“Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.”
Islam is a religion based on the holy book, the Qur’an (sometimes spelt Koran), which followers believe to be the word of God as revealed through the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed in the early 7th century. The Prophet Mohammed was born in Arabia around AD 571 and died in AD 632. Within 100 years, Islam had spread westward as far as Spain and eastward to the Indus Valley. It continued to expand into Turkey, and deeper into the India, into north-western China and South-East Asia. Followers of Islam are called Muslims.
As the Islam religion and Islamic culture spread, it adopted some traditions and knowledge from local environments. Islamic art is influenced by Arabic, Persian, Mesopotamian, and African traditions, in addition to Byzantine inspirations. Yet Islamic art is unique in its own way.
Geometric art in the ceramic tiles is extremely sophisticated, requiring scientific and mathematical precision, with imagination and creativity. In Islam, the tradition is to not depict living creatures, that are associated with idols and statues. Abstract geometrical forms were favored in mosques, based on mathematical shapes and forms, because they encourage spiritual contemplation.
For example, circles have no end-they are infinite- and so they remind Muslims that Allah is infinite. Complex geometric designs that decorate walls and ceilings create the impression of unending repetition, and this also helps a person get an idea of the infinite nature of Allah. The repeating patterns can represent that in the small details, you can find the infinite.
This geometrical art is very much connected to the famous concept of the arabesque, which is defined as “ornamental work used for flat surfaces consisting of interlacing geometrical patterns of polygons, circles, and interlocked lines and curves” (Chambers Science and Technology Dictionary 1991).
The combinations of ornate stars and polygons, interlocking lines and curves, have adorned mosques and palaces since the 15th century. The designs in Islamic art were created using a set of five template tiles, which could generate patterns with symmetry. “Girih” designs feature arrays of tessellating polygons of multiple shapes, and are often overlaid with a zigzag network of lines.
Related Art Projects
Islamic Tiles: Coloring Pages
Create Symmetrical Patterns with Homemade Stamps
Art for Small Hands has a wonderful project where children use erasers and watercolor markers to make relief prints with surprising results. For ages 9 to 13.
Make a Tessellation:
Using the video below, or reading these on-line instructions, make your own tessellation!
Design Your Own Tile!
8-pointed Star Puzzle (free printable to download). More pdf templates for kids: a six-pointed star, an 8-pointed star, a hexagon and an octagon.
Additional Resources to Learn about Islamic Art
This is a complete lesson plan on “The Art of Mathematics Islamic patterns,” aligned with National Standards in the UK.
The “Pattern in Islamic Art” website offers an archive of over 4000 images of patterns and other design features drawn from the rich cultural heritage of the Islamic world.
This TED-ed talk discusses the complicated geometry found in Islamic art:
Additional Resources to Learn about Middle Eastern and North African Heritage
Welcome to the fourth annual Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month blog hop from Multicultural Kid Blogs! Visit all the participating blogs below for great resources on teaching children about the heritage of this region. Don’t miss our series from last year, 2016, and 2015!
You can also find even more resources on our North Africa and the Middle East Pinterest board: