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Islamic Architecture
 
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Dear friends,

I have seen some mosques and minarets which are planed on eight pointed star grid. My question is why architects use eight pointed star grid is Islamic architecture and what are its symbolic meanings?
Shafaqat Ali
Responses
 
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Dear Shafaqat,

I am not sure what the eight pointed star, or octagram, connotes in Islam, but its use as a religious symbol stretches back in history to ancient civilizations. From Byzant.com:

    The octagram or eight-pointed star is a symbol of fullness and regeneration. Through its links with the great eight-fold systems of East and West - the trigrams of the I Ching and the pagan wheel of the year - the octagram gains its connotations of wholeness, rebirth and cyclical infinity. The octagram's association with infinity is further strengthened by the lemniscate, the symbol for infinity, taking the form of a figure eight on its side, and through its links to the eight primal deities of ancient Egypt, the Ogdoad.

    The octagram's associated polygon, the octagon, is intermediate between square and circle, confirming the sense of spiritual regeneration. Thus many baptisteries and fonts are octagonal, though twelve sided figures are sometimes used as twelve is linked to totality.

    As an expression of the number eight and in its aspect of making sense of and communicating wholeness and regeneration, the octagram is linked to the Kabbalistic sefira Hod.

I also know that the octagram was a symbol of Ishtar, Akkadian Goddess representing Venus and invoking the force of life. I found on the web that a version of an eight-pointed star, derived from St. John's cross, appears on firemen's helmets in Gibraltar.

Anyways, my point is that it's very probable that Islam continued the use of the eight pointed star as a symbol of life. It also integrates wonderfully into many geometric patterns.

Anyone else?

Ozgur Basak Alkan
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
I imagine as Ozgur said there are many (Ozgur, your data is amazing) previous religious meanings attached to eight- pointed stars". As I heard recently on a TV programme The acropolis in Athens(a holy site of the ancient Greeks) was caefully planned using "geometry" which suggests that the study of geometry was originally a holy study of "abstract and therefore perfect shapes"...

...For myself, an eight-point star can be made geometrically by simply turning a square 45 degrees. Given that squares are viewed as "perfect abstract shapes" then the symbolism mirrors perfection.

...I recommend you to read the Sufic "A Sense of Unity" by Ardalan and Bakhtiar.
Frank John Snelling
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
You may also find something useful in Titus Burckhardt's "Art of Islam" [World of Islam Festival Publishing Company Ltd, 1976], and Keith Critchlow's "Islamic Patterns: An analytical and cosmological approach" [Thames and Hudson, 1976].
Bruce Allardice
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
---------------------------------------------------------------
I have a question you may be able to help with.
Arabesques that contain eight'sided stars, are
found on tiles in the Alcázar de Sevilla (The
Royal Palace). As you know well, Muslim art is
characterized by the geometrical arabesques and
not human or animal figures because of
proscriptions in the Koran. I had always assumed
that the 8 sided star, two overlapping squares,
was of Arabic or Muslim origin as the motif is
found in the art and architecture of southern
Spain, from the Alhambra to the Great Mosque in
Córdoba, and in virtually every Muslim country,
from Baghdad to Beirut. Now, this is all well and
good except for one small detail. I saw the same
8 sided star in a mosaic on the floor of a Roman
apartment in Itálica, the Hispano Roman city near
Seville founded in 206 B.C.E., some 800 years
before the advent of Islam! How do you account
for this? It must have an earlier origin.
---------------------------------------------------------------
Kern Lunsford
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Dear Kern,

Interesting coincidence indeed! Could it simply be that the Umayyads of Spain inherited the architecture of the Romans before them?
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
And the Romans...
John Lockerbie
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
:))) Ah ha! you could say that making a dome out of "eight-sided" star shapes...

A square of beams overlaid by a fractionally smaller square of beams placed at 45 degrees, and this pattern repeated up to the top of the dome must be older than the Romans? :)))
Frank John Snelling
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Kern and Basak bring up very interesting points. I tend to think that pinning down firm symbolic meanings for symbols like this can lead interpretations that may not leave room for the multiple and even contradictory layers of meaning that can be associated with forms in art and architecture. I think Basak's point about the star's long history and various meanings makes this point well. I also like Kern's observation about the presence of the motif in both Roman and Umayyad Spain.

