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Faith and Filigree: The importance of art in Islam 

Art of Faith: Islam is part of a series of documentaries dedicated to exploring holy buildings and their unique beauty presented by John McCarthy. This episode is focused on the mosques, madrasas and other great feats of Islamic architecture around the world that have shaped what we consider Islamic art.

Isra Morley

Art of Faith: Islam documentary about Islamic architecture

From the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to mosques of Britain this documentary takes viewers on a journey to admire some of the most renowned and striking Islamic religious buildings and explore their significance. John McCarthy, a British journalist, is aided by knowledgeable guides at each place he visits allowing audiences, whether Muslim or not, to gain an enriched understanding of Islamic architecture, history and worship and how these aspects are shaped by the buildings themselves.

Dome of the Rock in documentary about Islamic architecture

This documentary does a wonderful job of highlighting how Islamic philosophy greatly informed Islamic aesthetics. For example the ornate traditional arabesque designs are a unifying factor between all the religious structures in this programme for the purpose of celebrating the glory of God through natural motifs. This celebration of nature can also been seen through the use of courtyards and verdant gardens in all these structures, to remind all those who walk through of their desired ultimate destination, the Gardens of Paradise.

Taj Mahal in documentary about Islamic architecture

The guides and presenter also inform the audience of the historical contexts that have informed the design of these structures, including multiple examples where mosques and churches are housed under one roof, such as at the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul and the Mosque-Cathedral at Cordoba. The contextualising of these instantly recognisable buildings instils a greater appreciation for them making this documentary an informative and awe inspiring viewing experiences for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences alike.

Cordoba mosque dome

Central to the purpose of the majority of these holy structures is the pursuit of knowledge, as it is the duty of all Muslims to cultivate their understanding of God and his creation. For this reason most of the world’s most ancient mosques are adjoined to madrasas, wherein education was traditionally accessible to all. These madrasas are often built in the same beautiful style as the mosques themselves, highlighting the importance of the pursuit of knowledge to being a good Muslim.

Samarkand madrasa in documentary about Islamic art and architecture

Aside from communicating the historical and aesthetic significance of these places the guides and presenter make an effort to explore Islam itself through the methods of worship and the symbolic significance of these impressive structures. This documentary is a perfect introduction to an art style that seamlessly combines beauty and spirituality.

Mihrab in Tunisia

McCarthy visits two iconic British mosques; Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking and the Brick Lane Mosque in London. Built in 1889, Shah Jahan Mosque is the oldest mosque in Britain and is intrinsic to the rise of British Islam and a stronghold for British conversion, and although the Brick Lane mosque was established much later it is by no means less iconic in the ways in which it serves its community. These examples, although they may aesthetically pale in comparison to the splendour of the other mosques examined in this program, serve as a comforting reminder of the history of British Muslims and how these spaces are no less enriching or important to their communities through their use of space and design.

Woking mosque

Overall this documentary is a glorious celebration of Islamic architecture, material and spiritual culture. In every corner of the globe these buildings are beacons of hope and enlightenment for their communities and are some of the most stunning and impressive structures the world has ever seen, a moving and dazzling viewing experience for all.

Blue mosque stained glass

If you’re looking for more documentaries about Islamic architecture, try Cairo in One Breath, which takes you inside the beautiful ancient mosques of Cairo. Sinan: A Divine Architect explores the legacy of Sinan, the master architect of the Ottoman Empire who designed the Blue Mosque. You can find out more about Ottoman architecture in the informative travel series Inside Istanbul. Explore the incredible architecture of Yemen in The Architecture of Mud, and discover more films and documentaries about Islamic art and architecture in Alchemiya’s Art, Creativity and Culture, and Treasures of Turkey collections.

Isra Morley is a University of Glasgow English Literature and Latin graduate. Raised in Cardiff by an Indian mother and a Greek and Welsh convert father, Islam and the pursuit of its understanding have always been central to her life and writing. Having written articles for various Islamic publications, and taken part in assorted creative writing courses, she is currently an intern with the Alchemiya Journal.
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