HomeCultureInternational Day of Islamic Art 2023

International Day of Islamic Art 2023


The Kingdom of Bahrain initially proposed November 18 as the International Day of Islamic Art, and UNESCO officially recognized it in 2019.

The primary objective is to endorse the richness inherent in Islamic art, spanning various forms such as visual arts, crafts, calligraphy, architecture, and music.

Islamic art encompasses creative expressions dating back to the 7th century within regions governed by Muslim communities.

The early phases of Islamic art reveal significant influences from Roman, Byzantine, Sassanian, and Chinese artistic traditions. This day serves as a means to express gratitude for cultural diversity and to foster intercultural dialogue, tolerance, and peace.

The International Day of Islamic Art was established during the 40th session of the UNESCO General Conference in 2019 and is observed annually on November 18.

Its purpose is to enhance awareness of both historical and contemporary artistic expressions within Islam, emphasizing the cultural contributions made by Islamic art to civilization.

The global observance of the International Day of Islamic Art not only promotes the appreciation of Islamic art, which has served as inspiration for various artistic movements.

It also contributes to cultural diversity, freedom of expression, safeguarding cultural heritage, and fostering intercultural dialogue.

Commemorating this day serves as a means to encourage tolerance among people and to support cultural convergence, facilitated through the influential power of art.

A calligraphic panel by Mustafa Râkim (late 18th–early 19th century): Islamic art has focused on the depiction of patterns and Arabic calligraphy rather than on figures.
A calligraphic panel by Mustafa Râkim (late 18th–early 19th century): Islamic art has focused on the depiction of patterns and Arabic calligraphy rather than on figures.

Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO, highlighted that the diversity of Islamic art is a manifestation of its rich array across both time and geography.

This diversity is deeply entrenched in the historically fruitful interactions with diverse cultures, traditions, and techniques, both in the past and ongoing in the present.

Islamic art spans approximately 1400 years and encompasses a multitude of lands, populations, and artistic fields. This includes architecture, calligraphy, painting, glasswork, ceramics, textiles, and more.

Unlike Christian religious art, Islamic religious art avoids figurative representations due to the belief among many Muslims that depicting the human form is considered idolatry and therefore a sin against God as forbidden in the Qur’an.

Instead, Islamic art places a significant religious emphasis on calligraphy and architectural elements.

The Quran, regarded as the verbatim word of God, holds a central position in Islamic art and literature.

Also read: Pakistan’s Consul General in Houston visited the Islamic Arts exhibition

Islamic arts, encompassing literary, performing, and visual arts, have flourished across the Islamic world from the 7th century onward.

The vast and diverse populations adhering to Islam or living in Islamic settings have contributed to an extensive array of literature, performing arts, visual arts, and music.

Establishing a common denominator for the artistic expressions of Islamic peoples proves challenging due to the diversity of art forms, ranging from miniature painting and historiography to musical modes and poetic forms.

The relationship between Islamic art and its religious foundation is not straightforward.

Islamic Religious Art

Islam, being a prophetic religion, does not strongly encourage the fine arts. The representation of living beings is prohibited, not explicitly in the Qur’an but in the prophetic tradition.

Calligraphy emerges as a central feature of Islamic artistic tradition, highlighting the importance of the word as a medium of divine revelation.

While representational art is found in early palaces and specific contexts, the highly refined art of miniatures developed after the 13th century, primarily in non-Arab countries.

Islamic Architecture

Islamic architecture, centered around mosques, features a clean place for prayer, including essential elements like the mihrab (pointing to Mecca), minbar (pulpit), minarets, and artistic decorations.

The Mihrab (Prayer Niche), from the theological school located in Isfahan, 1354–55 A.D, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Prayer Niche (Mihrab) from Isfahan, after the early 1600s, via the Cleveland Museum of Art

The mosque structure varies across regions and periods but maintains a commonality in its essential components.

