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Islamic art does not mean art with a specifically Islamic subject matter, but rather art produced by Muslims. There is nothing in Islam that corresponds to Christian iconography. Indeed, there is a conscious avoidance of painting with a religious theme, whether portraits of the Prophet Muhammad, his companions, or his wives, or incidents from the Qur'an or the life of the Prophet. Human figures do not feature at all in the decoration of religious buildings or in copies of the Qur'an, mainly because there, in particular, they might distract worshippers from the true object of their prayers and spiritual meditations. However, none of this should be taken to imply that Islamic art is not religious, or that it does not derive its inspiration from the Qur'an. On the contrary, beauty is perceived as a divine quality in Islam, and art opens up a pathway to contemplative knowledge whose ultimate object is divine beauty. A hadith (saying of the Prophet) reminds Muslims that, "Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty." Artistic creativity (when given expression within the boundaries permitted by Islamic law) is considered a God-given skill that should be used to celebrate His greatness.
However, these are not the only differences between Western and Islamic art. In Islam, a work of art is not judged in terms of its assumed originality, for continuity of style and imitation of predecessors are equally important. Little attention is normally paid to the individual genius of the artist or his personality, mood, or psychological state. Indeed, these things are as far as they could be from the spirit of Islamic art. The most important thing about a work of art is not who produced it, but what spiritual values it conveys, or what spiritual vision it embodies.
Indeed, the whole conception of art in Islam differs from Western conceptions. Figurative painting (whether on wood, canvas, or wall), print-making, and sculpture are generally not valued, because they tend to imitate nature, whereas Islamic art is more concerned to represent the meaning and spiritual quality of things rather than their physical and material form. For this reason, Islamic art has rarely valued perspective or three-dimensional work, and has preferred, rather than reproduce natural forms, to transmute or transfigure them into something more abstract or stylized. There is no distinction of worth in Islam between fine art and applied art. The three most valued forms of art are
1. Calligraphy (particularly Arabic words from the Qur'an
3. Decorative arts and crafts (particularly wood and stone carving, pottery, glassware, mosaics, metalwork, carpets, and bookbinding, and the illumination and illustration of books, especially in the Safavid and Ottoman traditions)
Every object from the religious building to the humble household utensil has to be endowed with some beauty. Apart from calligraphy, the two most common forms of ornamental decoration are the arabesque (ornamental leaf and branch designs) and complex geometrical patterns. The unending repetition of these patterns reflects Allah's infinite nature and the interrelatedness of all His creation. The study of Islamic art has often traditionally been considered the best way to understand the spiritual dimension of the Islamic culture as a whole. This is perhaps because its balance, harmony, and unity convey an inner truth without requiring complex rational evaluation or explanation. The incorporation of Western values into contemporary Islamic art has diminished its distinctive identity and has sometimes been lamented as leading to a loss of spirituality.