found all over the Alhambra and Generalife complex.

Author - Hans Bernhard (Schnobby)

The Alhambra in Granada (Spain) at night. Alhambra is one, if not the proudest and most grandeur architectural masterpiece of Nasrid dynasty.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #38 – The Three Islamic Decorative Canon

In my last posts, I wrote about the three Islamic Decorative Canon that is Calligraphy, Geometrical art and Arabesques. For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics I would like to show you a few examples of when these three elements of Islamic Decoration Canon is combined.

The three elements of the Islamic Decorative Canon an usually been seen being used together to create a beautiful pieces that can be usually seen in mosques or other highly significant monuments such as palaces, or it could also been found on daily items such as caskets. Usually, if it is used for monumental decoration it can be seen used on certain spots such as the Mihrab wall (the wall that is facing Mecca in mosques) or on Iwans (tall gateway entrances). Should the combination of these three be used on all over the monument, it would create a very busy and confusing decoration!

A Mihrab being displayed in the Pergammnon Museum. It features the three Islamic Decorative Canon- Geometrical patterns on the inside of the Mihrab, Calligraphy around the archway of the Mihrab as well as Arabesques.

Author - Fabio Alessandro Locati

A Wall decoration inside the Alhambra, Spain. The Nasrid-era palace is one of the finest masterpieces of Islamic art and architecture. Here floral Arabesque patterns can be seen enclosed by Geometrical patterns and features calligraphy.


Mausoleum of Qutub ud Din Aibak in Lahore, Pakistan. Apart from the Jaalis (pierced screen decoration) done in Geometric patterns, You can see calligraphic works around the gate as well as above the doorway itself, done in two distinctly different calligraphy style.

A wall in Bou Inania Medrasa in Fez, Morocco. The famed Zillij tiles uses Geometric patterns, While tile panels and plaster carvings of calligraphy can be seen above it, as well as Arabeques done in carved plaster, just like it is in the Alhambra.

Folio from a Koran; Title page (Sura An-Najm). Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. H: 32.6 W: 25.2 cm. Egypt. Date late 14th century. The Quran is a sacred text held high by the Muslims, so it is very natural that they feature is with rich decoration.