Zoe Dubno: Persian Carpets and the Islamic Worldview


The Persian art of carpet making, which dates back to nomadic societies, has proven to be a lasting, prominent element of Persian artistic expression in modern times. Although contemporary western tastes would likely consider carpets as solely home décor, they are an essential element of Persian art and culture. The carpets display a number of different Islamic artistic motifs, most notably the repetitive geometric interconnected patterns that evoke the cosmos, and continuous looping vegetation termed the “arabesque.”


The geometric patterns represented in Persian rugs, as well as other pieces of Islamic art arguably stem directly from the Islamic worldview. These tessellations invoke the infinite nature of the cosmos, their elegant simplicity indicative of the infinite, intangible power of Allah. These geometric patterns also mirror the Islamic idea that beauty is found most clearly in sound structures and mathematical precision. Finally, the requirement of balance within the design reflects the tenet of the Islamic worldview that equilibrium is essential for achieving the unity of the real or, the wahdat al-wujiid. (Burckhardt, p. 519)

Another common motif present in the design of Persian rugs is the Arabesque style, . Typified by the constant, seemingly infinite interweaving of abstract vegetation and foliage, the style helps to facilitate the Islamic notion of unity, which is of upmost importance amongst the Ulamma.) Rhythm, according to Burckhardt, is one of the post palpable sources of unification. The Arabesque,with its both regular and indefinite unfolding, is the most direct expression of rhythm in the visual order.” (Burckhardt 514) According to philosopher Michel Foucault, “the garden is a rug onto which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, and the rug is a sort of garden that can move across space). The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world.” (Of Other Spaces, Michel Foucault) Finally, the rugs hold a more literal relationship to the practice of Islam as they have been used as prayer rugs in Salat for centuries.

Persian carpets are one of the most celebrated and widely recognizable iterations of Islamic art. The works were highly traded throughout history, and frequently used as tax payment in lieu of crops or other more traditional contributions. The pervasiveness of rugs in world culture, and their status an beautiful can be seen through their depiction with intense detail in Renaissance paintings, displaying the frequency with which they were traded to Europe, and facilitating the spread of Islam and its conception of beauty.

In the modern world Persian rugs can be seen in homes across America, as well as in prestigious museums, the most famous of which, the Ardabil Carpet, is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In recent years, sanctions on Iranian exports intended on punishing their government, have in reality simultaneously wounded Iranian carpet makers. In doing so, Islamic conceptions of beauty are less easily proliferated and shared, halting the facilitation and spread of Ihsan, the beauty of perfection and excellence.