Heavenly Notes #5

Heavenly Notes #5

Chapter 1: Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi

Divinity and Religiosity in Iranian Culture and Art

If a topic or phenomenon exists in all societies, civilizations, religions, and climates, and its formation is somehow influenced by their worldview and thinking, then that topic or phenomenon can be attributed to a quality in any society that reflects the thinking and worldview of that society or civilization. Many topics and phenomena are also attributed to a quality that represents a specific geographical location. In such cases, the specific geographical name also brings to mind a specific theoretical, cultural, and worldview foundation. In addition, some geographical areas, due to their special and different climatic, environmental, and historical conditions, can be seen as a local interpretation of a subject. For example, speaking of Iranian architecture, in addition to indicating the thinking, worldview, and beliefs that have influenced the formation of Iranian architecture before or after Islam, it also expresses the spatial interpretation of the principles of that thinking, worldview, and beliefs that have also responded to the needs and climatic and environmental conditions.

It is undeniable that there is a connection and correlation between human productions such as art, architecture, and urban planning with his culture and worldview. Some claim that Islam does not have art – especially architecture and urban planning – and that art, architecture, and urban planning cannot be attributed to the Islamic character. The argument is that Arab Muslims who came to conquer other countries had no history of art and architecture, and the architecture and art of the conquered lands became known as Islamic art and architecture.

A four-arch has been renamed a dome, a palace has been turned into a government office, and so on. The main problem with this argument is that “Islam” is assumed to be synonymous with “Arab”, and it is obvious that this assumption is completely wrong. Another obvious mistake is the thought that these people, like those who call the works left by Muslims in Islamic countries Islamic architecture and art, assume a fixed and, in some cases, unchangeable physical and material pattern and model for every art. This is a completely wrong thought and is contrary to the spirit of Islam and its divine teachings and instructions, which present eternal principles (not fixed and uniform physical and material forms) for human life in all times and places. They think that since a form (such as a four-arch) was taken from non-Muslims such as Iranians, then Islam has no art and architecture. And they believe that whatever has a specific form (such as an arch and dome) is Islamic. While Islam presents principles that have their own interpretation and specific body in each time and place. What is important is unity, justice, balance and harmony, preserving human dignity, remembering the effect of art, and the preference of spirituality over materialism and the liberation of man and his salvation from negligence and ignorance.

In other words, as Dr. Nadimi says, since “architecture becomes the manifestor of the ontology, values, and identity of the culture to which the architect belongs” (Nadimi, 1378, 20), in attributing a particular style or work to a worldview, culture, or nation, one must seek to identify the principles and meanings, not the appearance, form, and materiality of it. This is an inappropriate thought and expectation, and there is no precedent in any period of history or anywhere in the world for a particular religion, school of thought, or worldview to first invent specific and fixed physical and material patterns and then introduce them for the various aspects of the lives of its followers in different places and times. Rather, each worldview has expressed its foundations, principles, and values, and it has been the followers and believers who have employed materials, tools, forms, rules, sciences, and arts in a way that has made the environment suitable for their own life and has made it a companion and helper to the goal that their school has determined for them. As a result, they have used their existing situation and history, and their teachings from others, as raw materials, and by changing and transforming them, they have brought into being a new meaning, space, elements, form, and expression that is in line with their own thinking and beliefs. Islamic art, philosophy, sciences, architecture, cities, clothing, and even the way of life of Muslims are not exempt from this rule. In fact, these were not brought into being by a particular group of Muslims or an individual, but rather what has emerged is the result of the prevalence and influence of Islamic thought, which may, of course, have manifested itself in local and temporal interpretations under specific temporal and spatial conditions.

Since art and architecture have a fundamental connection with culture and worldview, and in addition, they take shape and express themselves as a manifestation of the identity of a society, and considering that the main pillar of “Iranian culture, worldview and identity” is Islam, the relationship of Islam with Iranian art and architecture, or in other words, the attribution of Iranian art and architecture to Islam, and better yet, the “Islamicness” of Iranian art and architecture is undeniable.

It is noteworthy that although Iranian historical art, architecture and cities have been attributed to Islam, even if the theoretical foundations of their design and construction are fully extracted from the teachings of Islam, since in many cases, their form and relationships are no longer relevant in the contemporary era or have less importance, we cannot and should not call those works “fixed, uniform and unchanging Islamic” models. Rather, it is appropriate to call them “works of the Islamic era.”

Dr. Mohammad Sadegh Mahfouzi

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