Josh Clemson, The Most Sacred Art

The Most Sacred Art


Qur’ans may be the epitome of Islamic art, the calligraphy and poetic text originating from the birth of Islam. The Qur’an displayed in the Oberlin religion department exemplifies this art style, a replica of an antique dating to the 17th century. Contained inside is poetry, calligraphy, visual art and music, presented in various forms, some more literally than others. The mix of art and religion opens a window in Islamic worldview and culture.

Every element of the Qur’an is considered sacred; the object, literature, and writing are all holy. Muslims consider the literature to be the direct word of God, which imparts the remaining elements with sacred context, “Perhaps even some of the early Kufic Koran were…meant to be contemplated like icons to partake of their Baraka (beneficent force of God) rather than to be read…the Arabic script of the Koran is therefore the most precious treasure for the Muslim”[i]. Arabic and the art of calligraphy are thus considered sacred works. Calligraphy, the art of writing Qur’anic passages with embellished lettering, often includes broader visual art elements. Calligraphy decorates mosques using mosaics and painting, and pages of the Qur’an include traditional artistic additions, “In sacred inscriptions the Arabic letters combine fluently with arabesques, especially with plant motifs, which are thus brought into closer relationship with the Asiatic symbolism of the tree of the world; the leaves of this tree correspond to the words of the Sacred Book”[ii]. The script itself also contains many artistic possibilities, with a wide variety of interpretations of text and form existing. Some script is flowing and fluid while others are geometric and uniform in shape, “Arabic calligraphy contains within itself alone decorative possibilities of inexhaustible richness. Its modalities vary between the monumental Kufic script, with its rectilinear forms and vertical breaks, and the naskhi, with its line as fluid and as serpentine as it could be”[iii]. The recitation of this script communicates artistically as well in its musical nature, “Arabic manifests Unity by the breadth of its rhythm: the broader the rhythm, the more its unity becomes evident”[iv]. The Qur’an and the art of calligraphy relates to almost every art form in this way, whether it be visual, poetic, or musical. It is the centerpiece of Muslim art.

The Qur’an in the Islam department showcase displays important historical context to this art form. The book may not be antique, but that fact does not degrade its power, “This Qur’an is a replica of a three hundred year old manuscript made by the calligrapher Neyrizi for the last king of the Safavid Dynasty Shah Sultan Hussein Safavid (AD 1694 – 1722)”[v]. The pages are composed of beautiful paper, thick, yellowed, and embossed with gold background. The calligraphy covers the entire Qur’an, rather than individual passages, with artistic side note commentary on how to read the text, “The borders of each page contain commentaries about the various recitation styles used to read the Holy Book”[vi]. The binding is detailed as well, hard covered and again embossed with gold detailing. The book exemplifies sacred Islamic artwork.




[i] Schimmel, Annemarie. Calligraphy and Islamic Culture. New York: New York UP, 1984. Print.


[ii] Burckhardt, Titus, and Roland Michaud. Art of Islam: Language and Meaning. London: World of Islam Festival Pub., 1976. Print.


[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Mahallati, Mohammad. King Building. “Qur’an”. Oberlin, Ohio. Plaque.


[vi] Ibid