The ninth month of the Islamic year is known as the holy month of Ramadan. The time of the year in which Muslims wait for the crescent of the moon to appear as a way of announcing the beginning of the 30 days fasting. A special month that symbolises Mercy, spirituality and generosity.
The worldwide diversity among Muslims creates a number of different traditions in celebrating the month of Ramadan. Even though the Muslims are united under the same practices each region in the world has its own history.
Perhaps the most known one is a tradition that originated from the city Cairo and which spread to the rest of the Arab world, as the Fanoos Ramadan (Ramadan Lantern).
Fanoos, which is Arabic for lantern is nowadays used as decoration or a toy for children. But if one looks back in time, a different history is being presented.
The word fanoos originates from the Greek word φανός. Which literally means lantern or illumination.
Behind every great tradition lives a legend. The fanoos legend goes that on the fifth day of Ramadan in the year 358 AH, the Fatimad caliph Muezz El-Din El-Allah was entering Cairo for the first time. Because he arrived after dusk, the residents of the city had to appear with lanterns in order to welcome and celebrate his arrival. Families would accompany the Caliph trough the city until the Mokattam hill for the Ramadan moon sighting. Many children would joyfully hold fanoos along the way and sing welcoming songs. Since then it became a symbol of welcoming and celebration of the month Ramadan. In a way one can say that they are like the Christmas trees during the Christmas activities.
In the 10th century A.D., the ruling Caliph el-Hakim bi-Amr Allah denied women from leaving their homes. An exception was made during Ramadan when the woman could attend prayer outside their homes and visit relatives. This exception was only possible if the woman were accompanied by boys carrying the fanoos to light their way but to also to inform men that a woman is walking by.
The fanoos industry developed rapidly after the Caliph el-Hakim bi- Amr Allah passed an order that lanterns have to be installed in every alley, in front of every shop and home. When someone disobeyed they would be fined.
Nowadays the tradition is widely spread in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. It continues to be a way of welcoming the start of the month Ramadan.
To celebrate Adam Williamson & Richard Henry’s ‘Art Of Islamic Pattern’ study trip to Granada next Thursday, we hope you enjoy this post series on Islamic Art. If you don’t have a mid-September plan yet, don’t wait! Registration is open for ‘The Art of Islamic Pattern’ workshop in Granada again from the 14th to the 17th of September. Contact now for more information.
The Origin of Islamic Art
(part 1 of 3):
‘ It is not surprising, nor strange, that the most outward manifestation of a religion or civilization like Islam- and art is by definition an exteriorization- should reflect in its own fashion what is most inward in that civilization. The substance of art is beauty; and in this, in Islamic terms, is a divine quality and as such has a double aspect: in the world, it is appearance; it is terms, is a divine quality and as such has a double aspect: in the world, it is appearance; it is the garb which, as it were, clothes beautiful things and beings; in God, however, or in itself, it is pure inward beatitude: it is divine quality which, among al the divine qualities manifested in the world, most directly recalls pure Being. ‘
– Titus Burckhardt
Moorish Calligraphy at al-Hambra (Granada, Andalusia) La ghaliba illallah: There is no victory but God’s.
Without Islam, the Arab language would not have been preserved the way it did during the 7th century. This was mainly trough conquering the thought and expressions of the taken territories by imposing the Arabic language as the language of Islam.
Even though there is a clear marriage between the Islamic and the Arabic, it is still difficult for many historians to call it Arabic art, but rather Islamic-Arab art. Because Islamic art was mainly produced by Syrian, Persian and Greek craftsmen and not by Arab people. Nevertheless, the Arabic language has an extraordinary power as a sacred language and continues to influence the Islamic art, as we know it.
Islamic art includes two basic elements that are strongly related to the Arabic language.
One well-known element is the contemplative one. Take for example the Arabesque that tries to find unity through rhythm, a direct expression of rhythm in the visual order.
The other element that stands out strongly in Islamic art and which represents a strong Arabic domination is the interlaced, nature inspired pattern motifs.
