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Islamic culture is a term primarily used in secular academia to describe the cultural practices common to historically Islamic peoples. The early forms of Muslim culture were predominantly Arab. With the rapid expansion of the Islamic empires, Muslim culture has influenced and assimilated much from the Persian, Bangladeshi, Turkic, Pakistani, Mongol, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Somali, Berber, Egyptian, Indonesian, Filipino, Greek-Roman Byzantine, Spanish, Sicilian, Balkanic and Western cultures.
Language and literature
Early Muslim literature is in Arabic, as that was the language of the Islamic prophet Muhammad's communities in Mecca and Medina. As the early history of the Muslim community was focused on establishing the religion of Islam, its literary output was religious in character. See the articles on Qur'an, Hadith, and Sirah, which formed the earliest literature of the Muslim community.
With the establishment of the Umayyad empire. secular Muslim literature developed. See The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. While having no religious content, this secular literature was spread by the Arabs all over their empires, and so became part of a widespread culture.
During the early 20th century, the liberal poet Kazi Nazrul Islam espoused intense spiritual rebellion against oppression, fascism and religious fundamentalism; and also wrote a highly acclaimed collection of Bengali ghazals. Sultana's Dream by Begum Rokeya, an Islamic feminist, is one earliest works of feminist science fiction.
In modern times, classification of writers by language is increasingly irrelevant. The Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz has been translated into English and read across the world. Other writers, such as Orhan Pamuk, write directly in English for a wider international audience.
In the performing arts, the most popular skittle of theatre in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'zieh theatre.
Karagoz, the Turkish Shadow Theatre has influenced puppetry widely in the region. It is thought to have passed from China by way of India. Later it was taken by the Mongols from the Chinese and transmitted to the Turkish peoples of Central Asia. Thus the art of Shadow Theater was brought to Anatolia by the Turkish people emigrating from Central Asia. Other scholars claim that shadow theater came to Anatolia in the 16th century from Egypt. The advocates of this view claim that when Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Egypt in 1517, he saw shadow theatre performed during an extacy party put on in his honour. Yavuz Sultan Selim was so impressed with it that he took the puppeteer back to his palace in Istanbul. There his 21 year old son, later Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, developed an interest in the plays and watched them a great deal. Thus shadow theatre found its way into the Ottoman palaces.
In other areas the style of shadow puppetry known as khayal al-zill – an intentionally metaphorical term whose meaning is best translated as ‘shadows of the imagination’ or ‘shadow of fancy' survives. This is a shadow play with live music ..”the accompaniment of drums, tambourines and flutes...also...“special effects” – smoke, fire, thunder, rattles, squeaks, thumps, and whatever else might elicit a laugh or a shudder from his audience”
In Iran puppets are known to have existed much earlier than 1000 CE, but initially only glove and string puppets were popular in Iran. Other genres of puppetry emerged during the Qajar era (18th-19th century BCE) as influences from Turkey spread to the region. Kheimeh Shab-Bazi is a Persian traditional puppet show which is performed in a small chamber by a musical performer and a storyteller called a morshed or naghal. These shows often take place alongside storytelling in traditional tea and coffee-houses (Ghahve-Khave). The dialogue takes place between the morshed and the puppets. Puppetry remains very popular in Iran, the touring opera Rostam and Sohrab puppet opera being a recent example.
Marriage in Islam is considered to be of the utmost importance. The final Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, stated that "marriage is half of religion"; there are numerous hadiths lauding the importance of marriage and family.
Islamic art, a part of the Islamic studies, has throughout history been mainly abstract and decorative, portraying geometric, floral, Arabesque, and calligraphic designs. Unlike the strong tradition of portraying the human figure in Christian art, Islamic art often does not include depictions of living things, including human beings.
Islamic art is centered usually around Allah, and since Allah cannot be represented by imagery ["All you believe him to be, he is not"], geometric patterns are used. The patterns are similar to the Arabesque style, which also involves repeating geometric designs, but is not necessarily used to express ideals of order and nature.
Forbidden to paint living things and taught to revere the Qur'an, Islamic artists developed Arabic calligraphy into an art form. Calligraphers have long drawn from the Qur'an or proverbs as art, using the flowing Arabic language to express the beauty they perceive in the verses of Qur'an.
