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Islamic Architecture - Accurate Essays

Islamic Architecture

Islamic Architecture

Islam is one of the religions that have had significant and enduring influences on fine art and architecture. Despite being a relatively new religion and culture compared to Christianity and the early European civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, the influence of Islam on decorative art and architecture is notable. The ornamentation of the Islamic architectural projects, most often, mosques, has evolved since the 10th century, more than three decades after the emergence of Islam as a religion and lifestyle. The Islamic work is adorned with magnificent architectural structures that have preserved the unique Islamic art to date (Broug 18). This discussion delves into Islamic architecture and its predominant use of geometrical shapes and symmetrical art as its defining and differentiating characteristic. The discussion will begin by explaining the use and significance of geometry and symmetry in Islam, as represented in Islamic art. After that, the evolution of Islamic art is traced and evidenced using examples that have been immortalized in ancient Islamic buildings.  Then, the application of geometrical shapes and symmetrical art in Islamic architecture is discussed while drawing examples from iconic buildings and mosques across the former and current Muslim world.   

Forms and Evolution

Islamic art is characterized by geometrical shapes, arabesque style, and calligraphy (Mahina and Selcuk 84). Although these art forms are often found in combination is many artistic artifacts, this discussion focuses on the geometric art forms in Islam. The circle is the most basic geometrical shape employed in Islamic art. The circle is significant in Islam because it signifies unity and coherence, and its center represents monotheism (Ahmed 2). This is critical in demonstrating Islam as a religion and a lifestyle that supposedly elevates humans to the highest spiritual consciousness possible. Several circles are drawn with different orientations to each other, dividing each of them several times evenly to produce templates on which intricate designs can the placed and developed. Similarly, the star, polygon, and rosette, are other basic forms of Islamic art. Regular shapes, such as four, six, eight, and ten sided figures and the most preferred geometrical shapes in Islamic fine art because they can be easily tessellated. However, 10 and 11 sided polygons and stars have been found, especially in the more recent Islamic fine art because they emerged later owing to the creativity of the Islamic artists. Now, odd-sided architectural patterns are rare and even nonexistent in many of the Islamic motifs because of their replication and tessellation difficulty.

Geometry and symmetry are common features in Islamic art. These geometrical shapes are derived from combining circles and polygons to form basic shapes, which are then overlaid on each other to form complex designs that form the basic template, which is repeated severally to produce complex designs. These basic motifs are then subjected to geometrical transformations, such as reflection, rotation, and magnification, before being recombined to form the intricate and unique fine art pieces. Sometimes, the geometrical designs are infused with the arabesque style, which is premised on vegetal designs. Nonetheless, even when the vegetal designs are incorporated into the motif design, a similar process of reflecting and rotating is undertaken to form new motifs that can be tessellated to form the artworks. The emergence of geometric shapes in Islamic art is associated with the debut of Islamic mathematicians in recorded literature, signifying the advancement and contribution of Islamic scholars to mathematics, and specifically, geometry (Moradzadeh and Ebrahi 3). This is often associated with the scientific and technological advancements that occurred in the 8th and 9th centuries in Central Asia, Iran, and the Middle East, from where Islamic art first emerged.

Geometrical shapes and symmetrical art are often found in mosques, which are the places of worship for Muslims (Ahmad, Rashid and Naz 123). Although early mosques were adorned with floral motifs inspired by the arabesque style, abstract motifs gradually replaced the floral ones due to their abstractness, which had created new meaning towards Islamic art and its architectural significance (Shafiq 13). In this regard, the development and evolution of Islamic art can be best understood by tracing the transformation of the ornamental adornment of the Islamic architectural structures.

