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Islamic Art

Islamic Art

Author: Ian McConnell

Recognize key features of Islamic art.

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An introduction to Islamic art.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Islamic art.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives or the things you're going to learn today are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms. Explain the basic history and tenets of Islam. Explain why Islamic art is aniconic.

Key terms are always listed in yellow. Islam, the religious faith of Muslims with the basic principle of absolute submission to Allah. Allah, in Islam, God, the Supreme Being. Mohammad, in Islam, the prophet and messenger of Allah.

Mosque is a Muslim temple or place of worship. Arabesque is a spiraling or serpentine line or motif. And aniconic is not allowing images or idols.

And I do want to mention to you that a Muslim is an adherent to Islam. Muslim is not the religion. It's referring to the people that practice Islam. The big idea for today is that Islam traces its origin to the divine revelations of Muhammad, a religious prophet, and shares a religious ancestry with Judaism and Christianity.

So the prophet Muhammad was born in Arabia in 570 AD in the city of Mecca. And his revelations from God are said to have begun in 610 AD. Now the beginning of Islam is in 622 AD marked by the migration of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina to escape persecution. And Muhammad died in 632 AD, but his religion endured and today, is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity.

So adherence to the faith can be found all over the world today. However, in the late 15th century the Islamic world covered approximately the area I've overlaid in green. And includes Northern Saharan and parts of Eastern Africa, including modern-day Somalia. Spain, Eastern portions of Europe, the entire Middle East, as well as the majority of India. Modern day Saudi Arabia is shown in dark green and the birthplace of Muhammad, the city of Mecca, is shown in pink.

The Islam was and remains a very influential religion. It dictates religious, as well as secular laws, for its adherents. And there are five pillars of Islam, which are the basic tenets of the religion. They include a declaration of faith, specifically that there is one God, Allah, and Muhammad is his chosen prophet.

Prayer. There are five specific prayers said throughout the day while facing Mecca. Alms-giving for those that are able to the poor, which is giving to the poor.

Fasting. And a pilgrimage to Mecca for those that are physically and financially able to.

So the rise of Islam begins with Muhammad, who was born in Arabia in 570 AD. At the time of his birth, this region was predominantly religiously polytheistic. Muslims believe that Muhammad received revelations from God beginning in 610 AD. And he began to preach and gained a modest following.

However, because of his beliefs he was persecuted and fled the city with his followers, eventually settling in the city of Medina, which is a bit north of Mecca. Now here, his following grew and he eventually returned eight years later to Mecca with 10,000 soldiers to control the city and converted the people to Islam.

The Koran, you've probably heard it before, is the sacred text of Islam. And is a codification of the sacred revelations and laws of Islam. The spread of Islam was organic, meaning it was spread two ways. One was organic, which means person to person, as well as politically as the conquest of new lands by Islamic civilization, such as the Ottoman Turks, spread the religion to the parts of the world under their authority.

The art of Islam is aniconic, which means there are no icons allowed. And is distinct from Christianity being dominated by really absolutely beautiful geometric patterns and motifs. You won't find the type of Christian iconography or images we've seen before in Islamic art. In fact, images of Allah and Muhammad are strictly forbidden.

Now the reason for this stems back to the connections Islam has with Judaism and Christianity in terms of their religious ancestries. These religions are referred to as Abrahamic given that they all trace their lineages back to and through the prophet, Abraham. Now as such, the law of Moses forbids idolatry. And that's fundamental to all three religions.

The forbiddence of idolatry in the veneration of images became murky water for Christians and was the underlying issue that spurned the iconoclasm of the eighth and ninth centuries. Of being in proximity to Byzantium, undoubtedly, had an influence on the civilizations of Islam and the struggles of the Christian church with the veneration of images would have likely reinforced the original argument in Islam against the use of images.

That brings us to the end of our short lesson today. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you explain the basic history and tenets of Islam? That's the five pillars I referred to. And can you explain why Islamic art is aniconic?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Islam traces its origin to the divine revelations of Muhammad, a religious prophet, and shares a religious ancestry with Judaism and Christianity. And there you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.


Image of Saudi Arabia Creative Commons; Image of Islam Crest Creative Commons; Image of Muhammad Calligraphy Creative Commons

Terms to Know

In Islam, God, the Supreme Being.


Not allowing images, or idols.


A spiraling or serpentine line or motif.


The religious faith of Muslims with the basic principle of absolute submission to Allah.


A Muslim temple or place of worship.


In Islam, the prophet and messenger of Allah.