Friday, December 11, 2009

Islamic Design, Arabesque and Geometry

Surface patterns on works of art created in theblog-he
Islamic world have been prized for centuries for
their beauty, refinement, harmony, intricacy, and

Arabesque is a western word for the Islamic art of  zakhrafa,  which consists of geometric designs embellished by more organic motifs such as
It is an amazing world of geometry, patterns, shapes and their interaction with each other. Islamic_Art_by_ValenciaDesign
If you teach a child to draw a an exact square with out ruler measurements and only with a compass and straight edge, if you teach them about circumference, radius, well you can teach it in a lot of different ways, but doing it with Arabesque and Islamic design is more fun, challenging and develops critical thinking.
I have gathered a few resources for using Islamic design as a base for geometry. I am not giving the suggestions for year group or key stages, as many of these can be used by children of different levels.
1. Shapes Craft
This one is for the younger ones. Show children lots of pictures of Islamic art. Can they find any shapes? any patterns? Then show them how arranging different shapes differently they can also make their own Islamic designs. While they are making their own ask questions like what patterns they can see? Which shape comes next etc. You can use foam shapes, wooden shapes, or any other ones lying around in house. If you haven’t got any, you can print the shapes from here glue them on a piece of paper and you have some very beautiful wall hangings.
2. Drawing Your Own
For some kids (who like using their geometry sets) recreating an Islamic design can be an interesting challenge. Even for those who don’t like their geometry sets much, this can provide some measure of interest. For younger children it can be a very good excuse to learn using compass. My children have learned many of their “gons” like hexagon, octagon etc from Islamic designs. You can do the following:
  • Using a square grid try to copy patterns like this
(for an inspiration on how to draw complex patterns on square grid, click here)
  • Using a Compass and a straight edge, practice drawing:
1- The triangle and the circle: simple division into six.
2- Variations on the octagonal theme (the static and the dynamic octagon).
(Learn about them here)

3- The octagon and the semi-regular grids.
4- The octagon and the eight-pointed star.
5- How the circle divides itself.
6- The square, four- and eight-fold symmetry.
7- The basis for the classical Islamic Pattern of what is called the eight-fold rosettes.
8- The construction of eight-fold symmetry with a sixteen-fold rosette.
(To learn the step-by-step guides on the above skills, and to create patterns using them, i have got two excellent resources. First is this excellent e-book, Islamic Art and Geometric Design by The Metropolitan Museum of Arts. Just a word of caution though, the explanation in the beginning about Islamic Believes and practices is not very accurate.
Second resource is the following tutorial. You can download them on your system from here: arab1 and arab2)
  • You can use Taprats program to make your own Islamic designs and learn the relationship of shapes to each other without having to actually draw them.
Taprats is a Java applet that implements design technique for Islamic star patterns. The technique is based largely on the work of Hankin in the early part of the twentieth century. Taprats has a library of built-in tilings that can be used to construct many famous Islamic designs. Even better, the construction of these designs is parameterized in certain ways, so you can use Taprats as a vehicle for exploration of the vast space of Islamic designs.
The following design is made using Taprats (not by me)
You can also download it on your system from here. (If you are not sure how to use it, read the user manual from here)
  • Use a computer software, try making patterns based on hexagons, octagons and stars by manipulating the basic shapes in different ways.
Recommended software:
Adobe Illustrator or even Photoshop
Tux Paint
Drawing for Children
Microsft Paint
  • Visit a museum and see different Islamic arts, and perhaps do some of the activities suggested here
  • You can embed History very well with this theme

