Islam and Art

The Holy Quran’s meaning as well as its letters, sounds, prosody, and cadences exert a powerful influence over Muslims’ soul and mind. When Islam emerged in Arabian Peninsula, there were many Arab poets, eloquent orators, and dexterous lecturers who were competing with each other to get the best and highest position amongst others. In such an environment the Holy prophet Mohammad (S) brought about a masterpiece of literary works that became the source and origin of Islamic civilization in the coming centuries. Like other creatures, revelation is also the manifestation of God’s beauty, because, Almighty Allah (J), according to a narration, is

“the most beautiful and loves beauty”. [1]

Since Almighty Allah is the creator of all beauties as well as beautiful creatures in the universe, Islam as a divine manifestation upon the world is also the origin and source of beauties and arts. In fact, the beauty of the Holy Prophet’s soul was reflected in the Holy Quran and in the sayings (traditions) of the Holy Prophet. These two main sources of Islam brought into being a civilization that is still alive and in which the arts always held a position of central importance.

Based on the direct injunctions in the Quran to appreciate the beauty of creation and of all objects created by Allah; [2] Muslims built the great masterpieces of Islamic arts, such as the grand mosques in Spain, Tunisia, Cairo, Istanbul, Isfahan and Samarqand that represent the spirit of Islamic revelation. According to the Islamic teachings and principles, Islamic arts must provide an ambience in which Muslims can live and function in the state of the remembrance of Allah and the vision of His divine beauty.

So Islamic art in both form and spirit, seeks to reflect Divine Unity, emphasize the fragility of the world and the permanence of what lies beyond it. Contrary to the current Western sense of the term, art means making and doing anything correctly and well. Because of it there is a close relationship between art and knowledge as it

“has been asserted traditionally in the Islamic world by many of the great masters craftsmen and artists who have emphasized over and over again that art comes from the wedding of fann and hikmah or technique and wisdom”.[3]

In accordance with aforementioned points we have to look at cinema and stage arts in the light of the Quranic revelation, because every kind of arts must be characterized by the divine and Islamic values. It must be noted that the question of the origin of Islamic art, and the nature of the forces and principles which brought this art into being, must therefore, be related to the world view of Islam itself, to the Islamic revelation, one of whose radiations is directly the sacred art of Islam and indirectly the whole of Islamic art. [4] Traditional art is concerned with the truths contained in the tradition of which it is the artistic and formal expression. Its origin therefore is not purely human. Moreover, this art must conform to the symbolism inherent in the object with which itis concerned as well as the symbolism directly related to the revelation whose inner dimension this art manifests. [5]

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei once addressed a large delegation of cultural workers and artists in a gathering, saying that the play writers and cinematographers should utilize the art of writing to offer a correct visage of concepts and values. Moral realities are not comparable to any of the material concepts, he said:

“Islamic values are the loftiest realities that can fully absorb us, and on that basis, film makers and film directors are expected to find visual representation of religious concepts in such a way that they will be more appealing to the viewers.”

He said the language of arts should be used to make values all the more appealing. The grand Ayatollah added that:

“Arts is the worthy gift of God to man. The arts are dear and exalted. Arts are everlasting. Arts are universal and are not limited to specific lands or specific periods of history,” [6]

Finally it could be concluded from the aforementioned points that Islam, as an everlasting and universal religion, does place a high value on art and cinema; because one of the main purposes of Islam is to guide the mankind to the right path. This guidance could not be fulfilled if Muslim cultural workers and artists would not make use of the language of arts. As a result, the message of Islam could not be delivered to the mankind.

[1] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Hadith No. 164.
[2] see Sūrah al-Nahl: 5-6; Sūrah al-An’ām: 115; Sūrah al-Nahl: 8.
[3] S. H. Nasr, A young Muslim’s guide to the modern world, p: 104.
[4] S. H. Nasr, Art and spirituality, 1987, p: 4.
[5] S. H. Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred Gifford Lectures, 1989, p: 222.