Islamic culture

"Islamic tradition" redirects here. For the article about the body of traditional narratives associated with Islam, see Islamic mythology.
World Muslim population by percentage (Pew Research Center, 2014).

Islamic culture is a term primarily used in secular academia to describe the cultural practices common to historically Islamic people. The early forms of Muslim culture were predominantly Arab. With the rapid expansion of the Islamic empires, Muslim culture has influenced and assimilated much from the Persian, Caucasian, Bangladeshi, Turkic, Mongol, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Somali, Berber, Egyptian, Indonesian, Filipino, Greco-Roman Byzantine, Spanish, Sicilian, Balkanic and Western cultures.

Islamic culture generally includes all the practices which have developed around the religion of Islam, including Qur'anic ones such as prayer (salat) and non-Qur'anic such as divisions of the world in Islam. It includes as the Baul tradition of Bengal, and facilitated the peaceful conversion of most of Bengal. There are variations in the application of Islamic beliefs in different cultures and traditions.[1]

Terminological use

Islamic culture is itself a contentious term. Muslims live in many different countries and communities, and it can be difficult to isolate points of cultural unity among Muslims, besides their adherence to the religion of Islam. Anthropologists and historians nevertheless study Islam as an aspect of, and influence on, culture in the regions where the religion is predominant.

The noted historian of Islam, Marshall Hodgson, noted the above difficulty of religious versus secular academic usage of the words "Islamic" and "Muslim" in his three-volume work, The Venture Of Islam. He proposed to resolve it by only using these terms for purely religious phenomena, and invented the term "Islamicate" to denote all cultural aspects of historically Muslim people. However, his distinction has not been widely adopted.

Language and literature

Main article: Islamic literature


Main article: Arabic literature

Early Muslim literature is in Arabic, as that was the language of Muhammad's communities in Mecca and Medina. As the early history of the Muslim community was focused on establishing the religion of Islam, its literary output was religious in character. See the articles on Qur'an, Hadith, and Sirah, which formed the earliest literature of the Muslim community.

With the establishment of the Umayyad empire. secular Muslim literature developed. See The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. While having no religious content, this secular literature was spread by the Arabs all over their empires, and so became part of a widespread culture.


Main article: Persian literature

By the time of the Abbasid empire, Persian had become the second language of Muslim World. Much of the most famous Muslim literature was written in Persian, from Rumi in Anatolia, to Nizami in the Caucasus, to Jami in Samarkand and Amir Khusrow in Delhi.

Tabatabaee-ha House, Kashan Iran


Main article: Turkish literature

From the 11th century, there was a growing body of Islamic literature in the Turkic languages. However, for centuries to come the official language in Turkish-speaking area's would remain Persian. In Anatolia, with the advent of the Seljuks, the practise and usage of Persian in the region would be strongly revived. A branch of the Seljuks, the Sultanate of Rum, took Persian language, art and letters to Anatolia.[2] They adopted Persian language as the official language of the empire.[3] The Ottomans, which can "roughly" be seen as their eventual successors, took this tradition over. Persian was the official court language of the empire, and for some time, the official language of the empire,[4] though the lingua franca amongst common people from the 15th/16th century would become Turkish as well as having laid an active "foundation" for the Turkic language as early as the 11th century (see Turkification). After a period of several centuries, Ottoman Turkish (which was highly Arabo-Persianised itself) had developed towards a fully accepted language of literature, which was even able to satisfy the demands of a scientific presentation.[5] However, the number of Persian and Arabic loanwords contained in those works increased at times up to 88%.[5] However, Turkish was proclaimed the official language of the Karamanids in the 13th century, though it didn't manage to become the official language in a wider area or larger empire until the advent of the Ottomans. With the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Turkish (a highly Arabo-Persianised version of Oghuz Turkic) grew in importance in both poetry and prose becoming, by the beginning of the 18th century, the official language of the Empire. Unlike India, where Persian remained the official and principal literary language of both Muslim and Hindu states until the 19th century.


The Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan is one of the few classical examples of Mughal design and architecture in South Asia.

