Observation – Hagia Sophia is Now a Mosque

If you follow world news and/or have social media account, there is a chance that would have seen the news about the Hagia Sophia.

Last Friday, 10th of July, the Turkey State Council reinstated the status of Hagia Sophia or the Ayasofya in Turkish, from a museum back into a mosque, much to the chagrin of the international community. It was turned into a museum by Ataturk about 86 years ago after establishing the Republic of Turkey. There are a lot of comments regarding this reversion, even as the plans were announced. There were almost equal reactions – many Turkish and international community, mostly Muslims , praised the move by President Erdogan, calling it a victory for the Muslims. while on the other hand, there are the opposer of this as well.

If you follow world news and/or have social media account, there is a chance that would have seen the news about the Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia is one of the monuments that I had visited during my trip to Istanbul back in 2017. You can read all about it here :


Last Friday, 10th of July, the Turkey State Council reinstated the status of Hagia Sophia or the Ayasofya in Turkish, from a museum back into a mosque, much to the chagrin of the international community. It was turned into a museum by Ataturk about 86 years ago after establishing the Republic of Turkey. There are a lot of comments regarding this reversion, even as the plans were announced. many Turkish and international Muslim community , praised the move by President Erdogan, calling it a victory for Islam. On the other hand, opposition, mainly from Greece, Russia, the EU and US, criticized this change of status.

I am not going to delve into any political aspects of this issue, but I want to express my feelings about this. I have mixed feelings about it. As a Muslim, I am glad to be able to pray in this mosque again in the future as well as to be able to freely visit it. But at the same time I am worried about the Byzantine mosaics that are in the mosque. What will happen to them? They are beautiful examples of Byzantine Christian art and of a very important historical artifacts. To cover them again like what was done during the Ottoman times would be rather a terrible idea because no one would be able to see them again. If they decide to move the mosaics on the other hand, they might (and will) destroy these pieces of art. As an appreciator of art I enjoy art in all forms, even those which aren’t in my field, in this case Christian devotional artwork, and just like botched art restoration like this, knowing that these works are in danger breaks my heart.

This issue is such a complicated one to be honest, and just to view it on one opinion only would be a selfish perspective. I am happy to see that this museum is turned into a mosque again, I am just concerned with the Christian symbols inside and what will happen to them.

UPDATE : Apparently they will use “Optical, light-based technology, carpets and curtains” to cover up the mosaics for every time Islamic prayer is conducted. Read here :


Here are some of the mosaics I took at the Hagia Sophia in 2017, before it was reverted into a mosque. What is your views about this? Do you support this move, or are you one of the dissidents? Or perhaps, you are like me, in between the two positions? Tell me down below in the comments!

The Virgin Mary and Jesus Mosaic directly above the Mihrab, where the apse of the former cathedral used to be.
An image of a seated Jesus above the narthex before entering the main hall.
Crosses underneath superimposed floral motifs, probably happened during the Iconoclastic era in Christianity. These are not mosaics but painting (I presume) but still it is an important part of the Christian period of the mosque.
The Comnenus mosaic, dating from the 1122, showing the Virgin Mary and Jesus flanked by Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe
A detail of the Deesis Mosaic, one of the most famous Christian Byzantine artwork in the Hagia Sophia. It depicts Jesus, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, made in 1261

Observation : Orientalist Paintings in The Dolmabahce Palace

The last post I made I noted that I had visited Dolmabahce Palace, one of the late Ottoman period architectural masterpiece in Istanbul. When I visited the palace I forgot to mention that it also hosted the National Palaces Painting Museum, one of the finest museum displaying Ottoman paintings mostly from the 18th and 19th Century.

Like the rest of the Palace, you cannot take photos inside this museum (or I assume, judging from the glaring eyes of the staff there) so I cannot really show anything much from the place. But the museum displays a lot of beautiful Orientalist paintings, many of which are done by one of my favourite Ottoman painter, Osman Hamdi Bey. There are also paintings by other notable Ottoman painters such as Seker Ahmad Pasha, Hodja Ali Riza and Huseyn Zekai Pasha as well as western Orientalist painters and even Sultan Abdulmecit himself, who is regarded as one of the celebrated Ottoman painter.

I took a photo of one of Osman Hamdi Bey’s painting in the Cinli Kosk of the Istanbul Archeological Museum. That is the first time I had seen his painting in person for the first time. After that I made a point to look out for more of his painting, and coming to this museum is a right choice, as I had the chance to view more of his paintings here alongside other notable Ottoman and western Orientalist painters.

