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Volume 27, Number 3May/June 1976

In This Issue

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The World of Islam

Its Legacy

Written by John Sabini
Photographed by Peter Keen

One enduring legacy of the World of Islam Festival will be the publications it spawned, particularly a number of beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated books commissioned by the Festival Trust and its World of Islam Publishing Company.

Art of Islam by Titus Burckhardt. Sumptuously illustrated with photographs by Roland Michaud, Art of Islam treats Islamic art as a manifestation of the unity of Islam. The art of Islam, says Burckhardt, a Muslim and an art historian, is abstract because divine unity is "beyond all representation..." The arabesque and geometric enlacement characteristic of Islamic art, he goes on, recall "the unity underlying things" as each is "generally constituted from a single element, a single rope or a single line, which comes endlessly back upon itself".

The Quranic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination by Martin Lings and Geometric Concepts in Islamic Art by Issam al-Said. Calligraphy, noblest of the Islamic arts because of its link with the Koran, has been developed into rich and complex styles and embellished with gilt illumination which Dr. Ling's book discusses and illustrates superbly. Mr al-Said's book analyzes the concepts and patterns, in words and drawings, of the geometrical designs of Muslim art.

Islamic Science by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Thirteen centuries of science and technology, at one time the most advanced in the world, are covered by Professor Nasr and photographer Michaud in a book that says Islamic science "came into being from a wedding between the spirit that issued from the Quranic revelation and the existing sciences of various civilizations which Islam inherited..." Having set the scene. Professor Nasr surveys Islamic achievements in all branches of knowledge and technique: geography and navigation, the natural sciences, mathematics—to which the Muslims contributed algebra and trigonometry—astronomy and astrology, linked as they were in medieval Europe; physics, medicine, pharmacology, alchemy, which contributed greatly to knowledge of chemistry; agriculture and irrigation.

In addition to the Trust books, other publishers have brought out books to coincide with the Festival. Among them are two that are particularly valuable: The World of Islam published by Thames and Hudson (London), edited by Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton University and written by an international panel of experts, and The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source of Renaissance published by Phaidon Press (Oxford).

Despite its title, The World of Islam has no connection with the Festival. It covers the entire panorama of Islamic civilization in addition to the arts and sciences, the lands and peoples of Islam, Islamic literature and music, Sufi mysticism, Muslim warfare and the regional varieties of Islamic culture in Moorish Spain, Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and Mogul India. The 490 illustrations, 160 in color, are particularly rich in scenes of Muslim life—ships and sailing, battles, prayer and pilgrimages, farming, gardening, courts of law, buying and selling, playing chess, dyeing and tanning, churning, weaving, dancing and making music, and scientific activities through the ages and across the globe.

The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source of Renaissance is a collection of essays, chiefly by American scholars. It is strong on science, technology, trade and commerce, and emphasizes the specifically Arab contributions to later civilizations, particularly the revival of art and science in the European Renaissance.

This article appeared on page 7 of the May/June 1976 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for May/June 1976 images.