For a thousand years, India was a centre for Persian-Arabic Islamic literature. More Persian literature was produced in India than in the Iranian world. As late as the 20th century, Allama Iqbal chose Persian for some of his major poetic works.

In Bengal, the Baul tradition of mystic music and poetry merged Sufism with many local images. The most prominent poets were Hason Raja and Lalon Shah.

During the early 20th century, the liberal poet Kazi Nazrul Islam espoused intense spiritual rebellion against oppression, fascism and religious fundamentalism; and also wrote a highly acclaimed collection of Bengali ghazals. Sultana's Dream by Begum Rokeya, an Islamic feminist, is one earliest works of feminist science fiction.


In modern times, classification of writers by language is increasingly irrelevant. The Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz has been translated into English and read across the world. Other writers, such as Orhan Pamuk, write directly in English for a wider international audience.


Main article: Islamic art
"Wayang Kulit", the Indonesian art of shadow puppetry, reflects a melding of indigenous and Islamic sensibilities.
"Advice of the Ascetic", a 16th-century Persian miniature

Public Islamic art is traditionally non-representational, except for the widespread use of plant forms, usually in varieties of the spiralling arabesque. These are often combined with Islamic calligraphy, geometric patterns in styles that are typically found in a wide variety of media, from small objects in ceramic or metalwork to large decorative schemes in tiling on the outside and inside of large buildings, including mosques. However, there is a long tradition in Islamic art of the depiction of human and animal figures, especially in painting and small anonymous relief figures as part of a decorative scheme. Almost all Persian miniatures (as opposed to decorative illuminations) include figures, often in large numbers, as do their equivalents in Arab, Mughal and Ottoman miniatures. But miniatures in books or muraqqa albums were private works owned by the elite. Larger figures in monumental sculpture are exceptionally rare until recent times, and portraiture showing realistic representations of individuals (and animals) did not develop until the late 16th century in miniature painting, especially Mughal miniatures. Manuscripts of the Qur'an and other sacred texts have always been strictly kept free of such figures, but there is a long tradition of the depiction of Muhammad and other religious figures in books of history and poetry; since the 16th century the Prophet has mostly been shown as though wearing a veil hiding his face, and many earlier miniatures were overpainted to use this convention.[6]

Depiction of animate beings

Some consider that Islam prohibits the depiction of animate beings in paintings and drawings. One possible reason for this is that it removes the risk of idol worship. Islam teaches that Allah alone should be worshipped; it also holds that banning pictures of Muhammad, the Prophets, and animate beings reduces the risk that they will be worshipped in his place.

However, some others argue that the depiction of animated beings is permissible if the art was not meant to be worshipped, and the creator did not intend to rival God (or intended any heresy) in the creation. This is due to the hadith that mentioned the Prophet had once asked his wife to move a picture of two birds in the room in which he prays somewhere else. However, he didn't ask the picture to be destroyed. This, along with other hadiths, made some believe that pictures of animated beings that are not worshipped or to be considered heresy, is permissible (although using it as a form of luxury, such as hanging them on a wall is often discouraged in some branches of Islam). One exemption that maybe mentioned is the case of the Al Buraq, white animal smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey which brought Mohammed from Masjid-el-Haram in Mecca to Masjid-el-Aqsa in Jerusalem in the Journey by Night (V. 53.12), Isra 17:1a).


Main article: Islamic calligraphy

Forbidden to paint living things and taught to revere the Qur'an, Islamic artists developed Arabic calligraphy into an art form. Calligraphers have long drawn from the Qur'an or proverbs as art, using the flowing Arabic language to express the beauty they perceive in the verses of Qur'an.


Main article: Islamic architecture
The Great Mosque of Kairouan also called the Mosque of Uqba is at the same time the oldest mosque in North Africa (founded in 670 and still used as a place of worship) and one of the most important monuments of Islamic civilization,[7][8] situated in Kairouan, Tunisia.
The fortress-palace of Alhambra, built in the 11th century, is a large monument and a popular tourist attraction
Northeast entrance to Dehli's Jama Masjid.
Istanbul's Sultan Ahmed Mosque was completed in 1616.

