Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that God-Almighty is beautiful and loves beauty. He wanted to not only beautify his exterior appearance, but his inner soul as well. He also beautified his environment, starting from his home, to plantation campaigns in Madinah. He consistently proclaimed areas as sanctuaries and forbade any cutting of trees or killing of animals.
One may ask, how can we relate art and beauty to Islam? The answer is rather simple. Whenever you see beauty, you see traces of the Divine. God-Almighty manifests His signs through the rays of the sun, the reflection of the trees in a blissful lake and the snow shining on mountaintops. Plato once said, “Beauty is the splendor of truth.” Splendor is defined as magnificence, grandeur, glory, and elegance, among many other things. In other words, when you see beauty, you see the truth.
The most central form of art in Islam is calligraphy and the most central expression of truth in Islam is the Qur’an. The calligraphy created in Islamic arts always point to one thing: the Qur’an.
“God is He Who has made the earth as a fixed abode, and the heaven as a canopy, and has formed you and perfected your forms, and He provides you with pure, wholesome things. Then Blessed and Supreme is God, the Lord of the worlds.” (40:64)
Another form of art in Islam is the recitation of Qur’an. Since there are no statues, no icons, or other physical forms in mosques which define the space as a mosque, this empty space is filled with the art of Islam. Let’s clarify this. La ilaha illa Allah, there is no god but God, the center teaching and soundboard of the Islamic faith takes the place of any physical form when you enter a mosque. One must remember, that Islamic art holds and speaks its own language. How can a phrase fill such a physical void? One must know the language of Islamic art to understand this concept.
Firstly, la ilaha illa Allah, while literally meaning there is no god, but God, can also be understood as the acknowledgement of God-Almighty being near, yet beyond our limit of capable understanding at the same time. The Qur’an reiterates this message when it tells us that God-Almighty is closer to us than our jugular vein. See, the focal point of a church or temple is the icon placed there to define the area. Whether it is a statue of Jesus Christ or a shrine to the Buddha, or any other icon placed in other homes of worship. In Islam, the focal point of the mosque is God-Almighty being so near to us, closer than the vein that provides us life, yet so grand; His beauty, grace, compassion and love is beyond our scopes of imagination. There is no intermediary between man and God-Almighty in Islam. Acknowledging this absence of an intermediary is acknowledging that there should be nothing standing between you and God-Almighty. Such is the beauty of Islamic art.
Why do we need art? Art speaks to our souls. Islamic art generally uses geometric shapes and floral shapes along with calligraphy. The colors, the femininity of the shapes of the art speaks to the beauty already living within our souls. When you see a beautiful structure, you can always see the beauty of a believer’s soul. Take geometric shapes for example. You can see there are rules that must be followed when making geometric shapes, this can be understood as the rules or laws governing the world. Similarly, through the flexibility of the changes in shape say from geometric to flower-like, you can see the openness and flexibility in the world, such as a mother’s heart and love for her child. God-Almighty is the Creator of both laws and compassion. You see, art in Islam speaks its own language, one that needs no translation once you see the emptiness it would be without the Divine, without God-Almighty.