The central structure of Islamic architecture is the mosque. The larger mosques usually have one or more domes, arches and tall slender minarets. Although often quite plain on the outside, inside they are generally full of light and colour. Unlike the holy buildings of most other religions (such as Christian churches), mosques contain no statues or pictures of God or the prophets because these are forbidden by Islam. Instead there are often brightly coloured geometric patterns of flowers, plants, abstract designs and above all, quotations from the Quran written in the Arabic script in many different styles. The floor is covered with rugs, and the walls pierced with patterned or stained glass windows in a variety of designs. This blaze of color many have begun in the earliest religious buildings in Arabia, thereby providing a pleasant change from an otherwise drab wold of dry dust, sand bare rock and heat.
For the same reason gardens, plants and water have always been important in Islamic art, both in real life and in paintings. Richer people had enclosed gardens with fruit trees, shrubs and flower beds arranged in geometric shapes, and there were always fountains or streams of running water.
Even the homes of poorer people had, whenever possible, a few plants, shrubs or vines, often in posts arranged round a small pool. Many Muslim emperors relaxed not only by resting in gardens, but also by designing and cultivating them.
Fabrics were an important part of Muslim art. As wooden furniture was not part of Islamic culture, people sat, ate and slept on cushions or rugs on the floor. There were woven hangings on the walls, too, and all of these were covered with the rich designs and colours that decorated the mosques. Textiles were also a very unlike ceramics, fragile jewellery or decorative articles, they were unbreakable, light and easily carried. Today, carpets from Islamic countries are still the most highly=-prized in the world.
Early Muslim art was limited by the ban on the painting of people and animals. In strict theory, this ban still exists, especially in the illustration of sacred works. But gradually animals and human beings began to creep in to paintings particularly after the 12th century AD. These paintings were not hugs like the ones in Europe but were generally small or appeared as illustrations in books. These were usually found in the homes of wealthier people. The paintings of Persia and of Mughal India glow like jewels and are among the most beautiful ever created.
Poetry seems to be the natural language of the Arab peoples, and we saw (p. 20) how the tribesmen held poetry competitions at Makkah before the time of the Prophet (PBUH). This tradition has been kept alive to this day.
In the early days of Islam there were some prose works, but these dealt largely with religion and were often commentaries on the Quran. From the 8th Century AD, animal stories appeared but were used for teaching rather than for entertainment. Slowly people began writing books for pure enjoyment. These were often a mixture of poetry and prose. Many were love stories or 'novels' as we know them today.
Although music has nothing to do with Muslim religious ritual prayers, it has been present in Muslim societies, and the Sufis also adopted different forms of it. All kinds of instruments harps, lutes, guitars, trumpets, flutes, tambourines, drums and castanets were used from early times as entertainment and for warlike purpose. Musical notes were not written down as they were in the west. The tunes were played from memory.