Arabesque pattern at the Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia, Spain
In many ways the plastic arts have tried to portray the language of Koran. Even though this is difficult to understand since the Koran does not obey the laws of composition. So in many ways Arab art including poetry and music loves to repeat certain forms and then to introduce sudden variants against the repetitive background. The most profound connection between Islamic Art and the Koran is not the form of the Koran but it is the formless essence, more specifically the notion of tawhid, and its unity with its contemplative characteristics. So in a way all the plastic arts in Islam tries to project a visual order of certain dimensions of Divine Unity.
From Persia to Andalucía
The month of spring and for many Iranians the month of Nowruz, represent new beginnings or by its literal meaning a ‘New Day’ of a new year. With this we would like to start 2016’s blog with honouring these important influences.
The Persian traditions in every possible way have influenced the modern world of Europe, especially Spain. In the Muslim society there was little hesitance in adopting any type of knowledge or technique from other civilisations if it did not conflict with the fundamental teachings of Islam. Empires such as the Great Mughal India, the Ottoman Empire and the late Andalucía were Persianate societies. These were Societies strongly influenced by Persian culture, literature, architecture and language.
Most of the sciences known by Muslims in the 10th century were introduced long before, by generations of geniuses mainly coming from Bagdad.
No wonder that Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian and scholar, had a clear observation of Iranian culture being the preeminent influence in the Islamic world.
‘’It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars both in the religious and in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs [ajams/Persians]. Even if a scholar is of Arab origin, he is Persian in language and upbringing and has Persian teachers […]
Most of the hadith scholars who preserved traditions for the Muslims also were ajams (Persians), or Persian in language and upbringing, because the discipline was widely cultivated in the ‘Iraq and the regions beyond. (Furthermore,) all the scholars who worked in the science of the principles of jurisprudence were ajams (Persians), as is well known. The same applies to speculative theologians and to most Qur’an commentators. Only the ajams (Persians) engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus, the truth of the following statement by the Prophet [in Sahih Muslim] becomes apparent: “If scholarship hung suspended at the highest parts of heaven, the Persians would (reach it and) take it.”
From Greek to Arabic
The Greek and Arabic academic studies started in the 8th century when the caliphate moved to Baghdad. Around this time available texts in Greek were translated into Arabic. These translated works were mainly science and philosophy oriented, with a special interest in the achievements of Aristotle. One of the leading philosopher and physician of that time was Averroes, born in Cordoba, Spain.
From Greek to Latin via Arabic
After the 8th century and the collapse of the Roman empire, most of the Greek literary achievements got lost in translation. Mainly because western Europe had no interest in anything that had to do with the Greek. But luckily the Arabic taught intellects continued having interest in the Greek sciences and philosophy. This caused for a strong connection between the already established set up of translators (Greek into Arabic) in Baghdad during the 8th century and continued until a new establishment of translators (Arabic into Latin) in Toledo, Spain, during the 13th century. The Arab rulers in Spain of that time had a strong wish in acquiring knowledge and as a consequence there were different cultures mainly from Jewish and Christian communities living together. This caused for a highly multi-cultural society in which Jewish and Christians contributed to bringing the Latin translations of Greek philosophy, innovations and sciences into the ‘medieval’, backward Europe.
So knowing these little facts, it is pretty easy to imagine the scope of many other influences Persia had on Europe. From the highly rich patterns found in carpets and architecture, to the instruments used in flamenco music and the agricultural pearls. Persia has always been very well known for its weaving techniques and choice of excellent material to work with. Most typical elements used in the carpets were animals, flowers and geometric figures. The commonality of these weaving techniques found its peak in the 8th century Spain, including the use of silk as the main material in the textile industry. The weaving work was also used by Muslims to make prayer mats and tapestries to decorate their houses with.
So when we celebrate the coming of this season, lets also celebrate the many great things that have enriched our daily lives Europe, thanks to the Persian culture.
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