In some parts of the world radical Islamists destroy great works of art and artifacts of culture. It happened in 2001 when the Taliban destroyed the famous Buddha statues in Afghanistan, and more recently in Iraq and Syria wherever Islamic State took control.
Priceless works of art and relics of cultural heritage are seen as blasphemous. These same groups forbid listening to music, wearing colorful clothing, and reading anything other than the Quran or Hadith and approved Islamic theology.
In other parts of the world, though, Muslims encourage and celebrate the creation of various Islamic art forms – architecture, ceramics, textiles, painting, calligraphy, music, literature – since they view these as manifestations of God’s greatness.
There have been great writers like Naguib Mahfouz, a Pulitzer prize-winning author from Egypt, and renowned painters like Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Sughra Rababi from Pakistan. Three female Muslim architects have won prestigious prizes for their work: Iraqi Zaha Hadid, Iranian Leila Arghian and Bangladeshi Marina Tabassum. Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is a British singer-songwriter who converted to Islam in 1977. Another convert to Islam, American Mohamed Zakariya, is a master Arabic calligrapher whose artwork has been featured on US postage stamps. Shamsia Hassani is an Afghani female graffiti artist and Syrian Abu Malek al-Shami has been compared to the infamous British street artist Banksy.
“Surely Allah alone is the creator of all things and he is the One, the Most Supreme” (Quran 13:17). In conservative Islam, the drawing or painting of people is forbidden, as it can be interpreted as the created attempting to be like the creator. Muhammad reportedly put an artist in his place by saying, “Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah till he puts life in it, and he will never be able to do that” (Bukhari 3:428). Also, the Quran says much against idolatry, and created things could tempt people away from worshiping Allah alone.
However, another tradition says, “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty” (Muslim 1:164). Much beauty can be found in Islamic architecture and calligraphy in particular. Since the Quran, the written word, is so central to Islam, verses are used on mosques in various Arabic scripts to inspire worship. Many Muslims have those same verses at home on their living room walls.
Do you see a man skillful in his work?
He will stand before kings;
he will not stand before obscure men.
I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.
He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.
The LORD will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the LORD.
I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD,
I will make music.
David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.
1 Chronicles 15:16
and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud,
2 Chronicles 5:13
and 4,000 shall offer praises to the LORD with the instruments that I have made for praise.”
1 Chronicles 23:5
Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day.