Islamic art and architecture

islamic art and architecture

Table of Contents

As of March 5, 2012, unless otherwise indicated all of the art links are up to date.

A useful approach to Islam is through Islamic art. See the curriculum guide Doorways to Islamic Art. It contains a series of slides, an accompanying narrative, and guides to "hands-on" art projects, as well as other materials, all of which are designed to immerse students in the beauty of Islamic art. It can be adapted for use by students at all levels. Find its bibliography here. Doorways to Islamic Art can be purchased from AWAIR. (Offline as of March 5, 2012) See also the website of AWAIR. For purchasing handmade ceramics in the Islamic style, see Khadijah Chadly Ceramics (link fixed Nov. 25, 2010 and March 5, 2012) is the website of a contemporary American Muslim ceramicist and documentary film maker, Khadija Chadley. Ms. Chadley's ceramic work could be described as traditionally Islamic yet with a contemporary flavor. See clips from some of her films here.

  • Reference Tools in Islamic Art and Architecture (fixed March 4, 2012) an annotated bibliography compiled at Harvard by Andras Riedlmayer of the Fine Arts Library at Harvard.

  • Online Exhibition of Islamic Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In addition to images, it contains a summary of the dynastic history of Islam and a useful Introduction to Islamic art written by Linda Komaroff Ph.D. the curator of Islamic Art at the LACMA.

  • Decoration This article, by the scholar Priscilla P. Soucek, discusses "decoration" in Persian Islamic art.

  • Aniconism and Figural Representation in Islamic Art, written by the art historian Terry Allen, explores the relative absence of figures of living beings in Islamic Art. (Link fixed, March 31, 2001.)

  • Islamic Art By Elisabeth Siddiqui, this essay discusses the relationship of Islamic art to the principles of Islam, a relationship that exists largely for Muslim and spiritually interested viewers of Islamic art. This "Islamic aesthetic" has been developed by writers such as S. H. Nasr, Keith Critchlow, Titus Burckhardt, and Martin Lings. Western-trained art historians such as Oleg Grabar generally do not share this perspective.

  • Zakariya Calligraphy is the website of the world famous American Muslim calligrapher, Mohamed Zakariya. Containing his articles on the art, history, and the practice of Islamic calligraphy, this website has a number of examples of Zakariya's calligraphies done in the traditional style.

  • The Art of Arabic Calligraphy is a four-part article written by the calligrapher Mamoun Sakkal.

  • Islamic Calligraphy includes sections on Islamic calligraphic art, Muslim calligraphers, materials, impressive examples of calligraphy, and the various scripts used in Islamic calligraphy. The introduction (and possibly the entire site) was done by Khalid Mubireek. The section titled "Calligraphic Collection" was adapted from , Islamic Calligraphy: Sacred and Secular Writings. Musee d'art historie and Treasures of Islam, Geneva, 1988. (Link fixed, January 3, 2001 and October 6, 2001.)

  • Maghribi Basmalah Calligraphed in the Maghribi style, this is an extraordinary example of the Basmalah (Bismillahi r-rahmani r-rahim) scanned from the book The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy by Abdelkebir Khatibi (New York: Rizzoli, 1977). (It is a relatively large image so it may take a minute or so to load.)

  • The Baybars Qur'an (link fixed March 5, 2012) The most highly regarded form of calligraphy was Qur'anic calligraphy. An excellent example is the illuminated Qur'an of Sultan Baybars, done in the Mamluk period in Cairo between 1304-1306 CE and held in the collection of the British Library. (To view this link you may need Shockwave.)

  • Online Islamic Art Gallery by Kathleen Seidel, consisting of numerous images of Islamic calligraphy, illumination, and painting (including images of Abraham, Muhammad, Ali, and various Sufis and dervishes), as well as Islamic metalwork, ceramics, and textiles, to mention a few. Ms. Seidel has included this gallery, together with a Sufi Cookbook that she has authored, in her online book Serving the Guest: a Sufi Cookbook and Art Gallery.

  • International Muslimah Artists' Network (IMAN) An organization of contemporary Muslim women artists. (Link fixed, March 5, 2012.)

