Islamic Art: An Islamic perception facilitator
Architecture is ‘built’ meaning. It ultimately expresses who we are.
Whoever wishes to understand a religion, naturally seeks out every phenomenon that reveals something about that religion. Acquaintance with the artistic works of a land - or several lands which lodge artists with the same beliefs – reveals the history of people who believe in that religion. In addition, these works reveal the psyche and mind of the believers of that religion. Therefore, understanding Islamic art can be a great method to help understand Islamic concepts.
Islamic architecture is one of the greatest branches of Islamic art, composing a major portion of characteristics of Islamic art during different time periods. Historically, architecture is the first art used by Muslims to align artistic and religious concepts. This art form was typically well received by Muslims over the centuries and thus can be seen as a historical record of various Islamic concepts. In fact, Islamic architecture can be seen as representative of Islamic art.
Islamic architecture includes several types, the most important of which are: Mosque, seminary, Ḥammām (A structural design for a hot bathhouse), Caravanserai (A roadside inn for travelers), Casbah/Citadel (a fortress), Mausoleum (a tomb or a monument). Our essay focusses on the principal unit of Islamic architecture; that is a building used for Muslim prayers which is called ‘Masjid’ in Arabic.
Mosque or Masjid (in Arabic) was derived from the word ‘sujūd’ or prostration. In early Islam the mosque was built as a simple structure for the congregation of Muslims. Although everyday functions from individual to daily community needs are held in mosques as centers for the community, its main purpose was containing the act of congregational Ṣalāt or prayer. Salah is essentially a state of the physical ritual of submission that leads to the temporal-spiritual immersion of oneself in conversation to the Creator-Allah. The mosque’s spirituality lies in an embodiment of Islamic view of worship or ‘ibadah’ which sees no compartmentalization between the mundane and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual. Spirituality in Islam is a simple condition intrinsic to every practicing Muslim way of life – taqwā. The mosque was just a simple space and place for contemplation in the ritual of obligatory prayers. The mosque constitutes as space for a state of temporal withdrawal from daily activities as spiritual checkpoints. Rather than asserting an ascetic and monastic way of life, Islam enjoins the conflation or fusion of the mundane and the spiritual at all times.
An Early Model Mosque
The first mosque after the Ghobā Mosque was the house of the Prophet Muḥammad (P.B.U.H. & H.H.) in Medina. This was a simple rectangular enclosure containing rooms for the Prophet (P.B.U.H. & H.H.) and his family and a shaded area on the south side of the courtyard which could be used for the prayer in the direction of Mecca. This building became the model for subsequent mosques which had the same basic courtyard layout with a prayer area against the qibla wall. The simple mosque was of a person’s height, was revolutionized to accommodate the expanding Muslim community, technology and new architectural innovation. During Caliph Uthmān b. ‘Affān’s time, the original mosque was demolished and rebuilt to orientate toward Mecca. After the end of the Rāshidīn Caliphs Era and in the time of the Ummayad Caliph Walīd b. ‘Abd al-Malik, a new qibla wall was constructed with a maqṣūra (an enclosure at the centre of the qibla wall for the ruler). The mosque had a teak ceiling decoration.
Spiritual manifestations of Mosque
The ultimate expression of sacred architecture in the domain of Muslims has been shown in the semantic and physical structure of mosques which has been an obvious manifestation of harmony, balance, order, and unity of Supreme Being’s incarnation.
In fact, expression of spiritual manifestation is a platform for evolution and excellence of the spirit and a wonderful, beautiful, and warn-tempered atmosphere; an atmosphere which raises religious hilarity through the embodiment of purity, righteousness, and piety of god the exalted (unity) in its hidden layers of epistemic.
Mosque sets free the restless souls of men from the fetters of the sensible world and guide them to absolute light. The mosque belongs to Supreme Being and is considered as an obvious symbol of his divine mercy and a symbolic language of his spiritual and religious ideas. Indeed, the mosque, through emphasis on the transcendent goal of monotheistic religions, which is to become godly in the light of self-discovery, has always tried to provide self-transition and reaching to Supreme being by establishing a logical link between the earth (the platform of self-awareness) and the sky (reaching to divinity).
In spiritual terms, the Mosque is not only a physical entity. It is a purpose-built facility that contains and facilitates ‘actions. A mosque in architecture can only be rendered successful if the design can elicit a particular momentary experience of contemplation or spirituality for the worshipper with his/her Creator. Gaining this success is the real and logical reason of forbidding any use of symbolic art such as statues, paintings, or other representations of living things.
All ritual prayers ended with a du’a or supplication by cupping both hands and raised slightly towards the skyheaven. Space above the prayer hall provides the environment or physical means of gravitating the worshipper to the heaven above and making oneself insignificant or humble as an umma. The roof must be the highest point in the core space; suggesting a unity of adherents without hierarchy or inequality in prayer, all stand equal before Allah. Oneness is thus emphasized as a cosmological centre. This centre becomes both – the spatial and symbolic representation of a house of Allah.
By Massih Pooyanejad