  • Last but not least, what is the Islamic ruling on Islamic art?
1. Islam does not forbid the art, as far as it doesn’t contain any fawaahish, and doesn’t include the drawing of animated figures. The prohibition of drawing animated objects is proved by following ahadeeth:
It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Umar (Radhiallahu Anhu) that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said, “Those who make pictures will be punished on the day of judgment. It will be said to them: Bring to life what you have created!”
It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Mas'ood (Radhiallahu Anhu) that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said, “The people who will be most severely punished on the Day of Judgment are those who make pictures (of animate objects)”.
It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Abbaas (Radiallahu Anhu) that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasalam) said, “Every person who creates pictures of animate objects will be in the fire of Hell. Every picture that he created will be given a life and will punish him in Jahannum
2. Like any other form of amusement, it is not lawful to indulge too much in it. When used as a tool for education, it is indeed permissible. For the purpose of recreation also it is permissible but if the engrossment is causing the person to cause delay in his/her salaah etc then caution better be observed.
3. Tell children about extravagency, its vices and prohibition. It is narrated in Bukhari:
Narrated Ash-sha'bi:
The clerk of Al-Mughira bin Shu'ba narrated, "Muawiya wrote to Al-Mughira bin Shu'ba: Write to me something which you have heard from the Prophet (p.b.u.h) ." So Al-Mughira wrote: I heard the Prophet saying, "Allah has hated for you three things:
1. Vain talks, (useless talk) that you talk too much or about others.
2. Wasting of wealth (by extravagance)
3. And asking too many questions (in disputed religious matters) or asking others for something (except in great need). (See Hadith No. 591, Vol. Ill)
Then show them the pictures of masaajid and other buildings with ornate “Islamic” decorations. (Can you see the irony? most of the “Islamic” designs are applied in totally un Islamic way) Think about the amount spent, the effort put and ask them their opinion about spending so much time and wealth on decorating masaajids and other buildings.
Personally i think that this extreme indulgence in decorating masaajids etc is one of our greatest shortcomings as an Ummah. The millions spent in the beautification of masaajid can be very well spared. The Ummah whose young are dying of hunger is spending their millions and resources in beautifying the mere buildings of house of Allaah, Who loves simplicity and has ordered his servants to practise upon it.. If the effort spent in beautifying the buildings of masaajid were rather spent in beautifying the souls of masaajid (its musallees and their Imaan) it would be worth decidedly more, and Allaah knows the best!
The arcitecture of Muslim Spain , like of AL Hamra etc, is said to be the biggest inspiration for Islamic design, yet today there are no native Spanish Muslims left because the rulers of Muslim Spain had fallen in the trap of Dunya. If you read through Spanish Muslim history, the thing that stands out is the indulgence of Muslims in finnesses and riches. They built grand domes and let the morals fall. May Allaah Swt grants this ummah the understanding aamin.
I see this unit on Islamic design as a perfect opportunity to etch in the minds of our young the evils of getting too fond of this world and its riches. May Allaah save us and all the Ummaah from this great evil aamin.


  1. Good one on Home Schooling Ideas For Muslim Parents - it helps a lot!

    We clearly share similar parenting experiences and views.
    I've been reading one that I'm hooked on -
    I have a feeling you'd get a lot out of it.

    Incredible job on your blog; keep it up.


  2. MashAllah, you're doing a great job with the varied content of your blog and adding in knowledge of the deen where relevant.

    JazakAllahu khayr for sharing.

  3. Jazakallah! May Allaah accept everyone's efforst aamin.

  4. Thank you for your great article about creating Arabesque art. Lots of ideas and useful links. Jazakallah Khair.

  5. Salaam alaykum,

    A great post and an interesting take on the wealth invested in decorating mosques! I never thought about it actually; I know that the interior of a mosque should be simple, and therefore found many of the mosques in Istanbul, for example, to be extravagant. However, it certainly does attract tourists (who donate money)...

  6. Good keep it up.Nice blog in easy language and provide good information about arts.

  7. AOA,
    that's amazing and very beautiful piece of work you have uploaded here, if you want to get more similar designs and art works related to Islam, visit my blog. Al-Furqan Designs. you will find almost every type of graphics for any Islamic project for free. visit the link below. its my blog.
    free islamic designs


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