Elements of Islamic style

Islamic architecture may be identified with the following design elements, which were inherited from the first mosque built by Muhammad in Medina, as well as from other pre-Islamic features adapted from churches and synagogues.


Common interpretations of Islamic architecture include the following:


The Indonesian puppet of Amir Hamzah, in Wayang theatre.

Whilst theatre is permitted by Islam,[11] Islam does not allow for any performances to depict Allah, Muhammad, his companions, the angels or matters detailed in the religion that are unseen.

The most popular forms of theatre in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'zieh theatre.[12]

One of the oldest, and most enduring, forms of puppet theatre is the Wayang of Indonesia. Although it narrates primarily pre-Islamic legends, it is also an important stage for Islamic epics such as the adventures of Amir Hamzah (pictured). Islamic Wayang is known as Wayang Sadat or Wayang Menak.

Karagoz, the Turkish Shadow Theatre has influenced puppetry widely in the region. It is thought to have passed from China by way of India. Later it was taken by the Mongols from the Chinese and transmitted to the Turkish peoples of Central Asia. Thus the art of Shadow Theater was brought to Anatolia by the Turkish people emigrating from Central Asia. Other scholars claim that shadow theater came to Anatolia in the 16th century from Egypt. The advocates of this view claim that when Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Egypt in 1517, he saw shadow theatre performed during an extacy party put on in his honour. Yavuz Sultan Selim was so impressed with it that he took the puppeteer back to his palace in Istanbul. There his 21-year-old son, later Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, developed an interest in the plays and watched them a great deal. Thus shadow theatre found its way into the Ottoman palaces.[13]

In other areas the style of shadow puppetry known as khayal al-zill – an intentionally metaphorical term whose meaning is best translated as ‘shadows of the imagination’ or ‘shadow of fancy' survives. This is a shadow play with live music ..”the accompaniment of drums, tambourines and flutes...also...“special effects” – smoke, fire, thunder, rattles, squeaks, thumps, and whatever else might elicit a laugh or a shudder from his audience”[14]

In Iran puppets are known to have existed much earlier than 1000, but initially only glove and string puppets were popular in Iran.[15] Other genres of puppetry emerged during the Qajar era (18th-19th century) as influences from Turkey spread to the region. Kheimeh Shab-Bazi is a Persian traditional puppet show which is performed in a small chamber by a musical performer and a storyteller called a morshed or naghal. These shows often take place alongside storytelling in traditional tea and coffee-houses (Ghahve-Khave). The dialogue takes place between the morshed and the puppets. Puppetry remains very popular in Iran, the touring opera Rostam and Sohrab puppet opera being a recent example.

The Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman. It is considered to be the first opera house linking Islamic culture with classical music.


Gender based rulings are evident in Islam's position on dance. Dance is permissible for women within a female only environment and is often performed at celebrations.[16] Dancing is prohibited for men.[17] Again, some Sufi orders are the exception to this rule.[18] They include the whirling dervishes who use dance as a means of worship.[19]


Main article: Muslim music

Many Muslims are very familiar to listening to music. The classic heartland of Islam is Arabia as well as other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Because Islam is a multicultural religion, the musical expression of its adherents is diverse.

The Seljuk Turks, a nomadic tribe that converted to Islam, conquered Anatolia (now Turkey), and held the Caliphate as the Ottoman Empire, also had a strong influence on Islamic music. See Turkish classical music.

Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and the Malay Archipelago also have large Muslim populations, but these areas have had less influence than the heartland on the various traditions of Islamic music. For South India, see: Mappila Songs, Duff Muttu.

All these regions were connected by trade long before the Islamic conquests of the 7th century and later, and it is likely that musical styles traveled the same routes as trade goods. However, lacking recordings, we can only speculate as to the pre-Islamic music of these areas. Islam must have had a great influence on music, as it united vast areas under the first caliphs, and facilitated trade between distant lands. Certainly the Sufis, brotherhoods of Muslim mystics, spread their music far and wide.

