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Art of Faith I: Islam
Art of Faith I is a sumptuous high-definition visual experience exploring the architecture and art of Judaism, Christianity and Islam presented and narrated by the broadcaster John McCarthy. The three 55-minute films travel the world visiting the greatest and most significant religious buildings, exploring how the passions and complexities of religious beliefs have been expressed in architecture.
Filmed for Sky Arts and looking back over the last 3000 years, the series provides an insight into how we have celebrated art through faith. With contributions from architects, scholars and worshippers, the films explain the buildings’ genesis, laying down the brush strokes of the sites’ design, whilst looking at the shared elements and contrasts between religions and the aesthetics of the places of worship.
Millions of Muslims around the world glorify Allah when they pray five times every day. But for their obligatory prayers, although they must have clean clothes and a clean body, and to face towards Mecca, Muslims do not need a mosque. Prayer may be offered alone. Yet for nearly fifteen hundred years Muslims have built mosques both modest and grand. Islam asks, how do very different mosques across the world express the fundamentals of Islam? And what are the stories of other buildings of the faith, like madrassas – the religious schools – and mausoleums?
Islam travels to a diverse range of Islamic places of worship in Agra, Córdoba, Istanbul, Jerusalem, London, Kairouan, Samarkand, Singapore and Woking.
Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, England
The modest but vital mosque in Brick Lane in London is central to the lives of many in the local community. But at the same time, it preserves in its walls and halls a remarkable history of worship and faith. It’s a building that is entwined with the generations of immigrants who have made the area their home.
Shah Jahan Mosque, England
It’s something of a surprise to find a beautiful little nineteenth-century mosque in Woking, an English suburban town about eighty kilometres south-west of London. The Shah Jahan Mosque was built in 1889 by the oriental scholar Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner. After working in India Leitner came to England to establish an institute for oriental studies. The mosque was built as part of his college, which has otherwise been demolished.
Taj Mahal, India
In Agra, India, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built perhaps the most exquisite work of Islamic art, the Taj Mahal, known around the world as the burial place of a beloved wife. Shah Jahan – the name in Persian means “King of the World” – was the fifth, and perhaps the greatest, of the Mughal rulers. It is his third wife, the granddaughter of a Persian nobleman, to whom he gave the title Mumtaz Mahal, “Jewel of the Palace”, who is buried in the Taj Mahal.
Dome of the Rock, Israel
Islam emerged from the deserts of Arabia, in the years after 610 in the Christian calendar. To announce their arrival at the heart of the Christian world, after conquering Jerusalem, the Muslims built the first great masterpiece of Islamic art, the Dome of the Rock. Most of the Dome as seen today has been restored and replaced, but the structure is much as it was when it was built in the late seventh century.
Assyafaah Mosque, Singapore
One of the most distinguished and distinctive mosques of the twenty-first century has been built in a city in thrall to a vision of a new world: the state of Singapore that became an independent republic only in 1965. The Assyafaah Mosque, completed in 2004, was designed by Tan Kok Hiang, principal of the local design firm Forum Architects. The building is bold to the extent that for many people it doesn’t look like a mosque.
In 711 in the Christian calendar, less than a century after the death of the Prophet, the advancing Muslim armies took control of much of Spain. The formerly Christian territory of the Visigoths was known in Arabic as Al Andalus. The conquerors made Córdoba their capital and over the next two hundred years, it became one of the world’s great centres of learning. The great mosque of Córdoba, built across three hundred years, has an astonishing interior with pillars recycled from Visigothic and Roman buildings. These are topped with a double tier of red brick and white stone arches.
Great Mosque, Tunisia
In the century or so after the capture of Jerusalem, Islam’s conquests and conversions were achieved at a spectacular pace. The armies of the followers of the Prophet defeated opponents throughout the Middle East and Central Asia as well as right across the Maghreb of North Africa. The newly Muslim territories needed places of communal prayer and worship. One of the most significant of these early mosques was built around 670 CE at Kairouan, a holy city founded as a military base.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Turkey
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, which is popularly known as the Blue Mosque, is named after its founder. Sultan Ahmed ordered its construction to placate Allah after a number of military campaigns had gone badly. It was built between 1609 and 1616 on a prestigious site right next to the great Christian church of Haghia Sophia. It’s said that the architect of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Mehmed Aga, wanted to outdo the Haghia Sophia by constructing a bigger dome. When he realised that he couldn’t do so, he settled for surpassing the older building’s interior decoration.
Samarkand, in what is today Uzbekistan, was a key city on the medieval merchant route of the Silk Road. It was also an important centre for Islamic studies and around the city’s central square of the Registan one of the world’s finest complex of Islamic madrassas, or schools, was built. The richly decorated facades are among the great masterpieces of Islamic art.