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Islamic Art and Culture. Culture and Values, Chapter 08. Chapter 8 - Timeline. 570 Muhammad born c. 620 Qur'an develops 622 Muhammad flees Mecca. Marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar 632 Muhammad dies c. 680 or 690 Great Mosque of Damascus built by al Walid

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islamic art and culture
Islamic Art and Culture

Culture and Values, Chapter 08

chapter 8 timeline
Chapter 8 - Timeline

570 Muhammad born

c. 620 Qur'an develops

622 Muhammad flees Mecca. Marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar

632 Muhammad dies

c. 680 or 690 Great Mosque of Damascus built by al Walid

c. 680 or 690 Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

700-800 The House of Wisdom draws scholars from all over the Muslim world,

translating and preserving many Greek texts

730-843 Muslim belief that God's divinity defies representation leads to intricate

blend of geometric design and sacred texts

780-850 Life of Al-Khwarizmi, inventor of algebra

780/90 Great Mosque in Cordoba begun

1187 Sultan Saladin conquers Jerusalem

1200-1300 Fall of Acre, last Christian stronghold in Holy Land

1200-1300 The Alhambra

1203-1273 Life of Rumi, best-known Sufi mystic-poet

1492 Christians drive Muslims from Spain (Reconquista)

1633-1652 Taj Mahal constructed in India

chapter 8 outline
Chapter 8: Outline
  • Muhammad and the Birth of Islam
  • The Koran
  • Calligraphy
  • Islamic Architecture
  • Sufism
  • The Culture of Islam and the West
islam and world conquest
Islam and World Conquest

Muhammad always thought of the new revelation he had received from God as a new religion which could unify the whole human race under one God and bring with it amity among nations. Islam regards itself as the final perfection of God's revelation first announced to the Jews and later to the Christians. For that reason, Muhammad's religion was an unapologetic missionary faith. Within two hundred years Islam had spread from the desert world of Arabia throughout present-day Middle East and along Mediterranean Sea and the Iberian peninsula of present-day Southern Spain; much of this dispersion came via military conquest.

islam s rise and the decline of christianity
Islam’s Rise and the Decline of Christianity

Islam's rise coincided with a period of stagnation in what was the Christian West. The old Roman Empire was in a state of decline having been hammered by successive waves of Barbarian invasions. The Byzantine Empire with its capital at

Constantinople controlled only the city itself and its adjacent territories. It was an essentially inward looking, conservative, and noninnovative culture. Islam, by contrast, was a vigorous young religious culture and at its apex when the Abassids

ruled from its center in Baghdad and later in Damascus and Córdoba was innovative and forward-looking.

Page from the

Qur’an, 8th c.

christianity vs islam
Christianity vs. Islam

While Islamic incursions were halted in the West in the generations before Charlemagne, and Muslims would not take possession of Constantinople until the fifteenth century, there were constant exchanges between the two cultures eventhough they warred against each other with ferocity (i.e., the Crusades). This hostility shows up clearly in the West. The Muslims, in Christian eyes, were simply the "Infidel" and their wickedness is a theme in The Song of Roland where their

beliefs and their practices were criticized and twisted into parody. The Christian Crusades had the express aim to wrest the Christian holy places from these "Infidels." It should not surprise us that Dante comes to describe the walls of the city

of hell as crenellated walls with domes of "fiery mosques."

Map of the Crusades,

1000 – 1200 a.d

the complexity of islam
The Complexity of Islam

The antagonism between the Christian West and the world of Islam has a long and bitter history. It is an antagonism that reflects itself today in the stereotyping of Muslims as backward, fundamentalist, terrorists out to ruin the world. The irony is,

of course, that we read such things on paper–an innovation that the House of Wisdom in Baghdad gave to the West in the medieval period. The real truth is that Islam is a highly complex and deeply rich culture in which religion is so central that it

cannot be disentangled from political and social culture. Islam has a long tradition of learning and the arts with a worldview that attempts to explain the place of people in the social order under the watchful eye of an all-powerful God who is adored under the name of Allah.

islam as submission to the will of allah
Islam as submission to the will of Allah

Islamic Art develops around

And then reacts to existing notions

of beauty and decorum

In Arabic, islam means submission

and a muslim is one who submits

to Allah's will.

the idolatry of icons
The idolatry of icons

Qur’an = Koran: Holy Book

Hadith: traditions about Mohammed

a. The Koran is explicit about

repercussions if one indulges

in representational art.

b. Icons are considered idolatrous

damascus mosque
Damascus Mosque

Even though trees and houses are clearly depicted, the absence of

human figures is striking. This reflects the restriction against depicting

the human form in early Islamic art.


Calligraphy and Arabesque Design

  • Follows Islamic conquests of Christian territory
  • a. Script of Koran the visual artifact of God’s
  • communiqué to world.
  • Calligraphy-art of drawing language-Islam’s
  • greatest visual expression.


  • linear, elegant handwriting with flowing
  • rhythmic strokes
  • b. Mohammed becomes linked with the
  • script to the logical extension of God’s
  • gift to the world

Arabesque: abstract designs of Islamic

  • Artists
  • Combines calligraphy with mathematical
  • compositions
  • Uses vegetal design
  • Also uses geometric design inspired by
  • mathematics

Islamic Architecture

  • Mosque format-”masgid/masjid”=
  • Place of worship
  • simple overall geometry
  • faces direction of Mecca
  • has four sections
  • a. Atrium or courtyard
  • b. Minaret-covered sanctuary and
  • tower where muezzin calls people
  • to worship
  • c. Quibla-wall of prayers faces East
  • d.Mihrab-sacred niche in center of
  • quibla
the dome of the rock
The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock,

Jerusalem, late 7th c.

And at right:

Mosaic tile from the The Dome of the Rock

mosque of cordoba
Mosque of Cordoba

The Great Mosque , Cordoba,Spain

(784-6 , 961-6 , 987-90 , double horseshoe arcades

of the prayer-hall

taj mahal
Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, 1631 - 1647