  • From Desert to Oasis: Arts of the People of Central Asia, an exhibition of textiles from Central Asia, at the Georgia Museum of Art of the University of Georgia, from Feb. 14 through April 26, 1998. (Offline March 5, 2012)

  • Islamic Art Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is an excellent collection of high-quality images. (Fixed 8 September, 1999 and October 6, 2001, March 5, 2012).

  • Exhibit of Islamic Amulets contains good quality images and detailed descriptions.

    Music has traditionally been one of the more controversial issues in the Muslim world. While all Muslim scholars have always accepted and even encouraged chanting the call to prayer and the Qur'an, the permissability of other forms of music, especially instrumental music, has been problematic. In Arabic, the word musiqa. which is translated as "music," even has a more narrow sense than does the English word "music." Musiqa in Arabic refers mainly to popular and instrumental music and excludes genres such as Qur'anic chanting and the Muslim call to prayer (adh'an). A good example of an Islamic critique of music written by a Salafi/Wahhabi scholar Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi is Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing (link fixed 13 June 2006). A brief article discussing Shaykh Ibrahim Ramadan al-Mardini's refutation of such Islamic critiques of music is titled Islamic scholar rejects religious censorship of music (by Ole Reitiv, Freemuse, 14 October 2005). In spite of critiques such as al-Kanadi's, many forms of music have traditionally been present in the Muslim world and are still found throughout it today. The following links illustrate this diversity:

    RealPlayer is necessary in order to hear most of the following audio files. Some also take two or three minutes to load.

  • Qur'anic Chanting is the most central form of music in the Muslim world.

  • Adhan (call to prayer, pronouned "a-dhaan") heard at prayer times, it is the second major genre of Islamic music.

  • Madh Chanting (poems of praise of the Prophet Muhammad, pronounced "mad-h"), madh is most commonly done during the celebration of the birth of the Prophet (mawlid al-nabi).

  • Vocal Dhikr (lit. remembrance) is the chanted repetition of a name or names of God or--as in this link-- a short phrase such as La ilaha ill Allah (There is no god but God), which is a part of the Khatm-e Khwajegan litany linked below.

    Another example of a vocal dhikr--which in this case is accompanied by a chant-- is this Uzbek La Ilaha Ill Allah Women's ensemble of Fergana.

  • Litanies (awrad, pl.; wird, s.;), such as the Khatm-e Khwajegan are forms of vocal "remembrance" (adhkar, pl.; dhikr, s.) chanted by many Sufi orders. They are generally more complex than a simple dhikr, often combining various Qur'anic verses, supplicatory prayers, and dhikr of names of God or certain religious phrases. The Khatm-e Khwajegan is an important litany for the Naqshbandi order.

  • Sufi Sama' or Inshad generally consists of poems sung in a Sufi gathering by one or more reciters. Sometimes these involve refrains that are sung by all of the Sufis in attendance. Often the poems sung are from the diwan (collected poems) of the founder or current shaykh of that particular Sufi order. During the singing, the Sufis in the gathering are occupied in meditation, customarily contemplating God through dhikr (also written zekr and zikir. meaning "remembrance"). A few samples of Sufi sama', recorded during actual Sufi gatherings in Algeria, are at the web page Sama' of the Alawi Sufis.

  • Sufi Rhythms for the Daf By Peyman Nasehpour, this website's most significant aspect is short but sufficient examples of nine different daf rhythms. These can be listened to online or downloaded.

  • The Mulid of Egypt (link fixed 18 August 2005) is a well-done site including audio and video that introduces the ceremonies celebrating the birthdays of saints, called mulid or mawlid. Although celebrated throughout the Muslim world, these ceremonies, which may involve both music and "dance," are a very important feature of life in Egypt. (This is now a dead site.)

  • Qawwali Music, (link fixed December 23, 2000 and October 6, 2001) recently popularized in the West by the Sabri Brothers and Nusrat Fath Ali Khan, is probably the genre of Islamic music most familiar to non-Muslims. Another large online archive of Qawwali music (link fixed 18 August 2005) is found at A fine example of Qawwali music is the Sabri Brothers' rendition of a well-known "poem in praise" (madh ) of the Prophet, Balagha'l--ula bi-kamalihi (link fixed 18 August 2005), a poem which is beloved throughout the Muslim world.

