Jamila Jamal: Islamic Spirituality and Art

Islamic art directly reflects Islamic spirituality through many everyday functional and utilitarian objects in addition to decorative pieces, which adorned with verses of the Qur’an, geometric designs, and abstract beauty. Titus Burckhardt posits “Art to the Muslim is a “proof of the Divine Existence” only to the extent that it is beautiful without showing the marks of a subjective individualistic inspiration” (523). Most often, Islamic art is inspired by nature (God’s creation) and not by emotion of the individual. In the Qur’an, it is stated that “His are all things in the heavens and on earth” and therefore it can be interpreted that all things must be treated as sacred in one form or another (2:255). Taking the time and effort to design everyday objects to draw out the innate beauty of the function of the object and of the design itself, seems to be an important demonstration of the relationship between Islamic spirituality and art.

Calligraphy is a key form of art reflecting Islamic spirituality. In the Qur’an, the pen is mentioned many times with significance to have preserved everything in the universe on a tablet. Calligraphy has many fonts, can embody geometric shapes, or uniform fluid shapes, both of which are common in the history of Islam. The Kaba is considered the first Islamic work of architecture, and it embodies many straight geometric lines, which can be reflected in calligraphy. Additionally, the world is not made of clear-cut lines, objects in nature flow into each other, which can also be depicted through calligraphy.

From basins to bowls to mosques to jewelry, Islamic art is widespread. The specific pieces I focused on were three turquoise stones with contrasting black engraved calligraphy on them. These stones, in fact, were intended to be pendants worn as jewelry, as that is what they were set for. Each stone had different messages written in fluid calligraphy. One was “Whatever is the Will of Allah will happen,” another was “All praise goes to Allah” and the last one was “Nothing will happen except with the will of Allah.” These are Quranic verses, which have also turned into colloquialisms in the Muslim world. Perhaps these pendants serve three functions total: 1. They serve as beautiful adornments. 2. They could function as a means of protection from evils. 3. They could serve to remind the person wearing them and those who view the jewelry to remember Allah throughout the day. I believe that Islamic spirituality is reflected very directly in these pendants. This art overall signifies that Islamic art recognizes Allah first and foremost, then the beauty of the object falls into place.