See articles on Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, Ashurah (see also Hosay and Tabuik), Mawlid, Lailat al Miraj and Shab-e-baraat.


Main article: Islamic marriage

Marriage in Islam is considered to be of the utmost importance. In Islam, marriage is a legal bond and social contract between a man and a woman as prompted by the Shari'a.

Family Values

In Islam, the role of the family is very important. The Qur'an places great importance on respecting elders, and offtentimes, grandparents will live in the same household with their children and grandchildren. Treating grandparents with kindness and respect comes before all else, except for the practice of tawhid, which is the worship of God.[20] There is also the belief that a lot can be learned from having three generations living under the same roof. By having household members treat and assist grandparents will strengthen the bond within the family, and within oneself. Extended family also plays a crucial role. In historic times in Islamic culture, families often lived near one another. This is not necessarily true in our society today, as families may live farther away from each other due to demands in jobs and other commitments. Still, many Muslim families retain identities that are separate from the dominant culture while having interconnected involvement within society. [21] However, the idea of a close family bond is still present in Islamic culture even with these modern changes, and family is ultimately seen as a great source of help during times of conflict within an immediate family. For example, during times of dispute between a husband and wife, immediate family members, one from each side, are called in to serve as moderators. [20]

Martial arts in Muslim Countries/Cultures

Notes and references

  1. "Minds unmade" via The Economist.
  2. Sigfried J. de Laet. History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century UNESCO, 1994. ISBN 9231028138 p 734
  3. Ga ́bor A ́goston,Bruce Alan Masters. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire Infobase Publishing, 1 jan. 2009 ISBN 1438110251 p 322
  4. Doris Wastl-Walter. The Ashgate Research Companion to Border Studies Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011 ISBN 0754674061 p 409
  5. 1 2 Bertold Spuler. Persian Historiography & Geography Pustaka Nasional Pte Ltd ISBN 9971774887 p 69
  6. Canby, Sheila, Islamic art in detail, US edn., Harvard University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-674-02390-0, ISBN 978-0-674-02390-1, google books
  7. Hans Kung, ''Tracing the Way : Spiritual Dimensions of the World Religions'', Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, page 248. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
  8. "Kairouan Capital of Political Power and Learning in the Ifriqiya". Muslim Heritage. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
  9. Titus Burckhardt, ''Art of Islam, Language and Meaning : Commemorative Edition''. World Wisdom. 2009. p. 128. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
  10. Linda Kay Davidson and David Martin Gitlitz, ''Pilgrimage: from the Ganges to Graceland : an encyclopedia'', Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. 2002. p. 302. Retrieved 2014-03-16.
  11. Meri, Josef W.; Bacharach, Jere L. (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 807. ISBN 0-415-96691-4.
  12. Moreh, Shmuel (1986), "Live Theatre in Medieval Islam", in David Ayalon, Moshe Sharon, Studies in Islamic History and Civilization, Brill Publishers, pp. 565–601, ISBN 965-264-014-X
  13. Tradition Folk The Site by Hayali Mustafa Mutlu
  14. Article Saudi Aramco World 1999/John Feeney
  15. The History of Theatre in Iran: Willem Floor:ISBN 0-934211-29-9: Mage 2005
  16. Mack, Beverly B. (2004). Muslim Women Sing: Hausa Popular Song. Indiana University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-253-21729-6.
  17. Cahill, Lisa Sowle; Farley, Margaret A. (1995). Embodiment, Morality, and Medicine. Springer. p. 43. ISBN 0-7923-3342-X.
  18. Glassé, Cyril (2001). The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Rowman Altamira. p. 403. ISBN 0-7591-0190-6.
  19. Friedlander, Shems; Uzel, Nezih (1992). The Whirling Dervishes. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-1155-9.
  20. 1 2 Bakar, O. (2011). Family Values, the Family Institution, and the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century Islam and Civilisational Renewal, 3(1), 12-36,242-243. Retrieved from /
  21. Baptiste, Jeanne. P. (2016). Gender practices and relations at the jamaat al muslimeen in trinidad. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, 1780310091. Retrieved from

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