To paraphrase Monty Python, what has Islam ever done for us? You know, apart from the algebra, the trigonometry, the optics, the astronomy and the many other scientific advances and inventions of the Islamic Golden Age.
Well, if you like art and interiors, there’s always the stunning patterns that grace mosques, madrasas and palaces around the world.
Islamic craftsmen and artists – who were prohibited from making representations of people in holy sites – developed an instantly recognizable aesthetic based on repeated geometrical shapes.
The mathematical elegance of these designs is that no matter how elaborate they are, they are always based on grids constructed using only a ruler and a pair of compasses.
Islamic design is based on Greek geometry, which teaches us that starting with very basic assumptions, we can build up a remarkable number of proofs about shapes. Islamic patterns provide a visual confirmation of the complexity that can be achieved with such simple tools.
Dust off your old geometry set, and let’s see how.
The template has a circle in a square, divided into 12 equal sections. (We could have got this using a compass, but let’s assume you know how to do this). Put the compass point on each corner of the square to draw the first four quarter-circles.
Follow the steps: add a small circle then eight line segments.
When it gets tricky it can help to mark the intersections before you draw the line.
Beginning to take shape now. I tried this at home and it was really fun but quite fiddly – and made me respect the skills of the craftsmen of a thousand years ago, who didn’t have retractible pencils, endless sheets of high quality paper or computer printers.
You are now allowed to use the red Sharpie.
It’s looking good. And here we are.
The step by step guide above was made by Eric Broug, one of the most active practitioners of Islamic geometric design working today.
Eric is a Dutchman who lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire.