Heavenly Notes #2

Heavenly Notes #2

Chapter 1: Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi

Divinity and Religiosity in Iranian Culture and Art

In contrast to the Christian individualistic thinking that gave rise to sacred visual arts, the monotheistic thought in Islam leads to a specific limitation in visual arts. In monotheistic thought, the artist is in the position of a human being who deals with the form and wall and the truth of objects and beyond their accidents and appearances. Therefore, these accidents and appearances cannot be the place for the embodiment of higher truth. In fact, “the Islamic prohibition of divine images is only fully related to the drawing of an image of divinity, because any embodiment of divinity from an Islamic point of view is an idol, as a historical and divine need, a manifestation of the wrong idea of recognizing absolute existence through incomplete existence, meaning the decline of the position of the creator to the level of the created” (Burkhart, 1986, 40). And on this basis, the denial of idols and their destruction, which means putting into action, is the most central monotheistic slogan, which is “there is no god but God”. In continuation of this thought, Muslims have avoided painting the faces of prophets and saints, not only because their bodies could have become the idols of idolaters, but also because of the respect that comes from their being inimitable, because they are representatives of the God of the earth. In the same way, this opposition has also spread to the representation of other human beings, because God created man in his own image. This limitation has not caused any defect in the formation of Muslim religious art, because sacred art does not involve the role of images, but rather includes the writing of completely silent forms, which seem to represent a state of thought and enlightenment.

Islamic art is neither derived from Islamic law nor from the Islamic path. Instead, the source of Islamic art must be sought in the inner truths of this religion, which are explicitly stated in the Holy Quran. The Quran is the central thought of the Islamic religion, and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the embodiment of this unity in multiplicity. We witness this unity in God’s creation, not its embodiment. In this way, monotheistic thought not only explains the theoretical foundations of Islamic art but also manifests itself in the examples of this art. Examples of the prominent effects of monotheistic thought on the formation of Iranian-Islamic art can be seen in the manifestation of unity in the realm of multiplicity by choosing geometric, arabesque, and Khatai patterns, the Kaaba, uniform and integrated decorations, the emergence of empty space in architecture, and so on.

Islamic art is the result of the manifestation of unity in the realm of multiplicity and the attainment of monotheistic thought. The Muslim artist flees from multiplicity to reach unity. The choice of geometric, arabesque, and Khatai patterns and the minimal use of human figures and the unity of these patterns at a focal point emphasize this. These abstract patterns, with their continuous and uninterrupted harmony and uniformity and their endless interweaving, instead of attracting thought and drawing it into an imaginary world, prevent the mind from becoming preoccupied with one thing, thus freeing it from the perception and consciousness of the idols of the soul and self-absorption (Burkhart, 1986, 42).

The Kaaba, as the only human-made structure that plays a central role in the worship of all Muslims, is the first tangible manifestation of multiplicity and a return to monotheistic thought. It is obvious that the most obvious task of architecture is to organize space, and Islamic architecture organizes space by “sanctifying” it, and this sanctification is based more than anything else on the presence of the Kaaba. The Muslims’ Qiblah, while determining the directions and polarizing the space, also creates a special qualitative space in which a set of invisible lines invites the concentration of the surrounding points to the center. That is, it manifests the unity and unity of souls by directing all worshipers towards itself. Attention to the Kaaba also directs the Qiblah of all Islamic mosques to one point.

The uniform and integrated yet endless decorations of Iranian-Islamic art in domes, minarets, tilework, and so on create a space that empties a person of everything “other”. This is in itself a return to monotheistic thought. The emergence of empty space in Muslim architecture is another example of the concrete manifestation of the influence of monotheistic thought on Islamic art. Empty space emphasizes the “otherness” of absolute truth. That is, to the fact that the Creator is completely beyond the things that the external senses have accepted as reality, and this word corresponds to “God” in the manifestation of monotheistic thought, that is, the phrase “there is no god but God”. On this basis, empty space has become a sacred element in Islamic art through the metaphysical principle of monotheism. God and his manifestations are not considered to be associated with any particular place, time or thing, and therefore his presence is pervasive, as the Qur’an says: “Whichever way you turn, you turn towards God” (Al-Baqarah, 115). Thus, emptiness in art becomes synonymous with the sacred.

Iranian-Islamic architecture is the culmination of monotheistic thought. This architecture is based on the grace and blessing derived from the word of revelation, which has made it possible to establish a correspondence and harmony between sacred architecture and nature. In this way, Islamic architecture is not separate from the nature of human life, and the living environment of humans is all a continuation of it. A Muslim believer, wherever he is in the mosque, is emptied of otherness and can become aware of and resort to unity.

Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi

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