The museum hosted around 200 paintings spread over 11 sections in the former Crown Prince residences of the palace. Although I cannot take pictures in this museum, Here I present to you some of the paintings I saw in the museum, taken from Wikipedia and other sites. I will also show you a general view of the interior of the museum which is actually quite beautiful in its own right as well. I will also add a Youtube link here celebrating one of his famous artwork here., although this particular one is not featured in this museum.

There are a lot of paintings in this museum as I noted before, but I cannot take any pictures inside thus I cannot post too much of them here. I posted here what I had saw in the museum. Most of the paintings on display there was not available online ; except these ones that I could find –

Fountain of Youth, Osman Hamdi Bey. Currently in Alte Nationalgalrie in Berlin. This is the painting I seen in the Istanbul Archeological Museum, featuring the room in the Cinli Kosk.
Mehmet II entering Constantiople, Fausto Zonaro. One of the most famous painting in Turkey which is reproduced very often. I see this painting next to Sultan Mehmet’s Portrait
Conquest of Constantinople, Fausto Zonaro. This one doesnt get reproduced often, but it is still displayed in the museum
Lady Having Her Hair Combed by a Servant, Osman Hamdi Bey, courtesy of http://artnote.eu/osman-hamdi-bey-an-ottoman-empire-painter/. I think I saw this painting in this gallery. The background reminds me of the Fountain of Youth painting above. The balustrade motif is taken from Topkapi Palace
Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky – Venice. I think I saw this painting in the gallery. The painter is one of the featured artist in this museum.
The Tortoise Trainer, Osman Hamdi Bey. This painting is not in this Museum (it is in PEra Museum though) but I would just like to put it here simply because this is one of his most famous work.
A View inside the museum, courtesy of https://www.aa.com.tr/en/culture-and-art/experts-restore-ottoman-paintings-in-istanbul/58017
The video on The Tortoise Trainer I had posted above

Observations – Isra & Mi’raj in Miniature

A few days ago, amidst the COVID-19 scare around the world, we Muslims celebrated a night on the 27th of Rejab (corresponding to 22nd of March, on a Sunday), a night that we called the Isra’ & Mi’raj.

Also known as the Lailatul Mi’raj (Arabic) Israk Mikraj (Malay ) Mirac Kandili (Turkish) and Shab-e-Miraj (Iran, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), it was a celebration of remembrance of the night where the Prophet Muhammad traveled on a creature named the Burak from Mecca to Palestine in a single night – unheard of  during his time – and his ascension to the heavens above where he met other prophets such as Ibrahim Alaihi Salam (Abraham), Musa Alaihi Salam (Moses) Isa Alaihi Salam (Jesus) and other prophets before meeting Allah himself. On this night Allah commanded us Muslims to pray five times a day.

The Isra and Mi’raj is one of the most significant of events in the Islamic calendar, particularly because on this night Allah commanded the five daily prayers, one of the key pillar of Islam. Throughout history, Muslims remembered this event in their own way, some offered extra supplications and prayers. Some dedicated artworks to commemorate this miraculous event, as this article will shed a light upon. Many artworks, in particular miniatures, were made to remember this night.

NOTE : I will not add any miniatures that features the Prophet Muhammad unveiled, as this is for me at least disrespectful towards the holy image of the Prophet. I will only feature those that have the Prophet’s face veiled. Also the Burak and the Angels depicted in the miniatures are purely of the imagination of the painter, so please, especially if you are not  Muslim, do not take the miniatures to be the rightful images of the holy beings. Should you be interested in the miniatures that feature the Prophet unveiled you may Google them, bearing in mind that those images are merely the imaginations of the illustrators, as usually these miniatures were made long after the demise of the Prophet. 

This work is coming form a Khamseh of Nizami. It is ascribed to Sultan Muhammad (Wikipedia). This work depicts the Prophet (centre, with his face veiled ) upon the Burak ascending into heaven. The angels surrounding him carries various items, such as an incense burner, a crown, a robe as well as food, offering them to the Prophet as he rode the Burak. One of the angel with the fire halo in front of the Prophet is thought to be Jibril (Gabriel). The angels and the clouds were clearly Chinese influenced.

