Ancient Muslim art focused on so-called nonfigural representations such as calligraphy, plants and geometric shapes. The Quran does not forbid figural art, which depicts humans or animals, but early Islamic societies forbade it to avoid idolatry. Islamic civilization is well-known for its grand mosaics using complete geometric shapes. The mosaics revealed Islamic civilization's fascination with and expansion of Euclid's geometry. They also featured Muslim symbols like the eight-pointed star and circle.
In Islam, the circle represents the unity of the monotheistic God. Its center represents God, as well as the city of Mecca, considered the spiritual and geographical centers of Islam, respectively. Sometimes the circle is encompassed by an eight-pointed star, which represents the light of God spreading throughout the world. In turn, the repetition of shapes suggests God's infinite nature, as well as Islam's preoccupation with harmony and order.
Art and Artists
Islamic mosaics were a kind of folk art. Because artists were not usually given attribution, no known Islamic artistic equivalents of Michelangelo or other Christian European greats exist. Mosaics were a public endeavor, designed to make mosques beautiful for the pleasure of God. Artists did not generally seek personal attribution or attention. In any case, their knowledge was vast; they were not only artists, but experts in both geometry and Muslim theology.
Circles in Sufi Islam
The circle's significance is somewhat different in the Islamic mystical tradition, called Sufism. Sufi Muslims share traditional Islam's symbolism, but believe the circle has many additional meanings. Sufis believe circles acknowledge the central essences of God's many attributes, including power, desire and knowledge. Sufi Muslims also see spiritual significance in concentric circles. In Sufi philosophy, the center of the smallest circle represents close proximity to God's essence, while each outward circle suggests distance.
Sufi dancers, known in the West as whirling dervishes, twirl in circles in an effort to be close to God. Sometimes many dancers form a circle, and an individual may rotate into the center to be surrounded by the circle. In more complicated dances, the member of a Sufi order may form concentric circles. The dance is usually accompanied by a chanted prayer, meant to bring God closer in the course of ecstatic movemen.
- Victoria Albert Museum: Teacher Resources - Maths and Islamic Art and Design
- The Epistemological Paradigm of Islamic Civilization; Mashhad Al-Allaf
- Asia Society: Islamic Belief Made Visual
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art
- Foundation for Technology, Art and Civilization: Islamic Art as a Means of Cultural Exchange
- The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn Al-ʻArabi's Metaphysics of Imagination; William C. Chittick
- Historical Dictionary of Sufism; John Renard
- Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh; Arthur F. Buehler
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images