  • Shahram Nazeri, one of Iran's premier vocalists, here superbly sings a classical Sufi poem (Binama rukh keh bagh o golestanam arzust [Show me your face since I desire the orchard and garden]) by Rumi accompanied by a variety of traditional Persian instruments. Here is another track from his CD She'r-o-Erfan (Poetry and Mysticism) (Man chera del be-to dadam

    [Why did I give my heart to you?]).

  • Iranian Santur played by an Iranian Kurd, Alan Kushan, is a slightly modified traditional Iranian santur, one of the many traditional Persian musical instruments.

  • Turkish Musical Library is an extensive archive. Among the various genres included in the archive is that of traditional Anatolian music, which is still popular throughout Turkey. To listen to more traditional pieces, after clicking on this link, then choose "Folk." Then scroll down to "CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION FOLK" and click on Haydar Haydar, performed by Ali Akbar Cicek. This piece, Haydar Haydar, is introduced by lengthy runs on a long-necked stringed instrument called a saz. (Note that it may take a few minutes to load. Link fixed, October 10, 2001)

  • Uzbek Music is one of the many forms of Islamic regional music. This link, which will allow you to "mix" your own Uzbek music from a few different sources, was taken from the BBC's Musical Nomad, listed below. (This particular link takes a couple of minutes to load, but it is well worth the wait.)

  • The BBC Musical Nomad is a forty day odyssey through the Central Asian countries of Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Krgyzstan. This site combines a conversational easy-going travel narrative, informative cultural content, images rarely seen in the West, and numerous extraordinary pieces of music. It is probably the most impressive site that I have seen on the web! And if you like the Musical Nomad, you will love The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (And Queens, New York) by Theodore Levin, professor of Ethnomusicology at Dartmouth College. This marvelous book, with accompanying CD, will bring Central Asia to life for you.

  • Gamelan (link fixed 18 August 2005) is a form of orchestral music in Java (Indonesia). The Gamelan orchestra is comprised of a number of instruments which are described and can be seen at the previous link. While the first example is of the"Loud Style," the second is an example of a "soft" vocal piece (link fixed 18 August 2005).

  • Kiai Kanjeng Islamic Gamelan music from Indonsia.

  • Debu: American-Indonesian Sufi Fusion Music under the guidance of Shaykh al-Fattah al-Rifa'i (originally from the United States), whose community is now based in Jakarta.

  • Sesungguhnya and Peristiwa Subuh (link fixed, Dec. 16, 2004, Nov. 1, 2006, Nov. 27, 2010) performed by the group Kumpulan Raihan are two very sweet examples of contemporary Malay Nasyid (Islamic spiritual songs). Transliterations and translations are now included. In addition to the preceding songs, listen to Raihan's pleasantly upbeat Syukur (Thanks) (link fixed Nov. 1, 2006; fixed Nov. 27, 2010) Another beautiful piece from Raihan with sweet harmonies and Malay music is Odei Anak (Fixed Nov. 27, 2010). A fan has put on-line a number of pictures of Raihan, which has recorded some songs with Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens), one of which is God is the Light (link fixed 18 August 2005 and Nov. 27, 2010).

    Online Scholarly Articles on Music of the Muslim World published in the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Bulletin:

    (Links fixed, July 6, 1999.)
  • The Qur'an Recited by Prof. Mahmoud Ayoub of Temple University.
  • Recent Recordings of Traditional Music from the Arabian Gulf and Saudi Arabia by Kay Hardy Campbell.
  • Introduction to Traditional Iranian Dastgah Music by Prof. Margaret Caton.
  • Listening to Umm Kulthum by Prof. Virginia Danielson of Harvard University.
  • Sufi Music and Ritual in Turkey by Prof. Irene Markoff of York University.
  • New Recordings of Turkish Classical Music by Prof. Walter Feldman of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Solo Improvisation (Taqasim) in Arab Music (link fixed 18 August 2005) by Scott Marcus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Musics of Algeria: Selected Recordings by Prof. Dwight Reynolds of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    This site of mine is still under construction; but it does contain information about and links for Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Richard Thompson, Danny Thompson, and Everlast.

    This collection of high quality images is a comprehensive survey of many of the most important monuments of Islamic architecture worldwide. It is far and away the best collection of images of Islamic architecture on the web.