Creator:Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) Book Title – Iskandarnama (The book of Iskandar) (Wikipedia). In this miniature we see again the Prophet upon the Burak, with his face veiled, being lead on by an angel (probably Jibril the Archangel) while being looked upon by other angels.  The crown and the hair of the angels were characteristically Persian. 

Makhzan al-Asrār by Niẓāmīمخزن الاسرار Folio 3v The Prophet on Burāq (From https://classicalastrologer.me/2015/12/24/thisra-and-miraj/)  Here you can see the Prophet on the top right with angels following him, in front of a map of the constellation.

Prophet Muhammad travels the seven heavens on Buraq, (from https://classicalastrologer.me/2015/12/24/thisra-and-miraj/) Here the image of the Prophet is fully replaced by a fire, visiting each level of Heaven.

A Persian miniature taken from the Siyer-i Nebi is a Turkish epic about the life of Muhammad, completed around 1388. The Ottoman ruler Murad III commissioned a lavish illustrated copy of the work. The calligrapher Lutfi Abdullah completed the work in 1595. The Prophet Muhammad is always shown veiled. The Isra and Mi’raj, are the two parts of a Night Journey, according to Islamic tradition, the prophet Muhammad took during a single night around the year 621, described as both a physical and spiritual journey. In the journey, Muhammad travels to “the farthest mosque” where he leads other prophets in prayer. The illustration depicting the Isra is captioned: ” During the night journey, Muhammad led patriarchs, Old Testament prophets and angels in prayer in a celestial mosque.” (fromhttps://www.sciencesource.com/archive/The-Isra–Muhammad-s-Night-Journey–621-AD-SS2439414.html)

Observation : What Will We Lose If a War in Iran Broke Out

In recent years we have seen wars breaking out all over the world particularly in the middle east, and this means losing our cultural heritages to the ravages and destruction of war, Islamic or not.

When the new year, and the new decade is just a few days old, the threat of a war between the United States and Iran became more and more apparent. Especially, after the murder of General Soleimani of Iran. Now, I am not going to talk about politics (as it is one of my most despised topic) but if ever the war break out, the damage would not be not on the leaders of these two countries, but the civilians, the people of these two countries, their friends and families, their properties, and their spaces not to mention their cultural heritages.

Iran has a rich history of art and architecture stretching back way before Islam. Persian art and architecture become instrumental in the development of Islamic art and architecture, as many feature of the former influenced the latter. Without saying, Iran is where many wonders of the Islamic world are. Seljuk, Ilkhanid, Timurid, Safavid, Zand and Qajar empires and dynasties all in one point in time, made Iran a part of their territory, in some parts or all of the country. I had never been there, although it is one of my wish to go there to study the extensive Islamic art and architecture this impressive country has to offer. How can I study these empires and dynasties, should a war broke out?

If the war between these two countries break out, we are at risk on losing several important significant Islamic wonders in Iran, for example :

The Shah Mosque, Soltani Mosque or Imam Mosque in the Grand Bazaar in Tehran ;

The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan ;

Kerman Friday Mosque in Kerman, Iran ;

Nasir-ol-molk Mosque or the Pink Mosque in Shiraz, and

Absolutely not forgetting the majestic Sheikh Lotfallah mosque in Isfahan, Iran.

We had lost many Islamic marvels and wonders because of the destruction that war had caused in recent years, for example in Iraq or Syria, and if this tension continues between the United States and Iran and escalates into another frightening war, then it would be imminent we will lose more of our irreplaceable heritage, all because of the acts of egotistical leaders.

I hope that nothing will happen from this situation, and I hope once again  the region and the world will find peace.

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.


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


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


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/


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


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


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/

Observations : Brunei’s Istana Nurul Iman Eid Box

Every year during Eid Al-Fitr in Brunei, the Sultan of Brunei would open his palace to visitors for three days starting from the second day of Eid. The palace is open for all visitors, local or foreigners or tourists for a chance to greet the Sultan himself and his family personally, while getting treated to a fabulous buffet of Eid meal as well as a thank you gift from the Sultan (usually in the form of a greeting card) as well as a box of goodies to take back home. Obviously this is a golden chance for anyone and everyone to come and visit him, and see the Sultan eye to eye, and this has been one of the attraction for tourists to come to Brunei. Where in the world you can personally come to a ruler of a country, shook his hands and wish him a Selamat Hari Raya (Happy Eid), and get treated to a fantastic Eid spread, AND get a gift just for visiting? I think you would be very hard pressed to find another example of his unique relationship between a ruler and his people.