Application in Architecture

Islamic art is most evident in architecture. The Islamic world has numerous examples of architectural structures that have incorporated Islamic art styles of geometry and symmetry in their designs and ornamentation. In this regard, mosques and royal residences provide the best architectural structures in which Islamic art can be witnessed in all its magnificence and splendor. After the demise of Prophet Muhammad, the early Islamic world experienced a civil war amongst the Arabic tribes and established caliphs. This is a significant development through which the architectural development and evolution in the Islamic world can be traced. In this regard, the different applications of geometrical and symmetrical art forms in Islamic architecture can be traced long the different successive caliphates that emerged thereafter (Abdullahi and Rashid Bin Embi 244). The emergence of the Islamic art form is associated with the Umayyad era, which existed in the 7th and 8th centuries. At the time, Islamic architectural art forms were dominated by floral and vegetal patterns and motifs incorporated from the byzantine and Sassanid architecture. Notable buildings adorned with these early Islamic ornamental art forms include the Dome of the Rock in present-day Jerusalem in Israel and the Great Mosque of Damascus in Iraq, which was converted to a mosque from the Damascus Christian Temple. However, the Umayyad era marked the end of the predominant floral and vegetal-inspired patterns to usher in the more abstract geometrical and symmetrical forms we see today.

Early geometrical and symmetrical ornamental architectural designs emerged with the debut of the Abbasids era between the 8th and 13th centuries (Bier 2). Notable architectural buildings include the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia and the Mosque of Ibn-Tulun in Cairo, Egypt. The Great Mosque of Kairouan demonstrates the first attempts to incorporate geometrical shapes into the predominant floral and vegetal motifs, used in its architectural ornamentation. However, the Mosque of Ibn-Tulun is credited as the pioneer architectural structure in the Islamic world that introduced geometric motifs as the predominant design. The motifs incorporated the circles and basic 8-point and 9-point geometrical designs (Embi and Abdullahi 28). These designs gained universal acceptance among Islamic artisans and architects, thus heralding the entrenchment of the symmetrical and geometrical designs in Islamic architecture. This is because these designs capture the emerging timelessness and sublimeness of Islam, which discourages depictions of human or animal life forms in architecture to prevent them from being turned into objects of worship.  

The Abbasid Era ushered in the incorporation of geometrical designs into the building materials of architectural structures rather than painted additions to the buildings’ surfaces. In this regard, these newly-accepted architectural patterns were engraved in bricks, wood, terracotta, and stone to supplement the wall paintings.  Like in the previous era, the 8-point and 9-point geometrical designs dominated the architectural designs of the Abbasid Era. Specifically, the Abbasid Palace and the Madrasa of Mustansiriyeh in Baghdad, Iraq are structures that demonstrate the incorporation of geometrical and symmetrical patterns into the Islamic architecture (Abdullahi and Rashid Bin Embi 246). After this era, these designs and motifs developed further during the Fatimid and Seljuk eras, when the 8-point and 9-point geometrical patterns remained dominant, although the 10-point patters had started emerging. Notable structures during these epochs include the Tomb Towers of Kharaqan in Iran, Madrasa Al-Firdaws in Aleppo, Syria, the Friday Mosque of Isfahan, and the Mosque of Al-Nasir Mohammad, which used the 8-point and 9-point geometrical patterns. However, the Barsian Friday Mosque in Isfahan, Iran was adorned with odd-numbered geometrical and symmetrical patterns, specifically containing 7-point, 9-point, 11-point, and 13-point polygon patters and motifs. Similarly, the Khanqah of Sultan Faraj-Ibn-Barquq and the Muayyad Mosque in Cairo, Egypt have 10-point, 16-point, and 16-point polygon designs in their motifs, in addition to the 8-point and 9-point geometrical patterns. Thereafter, the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal eras saw the advancements in the complexity of the symmetrical and geometrical motifs in the architectural designs of outstanding structures. In addition, these epochs, which existed between the 13th and 18th centuries, saw the increased combinations of even and odd numbered polygons into the architectural ornamentation motifs and patterns.

