Vishnu Neppala: Islamic Art

My favorite religious art is that which extolls beauty but at the same time a sense of greater understanding which transcends religion and ideologies. Islamic art immediately comes to mind because of it’s rich history and the amazing color palettes which usually accompany it. Islam is interesting because of the way art has been an important facet of the faith since very early. Within Islamic art, my favorite pieces of art are those based in calligraphy, usually using the Arabic spellings of words like Allah and Bismillah meaning “thank god”, and using the Arabic letters in order to create an expansive and very much multi-varied piece of art, which seeks to express a greater meaning. In creating a sort of sprawling piece of art from a very simple word like “Allah” which in Arabic spelling consists of only two letters, the artist seeks to instill in the viewer the incredible significance which simply reciting “Allah” multiple times would have on a Muslim, a feeling of transcendence and a greater connection to God, seeing their being imposed on a canvas in a way which signifies their beauty through this painting or calligraphy. I believe calligraphy with it’s origins in Islamic tradition can be used as a tool for peacemaking. We only need to look at the word “Allah” for this to be the case, that which carries such special significance is simply the Arabic word for “God”.

We can acknowledge this commonality and collectively work towards a sort of healing and understanding between faiths, acknowledging our devotion to the one God, what the word “Allah” is regularly used to signify. While this art pertains to the Arabic language, this is only because it originated from the Arabic language. The concept of the one God unifies the Abrahamic faiths, so why can’t cultural practice from an Abrahamic religion, which also affirms the one God be used as point of unification. One particular piece which stuck out to me was one I actually saw for the first time on the Oberlin Islamic Studies blog was a piece of calligraphy centered around the Arabic letter و , the first letter of the word “waahid” meaning “one”. This concept of oneness and “tawhid” is important. In our seminar on Sufism, we discussed this oneness as being a core tenet of Sufi philosophy and practice. This is used not only to demonstrate the oneness of God, but also the oneness of humanity. In this sense, Sufism is a belief transcending the religion of Islam and rather acts as a philosophy for attaining peace. The most beautiful and meaningful type of religious art is that which promotes this oneness of humanity, transcending the confines of one particular faith to provide meaning which affects all people.