This year, I was not able to go to the celebrations (I did not go year after year anyway, because of the sheer number of the people visiting. It is said that the total number of visitors actually exceed the number of the population of Brunei!) because I was admitted to the hospital since about 25th of Ramadhan. However my oldest brother and my older sister gets the chance to go there every year for their work in the information sector of the government, and every year our cabinets will be full of these intricate boxes decorated with Malay and Islamic designs like the Celapa (traditional betel boxes) designed with Islamic geometric pattern as a decoration, and our refrigerators full of cakes usually given along with these boxes.  Usually I would not take a second look at these boxes ; simply because I was not really that interested, and most of the Islamic design used were pretty badly executed, it made me cringe just looking at it . But this year the design quite piqued my interest.

The colours were the usual colour palette used by the creative team of the Palace – Yellow being the main colour year after year (being the Royal Colour of the Sultanate) and another secondary colour, in this case a dark emerald green. However, it was not the colours that attracted my attention – it was the pattern. The pattern  was the classic 12 pointed star arranged in in a six-fold pattern, that is a pattern based on hexagonal grid. The top cover looks promising enough with the pattern featured prominently superimposed with a variation of a traditional kain Tenunan pattern popular in BRunei. The label Istana Nurul Iman, the Sultan’s palace, a silhouette logo of the palace as well as a Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri was embossed in the middle in a gold tone. Looks promising so far, maybe finally the designers did the Islamic pattern right this time?


However, taking a look on the sides, things are looking suspicious. That line separating the white diamond shapes all around the twelve pointed stars are beginning to annoy me as I slowly study the pattern . In the middle of each star is the common Malay songket/tenunan pattern called Tampok Manggis (Mangosteen Base) which is executed nicely.


Turn the box over to its back, and the nightmare begins.


Oh, such horror! fellow Islamic art aficionados, students and OCDs, divert your gaze from such a disgrace!

Alright, it might not be as a dramatic of a mistake, but just take a look at it! Don’t tell me no bone is your body is ticked looking at the glaringly unharmonious design?

Some of you might say, well I don’t see the problem to it. But I disagree, as a student of Islamic art, this is quite a common mistake. The problem actually lies in the tessellation of the pattern. The designer, instead of logically using the Six-fold pattern of tessellation, which better suits six and twelve pointed star patterns, he or she chooses to use a grid of eight-fold pattern, and therefore creates a problem in the pattern.

It creates this unbalanced  shapes in between the stars – an imperfect square, a crossed out diamond, disjointed, unequal lines creating an overall unharmonious pattern overall. Try to trace a line – you will hit unnecessary corners and bumps, unlike when you use a proper six-fold pattern to tessellate the stars. This is because the lines are not equal!

Also it doesn’t help the stars were stretched horizontally, creating a bloated looking star as well as the imperfect squares between the stars become imperfect rectangles.

So, what would be the solution, you might ask? Take a look at my diagram below and you will see how the pattern is very different form the usual, more harmonious use of the twelve star pattern.

If you used a six-fold pattern, or a grid of hexagrams, you can see the stars actually interlocks with each other, so that there is no weird shapes in between the stars. There are only triangles made by each points of the stars, so there would not be any square shapes made from the pattern (you can see here what I mean by the interrupted, unequal lines I mentioned earlier)

The dark green diagram shows how you would tessellate the pattern in a hexagonal pattern. You can see here all the points of the stars match each other. The lighter green uses the same basis, however there is a space in between the stars. This is usually filled by triangles, which will then create a running line between the stars. This is the case for the cover of the box, which uses the same pattern.gergHere are two of the classic examples of the pattern I mentioned above. Try to compare the classical mathematically correct version to the box version, and you will see how the lines works better here.  These examples were taken from the Alhambra.



The pattern from the entrance to the palace of Comares, Alhambra

I have to applaud the work and the creativity of the designer though for his or her effort to combine the aesthetics of Islamic and Malay design in such a gorgeous package, but I hope to see a proper, mathematically correct and harmonious Islamic art used in the future.

Observation – Islamic influences on Traditional Malay Textile pt.2

This post is a continuation of my previous article, which you can find here. For this series of articles I am focusing on the Malay art, particularly in fabric art, where it is one of the most flourishing and well known art in the Malay world.

