Written by: Nancy Khalek
This type of devotional description in calligraphy (a type of script which is highly developed in Islamic culture) is one method of circumventing the prohibition against figural icons. Another is simply calligraphy itself, which exists in a number of styles and is itself an art form in Islamic art, from manuscripts to copies of the Quran to inscriptions on everything from major monuments to household objects.
Another form of symbolic representation in the world of Islamic art is in the form of depictions of nature. The most striking examples of mosaics representing nature are in the interiors of two early Islamic monuments: the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the Great Mosque of Damascus. For the latter, it is said that the caliph al-Walid (668-715) employed the finest Byzantine mosaicists, and had them create a work that has been interpreted as paradisiacal. In both buildings, foliage, trees, fruits, and pearls are all represented in lofty and painstakingly created mosaic programs. These are nothing less than homage to God's creative power and meditations on the aesthetic qualities of the natural world. Absent of figural images to venerate, these types of symbolic iconography were meant to inspire awe and admiration.
1. Why could the art of Sunnism be considered controversial?
2. How have artists circumvented the prohibition against figural icons?
3. Why is depiction of the natural world a powerful portrayal of Islam?