Posted tagged ‘Islam’

Building blocks

April 30, 2009

This building for the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, was apparently inspired by the famous mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt.

It’s a lovely modern design with distinctive shapes forming the overall structure (like the kind of blocks that kids play with) and its location surrounded by water allows it to stand out clearly in the landscape.

Museum of Islamic Art - Doha, Qatar

Museum of Islamic Art - Doha, Qatar - Image from Qatar Museums Authority

Ibn Tulun mosque - Cairo, Egypt. Image from

Ibn Tulun mosque - Cairo, Egypt. Image from

Looking at the images on their website, it is actually quite easy to see the evolution from the old design of the  Ibn Tulun mosque to this new design and yet the old still looks as grand as the new. And even though thisn ew building is not a mosque it does share some of the architectural features that are prevalent in most. For example the bridge that links the building to the land has a central oblong of greenery which is reminiscint of the water ways that lead up to many of the worlds famous mosques including the Alhambra and also the Taj Mahal.

Alhambra, Spain - Image from Wikpedia

Alhambra, Spain - Image from Wikpedia

Not to mention those mosques that are surrounded by water or lie on river banks such as this one in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur (below).

Mosque in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur

Mosque in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur - Image from

Btw I think that’s some remarkable photography!

And here’s one more:

Mosque on water - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Image from Wikimedia

Mosque on water - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Image from Wikimedia

Looking back at the museum, there are also the two towers at the back which look very much like Minarets – the towers from which the calls to prayer are usually announced from Mosques. There are the windows and entrance ways which are mostly arched.

This deliberate choice of features forms a strong link to the history of Arab architecture, for the most part because Islamic and Arab architecture is basically known as the same thing and this didn’t really make a mark in history until the first Mosques were built.

A museum such as this will therefore need to reflect the movement of architectural styles through time and yet convey the origins from which is arises. By using the look of a mosque the building is given a higher status too as an important place for gatherings.

Luckily most public buildings in Muslim countries are built with prayer facilities so anyone who is mistakenly drawn to the building for this purpose will hopefully not be too disappointed.

You can see and read more about the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha here:

And for those interested in seeing photos of 100 beautiful mosques from around the world here you go:

Hidden Geometry

January 28, 2009

I attended my second class of Arabic Calligraphy using Naskh Script yesterday. I signed up for these evening classes many months ago and have been looking forward to this opportunity for well over a year. The class is run by Mustafa Jafar, author of Arabic Calligraphy: Naskh style for beginners (Paperback):

Image taken from

Mustafa is himself an artist and examples of his work can be seen at

'Light upon Light' by Mustafa Jafar

'Light upon Light' by Mustafa Jafar

Anyway so in yesterday’s class we learnt to draw the first half of the Arabic letters using a traditional reed pen (looks a bit like bamboo but cut to a sharp nib on one end) and ink.

This interest in Arabic calligraphy was a personal one as well as a relevant one in terms of my project.

I will post a more detailed entry when I have gathered more informative details about the history and development of Arabic calligraphy. However in brief  I have these notes:

From its simple and primitive early examples of the 5th and 6th century A.D., the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly after the rise of Islam in the 7th century into a beautiful form of art.

– Arabic as a written language was used by few.

– Those who did use it were professional scribes and usually worked to produce important documents for legal and state offices.

– When the Qur’an was revealed and after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him ) to whom it was revealed, it became necessary to record the revelations. These were written and illuminated (decorated with intricate borders etc) to emphasise the beauty of the word of God.

– It is also important to note that the Qur’an never was and never is illustrated with imagery portraying humans or animals. This is because there are strict rules about the idea of recreating/reproducing the creation of God who is the only One who can create such things. It is also in order to prevent idolatry – which people can easily fall into if they are not careful. The biggest sin in Islam is Shirk which is to obey/worship/sacrifice for anyone or instead of God.

– Arabic as a written form became  standardised some time after the early centuries of Islam’s expansion and dominance.  One form was used for secular writings (the cursive script) and the other for sacred documents such as the Qur’an.

– The style of calligraphy used for the Qur’an also developed but always to a very high standard. It was imperative that the person copying the words got them 100% right and therefore they would train for many yrs under the masters of the pen before starting their own copies. There was no room for error. The Qur’an has remained unchanged since the day it was first recorded.

The significance of calligraphy? As it is used in so many forms of Islamic art and decoration and truly does look beautiful. It plays a large part in my project research. It is significant not only because of the words within the writing (usually excerpts or verses from the Qur’an) but also because of the visual effect they produce. So even if you didn’t know the words or know that it was a verse to be read and understood you could still appreciate the aesthetics of the calligraphy.

The words themselves being the words from God mean that not only do they carry an important message for mankind but they deserve to be elevated.


In the class today with Mustafa Jafar, we learnt about the proportions of the letters. These proportions govern the size of the letters in accordance to each other and although not apparent to the viewer they produce the accuracy that leads to the perfection of the overall piece of writing. Whilst demonstrating the use of the dots within the alphabet as measurements for the letters, Mustafa used the phrase ‘hidden geometry’. A light bulb turned on in my head. I already knew about the proportions and accuracy required to make the calligraphy what it is, but I never connected it with geometry before. I wonder why? I guess I wasn’t thinking outside the box. It’s not just about lines and shapes the way I know them.

