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The Arabesque, an aspect of Islamic art usually found decorating the walls of Mosques, is an elaborate application of repeating geometric forms that often echo the forms of plants and animals; the choice of which geometric forms to use and how they are formatted are based upon the Islamic view of the world. To Muslims, these forms, taken together, constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world. To many in the Islamic world, they in fact symbolize the infinite and therefore, uncentralized nature of the creation of the One God (Allah). Furthermore, the Islamic Arabesque artist conveys a definite spirituality without the iconography of Christian art.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Description and Symbolism
3 Two Modes
4 Calligraphy
5 Role
6 Order and Unity


Geometric artwork in the form of the Arabesque was not widely used in the Islamic world until the golden age of Islam came into full bloom. During this time, ancient texts were translated from their original Greek and Latin into Arabic. Like the following renaissance in Europe, Math, Science, Literature and History were infused into the Islamic world with great, and mostly positive repercussions. The works of Plato and especially of Euclid became popular among the literate. In fact, it was Euclid's geometry along with the foundations of trigonometry codified by Pythagoras that became the impetus of the art form that was to become the Arabesque. Furthermore, Plato's ideas about the existence of a separate reality that was perfect in form and function and crystalline in character also would contribute to the development of the Arabesque.

Description and Symbolism

To the westerner, Arabesque art, looks like a series of repeating geometric forms which are occasionally accompanied by calligraphy. To the adherents of Islam, the Arabesque are symbolic of their united faith and the way in which traditional Islamic cultures view the world.

Two Modes

There are two modes to Arabesque art. The first recalls the principles that govern the order of the world. These principles include the bare basics of what makes objects structurally sound and by extension beautiful (i.e. the angle and the fixed/static shapes that it creates -- esp. the truss). In the first mode, each repeating geometric form has a built-in symbolism ascribed to it. For example, the square, with its four equilateral sides, is symbolic of the equally important elements of nature; earth, air, fire and water. Without any one of the four, the physical world, represented by a circle that inscribes the square, would collapse upon itself and cease to exist. The second mode is based upon the flowing nature of plant forms. This mode recalls the feminine nature of life giving. In addition, upon inspection of the many examples of Arabesque art, some would argue that there is in fact a third mode, the mode of Calligraphy.


Instead of recalling something related to the 'True Reality' (the reality of the spiritual world), calligraphy for the Muslim, is a visible expression of the highest art of all; the art of the spoken word (the transmittal of thoughts and of history). In Islam, the most important document to be transmitted orally is, of course, Al-Qur'an. Proverbs and complete passages from the Qur'an can be seen today in Arabesque art. The coming together of these three forms creates the Arabesque and this is a reflection of unity arising from diversity (a basic tenet of Islam).

See also: Arabic calligraphy


The Arabesque can also be equally thought of as both art and science, some say. The artwork is at the same time, mathematically precise, aesthetically pleasing, and symbolic. So due to this duality of creation, they say, the artistic part of this equation can be further subdivided into both secular & religious artwork. However, for many Muslim's there is no distinction; all forms of art, the natural world, mathematics and science are all creations of God and therefore are reflections of the same thing (God's will expressed through His Creation). In other words, man can discover the geometric forms that constitute The Arabesque, but these forms always existed before as part of God's creation.

Order and Unity

A central aspect of Islam is the Unity that binds the Islamic community together. Unlike the structural separation that characterizes Christianity, the Muslim world is remarkably cohesive. This of course, can be seen in the utter similarity between Arabesque artwork from very different geographic regions. In fact, the similarities are so pronounced, that it is sometimes difficult for experts to tell where a given style of Arabesque comes from. The reason for this is that the science & mathematics that are used to construct Arabesque artwork are universal. So this, along with Islamic Divine Law or Sharia, come together to form the glue that binds the Umma or Islamic Community together into a coherent whole.

Therefore, for most Muslims, the best artwork that can be created by man for use in the Mosque, is artwork that displays the underlying order and unity of nature. The order and unity of the material world, they believe, is a mere ghostly approximation of the Spiritual World (which for many Muslims is the place where the only True reality exists). Discovered geometric forms, therefore, exemplify this perfect reality because God's creation has been obscured by the sins of man.

In fact, Sufi Muslims believe that there is no distinction between the spiritual and material worlds. And that the reason we cannot experience the Spiritual world, is that there are 'veils of concealment' that shield us from the perfection of the Spiritual world. They therefore work to lift these veils, in order to become one with God while they are still on Earth. One of the ways that Sufi Muslims try to do this, is to use the Arabesque in depictions of the world.