Elements of Islamic style
Islamic architecture may be identified with the following design elements, which were inherited from the first mosque built by Muhammad in Medina, as well as from other pre-Islamic features adapted from churches and synagogues.
- Large courtyards often merged with a central prayer hall (originally a feature of the Masjid al-Nabawi).
- Minarets or towers (which were originally used as torch-lit watchtowers for example in the Great Mosque of Damascus; hence the derivation of the word from the Arabic nur, meaning "light"). The oldest standing minaret in the world is the minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan (in Tunisia); erected between the 8th and the 9th century, it is a majestic square tower consisting of three superimposed tiers of gradual size and decor.
- A mihrab or niche on an inside wall indicating the direction to Mecca. This may have been derived from previous uses of niches for the setting of the torah scrolls in Jewish synagogues or Mehrab (Persian: مِهراب) of Persian Mitraism culture or the haikal[disambiguation needed] of Coptic churches.
- Domes (the earliest Islamic use of which was in the eighth-century mosque of Medina).
- Use of iwans to intermediate between different sections.
- Use of geometric shapes and repetitive art (arabesque).
- Use of decorative Arabic calligraphy.
- Use of symmetry.
- Ablution fountains.
- Use of bright color.
- Focus on the interior space of a building rather than the exterior.
Common interpretations of Islamic architecture include the following:
- The concept of Allah's infinite power is evoked by designs with repeating themes which suggest infinity.
- Human and animal forms are rarely depicted in decorative art as Allah's work is matchless. Foliage is a frequent motif but typically stylized or simplified for the same reason.
- Calligraphy is used to enhance the interior of a building by providing quotations from the Qur'an.
- Islamic architecture has been called the "architecture of the veil" because the beauty lies in the inner spaces (courtyards and rooms) which are not visible from the outside (street view).
- Use of impressive forms such as large domes, towering minarets, and large courtyards are intended to convey power.
Many Muslims are very familiar to listening to music. Islamic music is Muslim religious music, as sung or played in public services or private devotions. The classic heartland of Islam is Arabia and the Middle East, North Africa and Egypt, Iran, Central Asia, and northern India and Pakistan. Because Islam is a multicultural religion, the musical expression of its adherents is diverse. The indigenous musical styles of these areas have shaped the devotional music enjoyed by contemporary Muslims:
Sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the southern Philippines also have large Muslim populations, but these areas have had less influence than the heartland on the various traditions of Islamic music.
All these regions were connected by trade long before the Islamic conquests of the 600s and later, and it is likely that musical styles traveled the same routes as trade goods. However, lacking recordings, we can only speculate as to the pre-Islamic music of these areas. Islam must have had a great influence on music, as it united vast areas under the first caliphs, and facilitated trade between distant lands. Certainly the Sufis, brotherhoods of Muslim mystics, spread their music far and wide.
Notes and references
- Moreh, Shmuel (1986), "Live Theatre in Medieval Islam", in David Ayalon, Moshe Sharon, Studies in Islamic History and Civilization, Brill Publishers, pp. 565–601, ISBN 965-264-014-X
- Tradition Folk The Site by Hayali Mustafa Mutlu
- Article Saudi Aramco World 1999/John Feeney
- The History of Theatre in Iran: Willem Floor:ISBN 0-934211-29-9: Mage 2005
- Mehr News Agency 7.7.07 http://www.mehrnews
- Iran Daily 1.3.06 http://www.iran-daily.com
- Hans Kung, Tracing the Way : Spiritual Dimensions of the World Religions, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, page 248
- Kairouan Capital of Political Power and Learning in the Ifriqiya (Muslim Heritage)
- Titus Burckhardt, Art of Islam, Language and Meaning : Commemorative Edition. World Wisdom. 2009. p. 128
- Linda Kay Davidson and David Martin Gitlitz, Pilgrimage: from the Ganges to Graceland : an encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. 2002. p. 302
- Al-Quairawan Mosque (Muslim heritage.com)
- Rosenthal, Franz (1975). The Classical Heritage in Islam, in series, Arabic Thought and Culture. Trans. from the German by Emilie and Jenny Marmorstein. [Pbk. ed.]. London: Routledge, 1992. xx, 298 p., sparsely ill. N.B.: "First published in English in 1975 by Routledge & Kegan, Paul" in the hardcover ed. ISBN 0-415-07693-5