2.3.4 The Silent Theology of Islamic Art

Samarkand Shah-i-Zinda Tuman Aqa Complex tiles. Wikimedia Commons user InfoCan, 2012.

If asked to introduce Islam to an audience unfamiliar with the religion or civilization, I would not necessarily recommend a translation of the Qur’an; nor a book of Islamic law, theology, or philosophy; nor one of the many popular books purporting to introduce Islam to the West. Rather, I would recommend listening to a beautiful untranslated recitation of the Qur’an in an Arabic maqām (melodic mode); or contemplating an illuminated Ottoman manuscript of the holy book in thuluth or kufic calligraphy; or marveling at Fes’ Qarawiyyin, Isfahan’s Shaykh Lutfollah, or Cairo’s Ibn Tulun mosques; or listening to the music of the poetry of Hafez, Amīr Khusrow, or Ibn al-Fāriđ. These masterpieces of Islamic civilization communicate the beauty and truth of its revelation with a profound directness simply unmatched by articles or books about Islam… (Renovatio).
This Renovatio article suggests that Islam is best known not through books or discursive arguments, but rather through aesthetics. It is written by Oludamini Ogunnaike, now Assistant Professor of African Religious Thought and Democracy at the University of Virginia.


Read: The Silent Theology of Islamic Art // Renovatio

Guiding Questions:

  1. Why is imagination and artistic creation important for understanding God?
  2. How have different Muslim thinkers articulated the relationship between reason and imagination?
  3. What is the source of Islamic art, according to the author?
  4. Why is it important, on the author’s account, for madrasas to be beautiful in their architecture?
  5. Why is instrumental music controversial for many Muslims?
  6. Why is the loss of art in Islam linked to the growth in extreme sectarianism?

Photo: “Samarkand Shah-i-Zinda Tuman Aqa Complex.” Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons user InfoCan. CC BY 3.0.