Carpets as Islamic Art

As predominantly the creations of Muslim weavers, Oriental carpets throughout the Asian weaving world, from Turkey to western China, are often evaluated as Islamic art.

Jim Dixon, a well-known American collector who built his home in Sonoma, California around his magnificent collection, considers Oriental rugs “as reflections of some deeply felt Islamic conceptions about the universe.”

There are more than one billion muslins in the world, approximately one fifth of the world’s population. Islam is firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of monotheistic religions and “the similarities among the three Abrahamic faiths are much greater than their differences.” Bloom and Blair, “Islam A Thousand Years of Faith and Power” 12 (2002).

Islam means, “to surrender to God.” “In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful.” Koran, first verse. The prophet Muhammad was born in 570 AD and died in 632 AD. God spoke through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad and those revelations are set forth in the Koran. When Muhammad spoke openly of his revelations in Mecca, he was driven out and fled to Medina, in 622, the first year of the Muslim calendar. Mecca was conquered in 630 and Islam spread quickly thereafter.

Five-pointed stars and other five-sided figures are commonly represented and they may correspond to the five duties, known as the “pillars of Islam” and regarded as central to the life of the Islamic community: (1) Profession of faith, (2) Prayer, (3) Almsgiving, (4) Fasting, and (5) Pilgrimage.
Islam includes resurrection to the Garden, or Heaven, while evil ones go to Hell. The Koran speaks of the “seven Heavens”. The eighth Heaven is the transition between the sensory and the supersensory world. This may explain the popularity of octagons and other appearances of the number eight.

One carpet scholar has expressed the connection between Islam and the art of the carpet as follows:

“Here one must pause to remind oneself why the study of carpet designs is of such fascination, such fundamental importance for the study of Islamic art as a whole. Briefly stated, the principal reason for understanding the designs of classical carpets [Safavid and Ottoman], over all others, is that they truly manifest the fundamental ‘meaning’ of Islamic art––they make visible the infinite, by means of the infinite pattern which they display on a monumental scale. Outstripped only in its application to architecture, the patterns of classical carpets of the Muslim world make the beholder aware of the ephemeral, incomplete nature of this world’s reality. Truth exists only in the world beyond this one; truth and true reality are incomprehensible to the mortal human being, but the human being may at least glimpse it in the momentary ‘reality’ of the limited, world-bound object across the surface of which passes––into infinity—the ever perpetuating, endlessly repeating pattern of the carpet’s field design. What better metaphor for the limitation of man’s ability to see the whole is there than the carpet’s border, the ‘mirror’s edge’ which gives man a moment’s view of eternity?”

From the Report on International Conference on Oriental Carpets Exhibitions, “Infinity Made Visible,” Ernst J. Grube, Hali No. 108, page 82 (2000).