Symbols and Images in Islamic Art

19 April 2023


Islamic art is known for its rich symbolism and use of images that are of spiritual significance for Muslims. It encompasses a wide range of genres and styles, including architecture, painting, engraving, calligraphy, cloth, mosaics and even in religious traditions. One of the most important aspects of Islamic art is the use of symbols that have significant religious, cultural and historical connotations.

Islamic symbols and figures usually have deep symbolic meaning, which can be interpreted and understood only within the context of Islamic religious teachings and culture.

Although Islamic art does not use icons, the term ‘iconography’ can be used to refer to the use of images and symbols. These symbols and images play an important role in conveying spiritual ideas and meanings, which have existed in Islam for many centuries and remain important today.

Some of the most significant symbols in Islamic iconography include:

The crescent moon is one of the most common symbols in Islamic culture, signifying the month of Ramadan, the holy month of Islamic calendar. It is also a symbol of religious affiliation and spirituality.

A minaret is a tower, which is usually located on a mosque, and is a symbol of prayer and holy place. Minarets are usually decorated with patterns and calligraphy, making them an important element in Islamic art.

Calligraphy is the art of beautiful writing, and is an important element of Islamic iconography. Calligraphic images can use different styles and patterns, making them one of the most expressive elements of iconography in Islamic art.

A fountain is an important element of mosque architecture and is often used in Islamic iconography to symbolize life, well-being and abundance. Fountains can be decorated with patterns and images, creating impressive and spiritual works of art.

One of the most common symbols in Islamic art is a dome, which is a feature of mosques. The dome usually serves as a symbol of the omnipotence of Allah who controls everything on earth and in the heavenly realm.

Kalam is a quill pen that symbolizes faith and knowledge. Kalam is often depicted with the Quran and is used to convey the importance of knowledge and the study of Islam.

A cube symbolizes the house of Allah, the Kaaba, which is located in Mecca. The cube can also be used as a symbol of unity and harmony among Muslims all over the world.

A rosette is a decorative element made up of flowers or geometric shapes, which is often used to decorate mosques and other religious buildings.

Muskhaf is a printed Quran, which can be used as a symbol of sacred knowledge and faith in Allah.

Another symbol that is widely used in Islamic art is geometric patterns. Geometry was an important element in design of many buildings and mosques and was used to create intricate and beautiful patterns and shapes. Geometric patterns were also used in mosaic art to create amazing pictures from small pieces of multi-colored glass or ceramic tiles.

Islamic geometry is based on patterns that have been discovered naturally over many centuries. Antique geometers strived to use a minimal set of tools to perform complicated geometric operations, such as constructing regular polygons, dividing circles and angles into equal parts. They figured out that only a compass and a ruler were needed for that. A ruler is used only to draw straight lines, while a compass is used to create circles and arcs. Islamic geometers inherited those methods and expanded them considerably. They described their methods in their treatises, for instance, the 11th century Persian scholar Abu’l-Wafa al-Buzjani in his work “What an Artisan Needs from Geometrical Constructions” describes methods of drawing various figures with the help of a compass.
In Islamic iconography, geometric patterns and shapes have their own symbolic meanings:

In Islam pentagram is a symbol of the five basic beliefs, known as the “Five Pillars of Islam”: belief in one God, obligatory prayers, fasting during Ramadan, donations for charity and the Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. Pentagram is also a symbol of religious unity and solidarity.

Circle symbolizes the unity of God and the infinity of his mercy.

Square symbolizes the earth and earthly things, as well as its four sides, which represent the four main directions of prayer.

Hexagon symbolizes the ascent of the soul to God and spiritual harmony.

Octagon symbolizes heaven.

Nine-pointed star symbolizes nine heavens and nine stages of knowledge.

Twelve-pointed star symbolizes twelve months.

Geometric figures in Islamic iconography not only have a symbolic meaning, but are also an important element of decorative art and architecture. They create complex and beautiful patterns that can decorate walls, ceilings, doors and other elements of buildings.

These symbols and images represent only a small part of the rich heritage of Islamic iconography that continues to inspire and attract people from around the world. The importance of these symbols and images is that they help reinforce and promote the spiritual ideas and values that are an integral part of Islamic culture.

Symbols in Islamic art are a complex and important subject that requires a deep understanding and cultural context in order to interpret their meanings correctly.



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Photo: Pentocelo/Creative Commons 3.0