  • Series of Eight Ka'ba photos (link fixed 18 August 2005) Some of these pictures can be seen in an enlarged format by clicking on them. Although it takes a while to load, see this Extensive collection of Ka'ba photos. (Link fixed October 6, 2001.)

    The Ka'ba, which in Arabic literally means "cube," is a cube-shaped building enveloped in black cloth at the center of the sacred mosque (al-haram al-sharif) in Mecca and is the focal point of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

  • The Black Stone, (al-hajar al-aswad) is set in a silver setting into a corner of the Ka'ba.

  • Shi'i Pilgrimage Sites Here you can go on a virtual pilgrimage to sites throughout the Muslim world that are holy for Shi'is.

  • Islamic Architecture. containing useful introductory articles and pictures of and a site constructed by the Islamic Arts and Archictecture Organization. (Link fixed, October 6, 2001.)

  • Islamic Architecture of Isfahan This is an award winning virtual tour of Isfahan, which was the capital of Iran during the Safavid dynasty.

  • Islamic Architecture from the Middle East These images are largely from the Ibn Tulun and Sultan Hasan mosques in Cairo and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (al-Quds). Other images are from the Great Mosque in Damascus and the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. (Offline October 6, 2001.)

  • Pictures of the Architectural Monuments of Istanbul (link fixed 18 August 2005) compiled by Emin Saglamer at his site Time Out Istanbul (link fixed 18 August 2005). See his descriptions of these and many other architectural sites in Istanbul at his Index to Historical Sites of Istanbul (link fixed 18 August 2005).

  • Images of Turkey from Ozgur Balsoy's site (link fixed October 6, 2001) All About Turkey.

  • The Topkapi Palace Museum. a virtual tour through the main palace of the Ottomans in Istanbul. The website was constructed by the History department of Bilkent University in Ankara.

  • Bursa's Great Mosque (Ulu Jami) From here you can also go on a brief virtual tour of Bursa, which prior to the conquest of Constantinople had become the capital of Ottoman Turkey. (Offline, October 6, 2001.)

  • The Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem (al-Quds). This is a virtual tour of all of the buidings of the al-Haram al-Sharif--which in the Western world is often refered to as the "Temple Mount" (the site of the Temple of Solomon and the Second Temple). It includes buildings such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as well as discussion of the Night Journey and Mi'raj (Ascension) of the Prophet Muhammad, which is the reason why the whole area is the third most holy site in Islam-- a fact that must be clearly understood by the West if there is ever going to be a lasting peace there.

  • Early Jerusalem is part of an Israeli site called "The Jerusalem Mosaic," which chronicles the history of Jerusalem.

  • The Alhambra: The Archaeological and Historical Setting (link fixed 18 August, 2005) is the first chapter in the book titled The Alhambra (1992), by Oleg Grabar, Professor Emeritus of Islamic Art at Harvard and the leading authority on the history of Islamic Art. As noted above, his approach, which downplays the "Islamic" character of Islamic art, differs sharply from the "traditionalist" approach of a number of scholars (most of whom are Muslim) who have developed the idea of a traditional Islamic aesthetic, scholars such as Titus Burckhardt, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Martin Lings. (Note that although the article appears to have links to various pictures and plans, in the online version of this chapter, these in fact are not links. In the actual book, however, the pictures and plans do exist.)

  • Moorish Art in Spain is a brief introductory website compiled by Liziel Zapata as a Senior English project at Cal Poly State University.

  • Islamic Spain (Offline October 6, 2001.)

  • The Peter Sanders Gallery: Scenes from the world of Islam phtographed by internationally acclaimed photographer Peter Sanders. Currently on-line are images from Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Sudan, and Jerusalem.

  • Luke Powell - Photographs Beautiful and haunting landscapes and people from Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, and Egypt, as well as from Ceylon, Ladakh, and the US. For thirty years, Powell's luminous and internationally renown photographs have opened viewers eyes and hearts to unseen vistas. Photographs of Palestine (link fixed 18 August, 2005) includes two online exhibitions, one consisting of eight pictures and the other one hundred.

  • Images of the Middle East Maintained by Columbia University, this is a comprehensive index of links to images from a number of countries of the Middle East

    Category: Architecture

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