Literature and Poetry

Arabic poetry initially consisted of praise and satirical poems believed to possess magical qualities. The strict rules of poetry form led to formalism and imitation.

Arabic belles lettres, exemplified by The Thousand and One Nights, often lack a specific goal, contrasting with the more unified aim of Islamic religion.

Poetry in Islamic culture, especially when combined with music, faced opposition from legal authorities, leading to a preference for a kind of unreal world using fixed images.

Persian Poetry and Writings

The ambiguity of Persian poetry, oscillating between the worldly, divine, and political, is characteristic of Islamic writings. Persian poetry, particularly in Iran, forms a significant part of literature.

Overall, the rich and varied Islamic arts reflect the cultural and historical diversity of the Islamic world, showcasing a multitude of creative expressions.

Islamic scholarship, across various branches from theology to the natural sciences, exhibits a characteristic accumulation of extensive material meticulously organized up to the present.

Anthology of Persian Poetry with the poems of Hafez ShirazFolios 33r-32, Iran, 17th century CE

All forms of Islamic art exhibit this tendency, which is characterized by the absence of “architectural” formation and the presence of carpet-like patterns.

Arabic and Persian poems are often evaluated based on the perfection of individual verses rather than as closed units conveying deep personal feelings.

Islamic literature, rooted in the realms of poetry and belles lettres, is defined by a shared existential experience, common intellectual interests, and overarching principles of form and presentation.

The vast scope of Islamic literature spans multiple languages and diverse cultural landscapes. Arabic, as the language of the Qurʾān, holds a central role in Islamic culture across regions like western Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

The profound beauty of the Qur’an and the pre-Islamic Arabian poetic standards continue to shape the Arabic language’s significance, despite its linguistic diversity.

This sacred scripture serves as the cornerstone for various literary genres and philosophical pursuits within Islamic societies.

Bifolium from the “Nurse’s Qur’an” (Mushaf al-Hadina) ca. 410 AH/1019–20 CE

The influence of Persian literature becomes evident in Arabic literature from the mid-8th century onward, following Muslim entry into Iran in 640.

Persian literature introduces new genres, such as epic poetry, alongside the adoption of formal rules from Arabic. South Asian Muslim communities, particularly in India and Pakistan, reflect a rich literary heritage blending Persian and Arabic influences.

Mazar of Imam Raza

Urdu, now the principal literary language of Muslim India and Pakistan, draws heavily from Persian literature during its classical period in the 18th century.

Modern Urdu prose has emancipated itself from historical influences, while steps toward modernization are evident in Urdu poetry.

After the 14th century, a sophisticated “classical” literary style emerged in Turkish literature with significant Persian vocabulary and metrics influences. Turkish folk poetry traditions also contribute to the richness of modern Turkish literature.

Central Asia, with cultural centers like Samarkand and Bukhara, plays a significant role in Muslim literature, particularly in Turkic languages such as Uzbek, Tatar, and Kyrgyz.

This region produces classical Arabic literature and its epics, folktales, and mystical wisdom.

The Ottoman tughra is a calligraphic emblem of the sultan’s authority that was included in all official documents, such as firmans (royal decrees), and endowment papers.

Islamic literature is found in smaller fragments in Chinese in regions like China and the Philippines. In Indonesia and Malaysia, where Islam arrived early, literary traditions feature historical and semi-mythical tales about Islamic heroes.

Contact with Islam and its written culture has contributed to preserving national idioms in various regions, enriching them with Arabic vocabulary and Islamic concepts.

Leaders in northern Nigeria, for instance, preferred Arabic for poetry and chronicles while using their mother tongue for more popular forms of literature. Kurdish literature, rooted in an Iranian language, has preserved important popular heterodox texts and epics.

Iffat Masood
Iffat Masood
Iffat Masood is Contributor and Content writer on THE DIPLOMATIC INSIGHT, and also Ambassador from IAMCR. She is perusing her PhD. from UAB Barcelona, Spain in Audio-Video Communications and Advertising.

Follow us


Most Popular