You will see in the image below that the height, width and empty space produced within and around the letters are all in proportion according to the dots. So no matter what size dots you start with you should have a certain number of dots making up the length and a certain number making up the breadth for each one:

This image is taken from: where you can also find much better explanations about the history and development of Arabic in its written form.

Therefore the use of geometry comes about using this dot as a unit for measurement and it producing a proportionally accurate letter, leading to a proportionally accurate piece of writing.

Mustafa insists that Calligraphy is a form of art, not writing. I very much agree, except where it comes to the Qur’an. In the Qur’an it is both and more.


December 14, 2008

This is a bit of a difficult one to express.

I will make random statements here but they will be relevant to the main title in some form or another so bear with me.

In my first tutorial with Andy (Course Leader) I was encouraged to express and relate to my religious and cultural background within my project. At first I didn’t think I would do this and definately not in an obvious way. I wanted the subject of my work to be a subtle hint to the viewer or anyone reading up about my work. But then I thought ok let’s just see where this goes. I won’t try hard either way to make it obvious or unobvious.

Progression in life, as a person, is very important. You don’t want to look back at yourself 5 years down the line and realise you are the same person you were then. Not having learnt anything. Not bettered yourself. Not improved in some way. For some people it might be as simple as having a better job, be earning more money, being married, having a family. For me it’s to be a better person and to do something to help others. This has a religious significance.

I think I have progressed – at least I hope I have. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, researching and learning. Not just for this project but for myself. One of the tenants of a Muslim’s belief is to gain knowledge. It is only through this seeking and gaining that one can then say they believe in God, as they cannot know what God is until they learn who God is. Once they have gained this knowledge they are required to act upon that knowledge. Which leads me to my next point(s):

I believe in One God and I believe he sent us Messengers to guide us and I believe that Muhammad was the last of those messengers. I believe the Qur’an is the word of God (the holy book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad). The Qur’an (in God’s words) tells us that not only is it important to believe in one God and that He created everything but that we must worship Him and one form of worhip is to do good. For this we shall be rewarded.

To put it simply – One of my mottos is that ‘there is a reason for everything and everything has a reason’.

So basically I want to do good and encourage others to do good. Not just because I need to get to heaven but because I want to be a good person and also because I want it to be rewarding for everyone who is inspired by that goodness.

Why am I telling you all this?

I find that through all this my priorities have slightly changed. I now feel that if something isn’t helping me make progress in my life in a good way then there is no room for it. I need to do good so that others can be influenced by it. They might not even want to do ‘good’ but maybe I can subconsciously influence them.

Subliminal messages? I don’t think so. I prefer to make things more open and clear and fair. Not like some secretive hidden agenda.

I want to make it obvious now. I want my work to be striking and I want someone to know that it was a Muslim that created it. A Muslim who was inspired by the teachings of their peaceful religion (not the violent one it is portrayed as). That a Muslim created something that anyone of any religious or non-religious background can appreciate. It would just be an added bonus for me if it works. At least my intentions would be good.

So this is my justification. I needed to justify the purpose of my project. I needed to justify my MA. Not for anyone but myself I guess. To know that my intention is to do something good with this.

I can only hope it has the right effect. I can only ask for God’s help and leave it to him in a way, and try my best in the meantime.

But this doesn’t change the project’s theme or line of enquiry. It may have influenced the journey though.

We’ll see.

Word into Art – Dubai 2008 (pt 1)

October 13, 2008

I was reminded of an exhibition I went to whilst in Dubai earlier this year. It was the Word into Art exhibition that had been on in the British Museum back in 2006. I was very glad to have been able to catch the one in Dubai and I was not disappointed when I got there.

I’ve shown some of the images below of the artworks that I found of interest and to my liking.

Kamal Boullata

Ana Al-Haqq - I am the Truth by Kamal Boullata

Nur ala nur by Kamal Boullata

Read more on this piece here

I like the way the symmetrical layout and break down of larger square, with rotated smaller squares, has been combined with the kufic arabic calligraphy. The subject matter is the meaning of Nur – light in arabic. It is very symbolic and has many connotations in spirituality and religion – not just Islam but Christianity too.

A bit about the artist:

“Kamal Boullata :- PALESTINE
Born in Jerusalem in 1942. Works and lives in Washington, Morroco and Paris.
Boullata recalls sitting for hours on end as a small boy in front of the Dome of the Rock, engrossed in sketching its innumerable and unfathomable geometric patterns and calligraphic engravings. Those patterns he saw as a child still echo endlessly throughout his adult work. I keep reminding my self that Jerusalem is not behind me, it is constantly ahead of me. From an interview with the Artist”

Ahmed Moustafa

Moustafa uses traditional calligraphy to form the artwork and uses the old and classical decorative technique of repeating more text over the first layer but mirrored upside down. Therefore you are required to turn the work upside down in order to read the next line.

Where two oceans meet by Ahmed Moustafa

Sometimes the text is a mirrored version but flipped horizontally to add an almost mish mash type effect. The technique is used slightly differently below and looks particularly effective in this piece which produces a great symetrical design using the arabic names of Allah (God) – which represent his attributes as named in the holy Qur’an:

The attributes of divine perfection by Ahmed Moustafa

For more info on this piece click here: