Designers often integrated Islamic mosaics into buildings and other structures.
Designers often integrated Islamic mosaics into buildings and other structures.

According to the Muslim faith, representational art that depicts the human form is disrespectful to God, as he created humanity in his image, and depictions of that image are sacrilegious. This gave birth to one of the oldest artistic traditions in the world -- the practice of mosaic art where pictures are geometric and abstract, rather than representational.

History

An important feature of Islamic mosaics is their incorporation into forms outside of purely artistic mediums such as paintings. Mosaics adorn both religious and secular buildings, but also appear in glassware such as dishes and bowls. Archaeologists have uncovered ancient mosaic glassware dating back to the Abbasid dynasty, which lasted from A.D. 750 to 1258, but the tradition of creating mosaics dates back to Egypt in 1400 B.C., then subsequently spread to Islamic nations and communities.

Faith

Islam's focus on the spiritual nature of reality over its physical appearance influenced the early adoption of mosaic art, and Muslims believe the creation of such works brings the artist closer to God, according to the BBC. The Islamic faith encourages artists to make these mosaic works as beautiful as possible, as the faith preaches that beauty reflects the divine nature of God. For this reason, the creation of mosaics is an expression of faith.

Meaning

Because Islamic mosaic art is an expression of faith, many shapes and patterns have symbolic significance. For example, the repetition within many of the designs evokes the nature of God, with a small section of work mirroring the pattern of the whole piece. In the same way, a small part of God's creation on Earth reflects his divine and infinite nature. Muslim artists believe that by looking at these patterns, individuals can better understand God and the world in which they live.

Math

The complex geometric patterns of Islamic mosaics also had an impact on the field of mathematics. The artists had to create complex blueprints to shape large installations of thousands of different segments where each shape needed to be perfect and conform to exact measurements. According to Islamic Art and Architecture, some of these intricate patterns -- called "girih" -- that date back to medieval times reflect geometric knowledge not understood by mathematicians in the West until the 1970s.