Came across a very in depth and interesting article – ‘The Silent Theology of Islamic Art’ by Oludamini Ogunaike

Sharing with readers a few excerpts that have illuminated my understanding.

ADAB is a word that is notoriously difficult to translate into English meaning at once ” custom, culture, etiquette, morals, courtesy, decorumand civilized components, as well as literature”.

To have ADAB is to be well read and educated, to have good manners, to be cultured or refined, and to have the wisdom to give everything and everyone their due rights – that is the entire Creation of Allah.

While the Islamic arts are many and diverse, they can be roughly categorised into two domains : ADAB and AMBIENCE- that is the arts of language and those that create the environment in which people live (such as dress, artitecture, customs etc)

The Islamic arts also all bear the imprint of the Qur’an in terms of its meanings (maānī) and structures (mabānī). Like many sacred texts, many of the surahs and verses of the Qur’an have a chiastic, or ring, structure. That is, the final section mirrors the first, the penultimate section mirrors the second, and so on, until the center, which contains the main theme or message. This symmetric, polycentric structure of overlapping patterns is clearly reflected in the geometric patterns of illumination that adorn Qur’anic manuscripts; the tessellations that adorn the mosques, madrasas, and homes where its verses are chanted; and even the structure of the musical maqāmsin which it is recited.

The traditional madrasa combines the learning of adab with the beautiful arts of ambience. Whether in the elaborate and ornate tessellation of the Ben Youssef madrasa of Marrakesh or under the simple shade of a baobab tree in the Sahel, surrounded by God’s artwork of nature, Islamic learning traditionally takes place in a beautiful ambience. This is significant and intentional, as one’s surroundings have a profound impact on one’s thoughts. Contemplating the twin rosettes/stars on a Moroccan door helped me grasp the relationship between the divine essence and names, and their manifestations in the cosmos and the human soul, and it was while gazing at the tiles in the Bou Inania madrasa in Fes that I realized the meaning of the metaphor describing God as “a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

The most ubiquitous and important art that creates an Islamic ambience is the recitation of the Qur’an. This is the first and highest form of Islamic art, from which all others are derived. The precise art of tajwīd and the science of the maqāms, the musical modes in which the Qur’an is recited, bring out the beauty and geometry of the Qur’anic revelation as it was revealed to the Prophet ﷺ. In reciting the Qur’an, we participate in the divine act of revelation and the prophetic act of reception, both of which have a profoundly transformative effect on our souls. The sound of Qur’anic recitation is an integral part of the soundscape of any Islamic city or town and is nearly always arrestingly beautiful. This is significant because in traditional Islamic civilization, truth (of which the Qur’an is the highest example) is always accompanied by beauty. In fact, beauty is a criterion of the authentically Islamic. There is nothing Islamic that is not beautiful. This axiom governs every other traditional art of ambience, such as calligraphy; architecture and geometric design; music; and even dress, food, and perfume. As music plays such a prominent role in contemporary Western culture, it is important to examine music as an Islamic art more closely.

This is precisely what Muslim scholars and artists have done for generations: understood, appreciated, and integrated the arts and sciences of other civilizations. One of the clearest signs of our decline has been the virtual disappearance of these synthetic and creative intellectual and artistic processes. This has also been accompanied by increasing tensions between different Muslim groups and minority communities of other faiths that thrived in Muslim-majority lands for centuries. The Qur’an describes the diversity of humanity as providential and divinely willed in order for us to know one another, and through this knowledge, to better know ourselves and our God. As Muslims lose touch with knowledge of our arts, of our history, of ourselves, of our tradition, and of God, we lose touch with reality and with the ability to recognize the truth and humanity of those who differ from us.





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