The link between Islamic art and Islamic spirituality

Adapted from: Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Art and Spirituality: State University of New York Press, Albany, 1997

The link of Islamic art to the inner dimension of Islam could not be demonstrated in a better manner than by pointing to the role played by Maulana al-Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib SA in both the guilds of craftsmen who have produced Islamic art and the Sufi orders who claim to be the custodians of the esoteric teachings of Islam.

Without the two fountains and sources of the Quran and the Prophetic baraka there would be no Islamic art. The art of Islam is Islamic art not only because it was created by Muslims but because it issues forth from the Islamic revelation as do the Divine Law and the Way. This art crystallizes–in the world of forms­–the inner realities of the Islamic revelation and, because it issues from the inner dimension of Islam, leads man to the inner chamber of the Divine Revelation. Islamic art is a fruit of Islamic spirituality from the point of view of its genesis. It is also an aid, complement and support for the spiritual life from the vantage point of realization or return to the Origin.

Islamic art is the result of the manifestation of Unity upon the plane of multiplicity. It reflects in a blinding manner the Unity of the Divine Principle, the dependence of all multiplicity upon the One, the ephemerality of the world and the positive qualities of cosmic existence or creation about which God asserts in the Quran, ‘Our Lord! Thou createst not this in vain.’ (3:191). This art makes manifest, in the physical order directly perceivable by the senses, the archetypal realities. It acts, therefore, as a ladder for the journey of the soul from the visible and the audible to the Invisible which is also Silence transcending all sound.

Islamic art derives from Islamic spirituality in a direct manner while being also of course moulded by the particular characteristics of Quranic revelation, that is, the Arabic and nomadic world whose positive traits Islam universalized. But this link with the form of the Islamic revelation supplements the truth that the origin of this art lies in the inner content and spiritual dimension of Islam.