On the last article I was talking about the ancient art of Batik making, and how Islam and its art influenced the centuries old tradition already established well before the arrival of the religion to the Nusantara. The art of Batik bode well with the usually vegetal and floral motifs of the Islamic art, and added several elements to the art itself such as the usage of Calligraphy.

In the Nusantara another form of Fabric art quite famous in the region is the Songket or Tenunan. The term is sometimes used interchangeably, however it depends on the area of the particular fabric  for example Songket is usually used by the Malays of Malaysia and Indonesia, while Tenunan or Tanunan is more common (and sometimes, the most correct term) in Brunei and certain parts of Indonesia. Several names according to the local languages of each districts also exists, however Songket and Tenunan is the most understood term across the countries.

Etymology – Weaving and Hooking

Songket or Tenunan are a kind of brocade fabric in the Malay Peninsula, which includes present day Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei as well as southern parts of Thailand. The word Songket is believed to refer to the technique used in making these kind of fabric. The word is said to be derieved from the Malay word Sungkit which means ‘to hook’ This is referring to the method of hooking up metallic threads (silver or gold) and threading them into fabric.

Meanwhile, Tenunan means thing woven. This is a reference to the method of making Tenunan where instead of embroidering the gold or silver threads into the cloth, the patterns were woven info the fabric much like weaving a carpet.

Songket and Tenunan fabrics are considered luxury items – these fabrics are used for articles worn especially for formal ceremonies. Usually these fabrics were made into Tanjak or Dastar (Traditional Malay Headgear), Sinjang or Sampin (Traditional waist covering) or even clothes for special ceremonies such as state occasions, weddings or other significant events.

History – The Molten Gold Fabric

Songket or Tenunan history were not very clear, however there were some records that might refer to the Songket or Tenunan, from several different sources. One of the earliest would be a Chinese report in 916AD where Noblemen and women of Brunei were said to wear melted gold colour silk, thought to be referring to the Tenunan fabric. Antonio Pigafetta noted when he visited Brunei in the 16th about the local handicrafts particularly the woven fabric, cementing the fact that cloth weaving was already a widely known and practiced in the local households by that time.

In Indonesia, Songket is associated with the Srivijayan empire based in Sumatera during the 7th to 13th Century. it is believed Songket developed in Sumatra during that time. It is also believed that traders from India brought the fabric and the method into South East Asia somewhere earlier than the 7th century.

However, in Malaysia, these fabrics were thought to originate from the north, around the 16th Century. Although it was also thought the methods and the fabric itself came from Sumatra in the 7th Century.


A variety of motifs and patterns were used for the production of the Songket or Tenunan, given how the craft has developed over time. Motifs were varied, from vegetal and floral motifs to geometric patterns to even modern logos and emblems. Given the method of producing these kind of fabric, the patterns and motifs were operating on a micro square grid, much like pixel art. Therefore, patterns that creates perfect circles are quite rare.

Since the patterns are formed using a system of grid, the more common patterns would be geometric patterns, in the form of stylized natural elements. Floras such as the Pucuk Rebung (Bamboo Shoots) Bunga Melor, (Jasmine) and Tampok Manggis (Mangosteen base) were common motifs across the Malay Nusantara.

The patterns would then be arranged in different ways. Most commonly would be the Bunga Tabor (Scattered Flowers), where the pattern would be arranged in a six fold pattern. In Brunei one of the unique pattern produced here is the Arap Gegati, where the motif are arranged in the same  pattern, with added slanting motifs. Another unique Bruneian motif would be the Sukmaindera, where the motifs are arranged in a four fold pattern within diagonal square grids known as Belitong. All of these pattern I shall analyze in future articles.

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A songket fabric from the collection of the Tropenmuseum. You can see here the geometric motif in one panel, and a vegetal motif known as the Pucuk Rebung on another

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Poserende Minangkabause mannen TMnr 10005045.jpg

Minangkabau men from West Sumatra in traditional dress. Note the Songket waistclothes worn. One particular example is the man on the right side, wearing a Songket with a four fold pattern.

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Songket with a Kris (Traditional Malay Dagger) motif. This is an example of a modern pattern (logos such as this are not used previously). This Songket apparent was made in Malaysia.

Kain Arap Gegati of Bruneian tradition. The pattern is arranged in a four fold pattern

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A sample of the pattern used in making a Bruneian Tenunan. This shows that making the fabric is operated on system of grids.