The era of Islam in Spain is renowned for its most splendid application of a combination of pre-Islam, modern Islam, and European architectural influences in monumental structures. The notable buildings where this composite designs, incorporating floral, vegetal, symmetrical, and geometrical patters into European inspired architecture include the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Aljaferia Palace, the Great Mosque of Seville, and the iconic Alhambra Palace in Spain.  The Alhambra Palace is particularly significant because it is considered the most splendid site to observe the merging of the traditional floral and vegetal designs with the 7-point, 9-point, 10-point, 14-point, and 16-point polygon patters in the motifs that are replicated in the entire building. In addition, the even-pointed and the odd-pointed polygonal patterns are employed abundantly, which is rare in other notable architectural structures in the Islamic world. In this regard, the Alhambra Place is held in high esteem among Islamic artisans and architects because it distrait the coming to age of the Islamic architecture and its timelessness (Sobh and Samy1075). This is because the complex structure, which is positioned on a hill top in Granada, Spain for security reasons, commenced as a small structure, and was gradually enlarged by successive occupants to become the splendid architectural wonder existing today. The building commenced during Muhammad-Ibn-Al-Ahmar’s reign of the Nasrid Dynasty in the 13th century. The successive rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty, which was the last of the Islamic rulers in Europe, modified and enlarged the structure, incorporating Islamic architectural ornaments to deliver a characteristic Islamic structure. . 


Islamic architecture is a perfect example of the influence of geometry and symmetry in ornamental architectural art. Symmetrical shapes based of regular objects, namely circles and polygons, have been fashioned into intricate designs, which are then tessellated to form complex abstract art observed in Islamic buildings, such as mosques and royal residences. The Islamic dynasties during the era of the caliphs in the early Islamic world were critical in introducing and spreading the geometrical and symmetrical designs and motifs into Islamic architecture. Some of those architectural wonders exist to date and have become testaments of the Islamic architectural evolution alongside becoming repositories of Islamic fine art, as renowned tourist sites.   

Works Cited

Abdullahi, Yahya, and Mohamed Rashid Bin Embi. “Evolution of Islamic geometric patterns.” Frontiers of Architectural Research, vol. 2 no. 2, 2013, pp. 243-251.

Ahmad, Madiha, Khuram Rashid, and Neelum Naz. “Study of the ornamentation of Bhong Mosque for the survival of decorative patterns in Islamic architecture.” Frontiers of Architectural Research, vol. 7, no. 2, 2018, pp. 122-134.

Ahmed, Ar Sayed. “The spiritual search of art over Islamic architecture with non-figurative representations.” Journal of Islamic Architecture, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-13.

Bier, Carol. “Geometry in Islamic Art’.” Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, 2015, pp. 1-21.

Broug, Eric. Islamic geometric design. Vol. 1. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Embi, Mohamed Rashid, and Yahya Abdullahi. “Evolution of Islamic geometrical patterns.”  Global Journal Al-Thaqafah, vol. 2, no. 2, 2012, pp. 27-39.

Mahina, R. E. K. I., and Semra Arslan Selcuk. “Evolution of Geometric Patterns in Islamic World and a Case on The Jalis of The Naulakha Pavilion in The Lahore Fort.” Gazi University Journal of Science Part B: Art Humanities Design and Planning, vol. 6, no. 2, 2018, pp. 83-97.

Migeon, Gaston, and Henri Saladin. Art of Islam. Parkstone International, 2012.

Moradzadeh, Sam, and Ahad Nejad Ebrahimi. “Islamic Geometric Patterns in Higher Dimensions.” Nexus Network Journal: Architecture & Mathematics, vol. 22, no. 3, 2020, pp. 1-23.

Shafiq, Jeanan. “Architectural Elements in Islamic Ornamentation: New Vision in Contemporary Islamic Art.” Arts and Design Studies, vol. 21, 2014, pp. 11-21.

Sobh, Hesham, and Heba Allah Samy. “Islamic geometric patterns as timeless architecture.” Journal of Al-Azhar University Engineering Sector, vol. 13, no. 48, 2018, pp. 1074-1088.

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