Observation – Islamic influences on Traditional Malay Textile pt.1

As I have been working for the local Ministry of Culture as a designer, I have gathered a lot of experience and knowledge of my own culture through observation and learning. And being a student of Islamic art and architecture, coupled with an understanding of my own history and culture, I can certainly say that I am quite adept at this topic.

The Malays are very heavily influenced by the Arabs after the coming of Arab traders and subsequently Islam into the region. Arabic and/or Islamic influences can be easily seen in almost all aspect of Malay culture – Performing arts, visual arts ,fashion,  architecture, music and so much more.

For example, one can see the influence of Arabic music in the traditional Malay music. The introduction of the Oud, known as the Gambus in the Malay society, as well as various percussions very important to the Arab community became a part of the traditional Malay music. You can also see the influence of Arab dance in the performing arts of the Malay. One of the clearest Arab influenced traditional Malay dance would be the Zapin in the Malay Peninsula or Jipin in Brunei. The steps of the dance accompanied by the Arab inspired music for the dance recalls of an Arabic influenced performance, without being too dependent on that culture, paving way to a unique Malay performing art.

The Malay textile or specifically the patterns used for the textiles is an important remark on how the Islamic and Arabic art influence a long held custom and tradition in the Malay world. There are a lot of Malay traditional textiles available, however for this article, I would like to concentrate on a few of them that showcases a clear Islamic influene, namely the Batik and the Songket/Tenunan (will be elaborated in the next part)

Batik – The Beauty of the Printed Textile

The Batik technique is known all over the world, however the most known version and perhaps most popular of Batik would be the Indonesian Batik. It is believed the word Batik is taken from the Javanese word Amba (to write) or Titik (to dot).

The technique uses several different ways to produce a Batik item. One technique, perhaps the oldest way is to peruse the wax resisting method, where designs were drawn on a piece of fabric using molten wax, left to harden and then soaked in dye, which will also then melt the wax, as usually the dye would be hot, or soaked in hot water separately. This technique was proven to be used by the Ancient Egyptians to draw designs on their mummies linen wrapping, where the linen would be dipped into wax and then designs would be scratched using a stylus. There are several evidences showing other cultures stretching from the African region to India and even to Japan and China also used the same technique, more or less, using different material or method (i.e African tribes would use cassava paste instead of wax). This technique of producing a batik product would result in finer, more delicately design items, as usually everything would be painstakingly done by hand from the drawing the design to dying the fabric. It is said that it could even take several months or even years to produce a fine article of Batik.

The more modern technique of producing Batik, and hence, less time and energy consuming would be the Stamping method, where a block of stamp, usually made in copper or other materials, would be dipped in dye to be stamped on the fabric. This produces a repetitive pattern, if using a singular stamp, or a unique pattern, if using several different stamps. In the 1800’s this technique were introduced by the Dutch in Indonesia to mass-produce Batik. Later Indonesian immigrants would bring both the Stamp and Drawn Batik techniques to Malaysia.

There are several influences in the motifs of Batik particularly in Indonesia. The influences include Hindu-Buddhist, European, Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Islamic. Here I would like to specifically elaborate on the Islamic influence on the Indonesian Batik.

The most apparent Islamic influence on the Indonesian Batik would be batik from Sumatera, specifically in Cirebon, Jambi and Bengkulu, where Arabic Calligraphy would be used – in itself or merely as influence – as a motif.


Indonesian Batik with Arabic Calligraphy, Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures

However Islamic influences can also be seen on more traditional, older Javanese patterns. Whether this is is a direct influence, indirect, intentional or unintended, or always had been that way since the beginning I do not have a say in it, as I am not an expert on such material. However you can see the parallels between certain pattern of Javanese Batik and traditional Islamic pattern, particularly the way the patterns were repeated, as you can see in the examples below –

kawung or Coffee Bean batik. Detail of a sarong. The pattern of overlapping circles is a common motif across many cultures.

Floor pattern at Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb. The pattern is less rounded, but essentially on the same square grid. The takeaway of the similarity between these two pattern are the star cross shapes coloured brown in both examples.


Batik Banyumas. The left mostpattern resembles closely to the eight pointed


Lustre tiles from Iran, probably Kashan, 1262, in the shapes of the Sufi symbols for the divine breath


Contemporary inland batik from Solo, Indonesia, with sidha drajat pattern. The Way the pattern is arranged is quite similar to the pattern below

Decorated tiles at Tash Hauli [Tach Khaouli] palace. Khiva, Uzbekistan