In my research I am struck by the continuation of Roman artistic traditions in Islamic architecture around the Mediterranean. This makes perfect sense though, considering that Islamic art was just as much an heir to the Greco-Roman tradition as what we tend to think of as "western" architecture. Perhaps we might begin to think of Islamic architecture not as completely separate from other non-Muslim traditions simply because of the difference in faith, but as a very fluid and syncretic tradition arising from the same broad architectural contexts that gave birth to the western European traditions that are often more familiar to us.
Glaire Anderson
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
The 8-pointed star has probably been around since the existence of the universe.

All civilizations have the right to the 8-pointed star. It is with no doubt that the Islamic civilization championed geometry, the 8-pointed star being part of geometry. It baffles me everytime that instead of western citizens learning about the glory of Islamic art/architecture, they always explain it away with; "it was because of the Romans, the Greeks, ancient civlizations(essentially the west) that influenced Islamic civilization." As if, a peoples/civilization can't think for themselves and leave a lasting imprint on history.

Learning requires alot of unlearning. And it is high time that the west give Islamic civilization its credence.

But do they want to?

Best,
Abdul Basit Mukri
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Abdul, you are right, the wealth of mathematical and scientific knowledge created within the cultures of Islam is usually ignored by the West, or said to be copied from the West...

...Geometry is from Ancient Greece and predates Islam, but does not denigrate the use of aesthetic geometry by Islam.

In mathematics, the numerical system used world wide (0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) and Algebra both come from Islam as does the so-called "Fibonacci series" and I suspect even more maths...

...And if the Medieval Western World had kept on using Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IIII, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X) instead of adopting the arabic numeral system (with zero), computers would not probably exist today. :)))
Frank John Snelling
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Waauh! Im amazed by the various concepts, especially the historic, about the eight pointed star. Im particularly intrested in the eight sided octagon, because i see it as a, for lack of a better term, 'purer form'.Im a young graduate architect from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. We architects believe in pure forms being the square, circle and rectangle. I call the octagon a 'purer form' because it is ideally a compination two pure forms; the circle and the square. Yes! if you inscribe a square inside a circle and join the edges of the square at a point midway each side, but touching the circumference of the circle, you will have drawn a perfect octagon.
Im deeply in love with the octagon, I used it for my thesis project; a genocide memorial centre in Rwanda purely abstracted from their traditional baskets, and for sure the octagon served me well as a form that houses the memory of a people permanently absent from the Tiny Rwanda.
I will be reading on your contributions for further knowledge on this subject.
Thankyou
Josephine Malonza
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Josephine,

You should look at the famous image by Leonardo Da Vinci. This image is a square within a circle and two men superimposed upon each other. One man stands with arms and legs outstretched within the square and the other in a similar pose within the circle. :)
Frank John Snelling
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
I came across your question in my search for other answers on another topic.... I am studying the aspects of the theories of the 4th/multiple dimensions in physics and i have recently been studying the hypercube. I was amazed when i saw drawings of the tesseract, penteract, hexeract etc. because my first thought was of the eight pointed star you refer to in islamic art. So perhaps it is not infact a star, but multiple cubes. It would reveal a new understanding of life and rebirth in reference to the afterlife.... or ascending to the 4th dimension? maybe?
Fatima Hijazi
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Continuing Fatima's thought on the Fourth Dimension - Picasso (used the 4th dimension but did not openly acknowledge it) and Duchamp (whose painting clearly states this: Nude Descending A Staircase,1912) have some pretty interesting takes on this dimension in terms of images and painting. Interestingly, this came up first in Einstein's theory of relativity (although his papers were published later in 1916). Jean Metzinger was another firm advocate of the fourth dimension. This raises some interesting questions within the context of colour.
Naznin Hirji
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
I came across this discussion as i was searching for number symbolism in Islamic architecture. Muslim scholars, artists and architects, have no doubt made remarkable contributions to the world, and this geometric symbolism and its use in art and architecture is a very significant one. According to my research so far, this is what i have come across; The geometric symbolism all starts from the concept of Tawheed, symbolised by a circle with a dot in the centre, emphasizing a central point, sometimes also referred to as an interpretation of Ka'aba. The circle also represents infinity, or an interpretation of the concept of eternity in Islam. Circle is a basic shape, and from it come other secondary shapes. The eight pointed star is one of the many stars, that have been used in islamic art, like 6, 10, 12 and 16. Each number has a significant meaning in Islam. Besides all the other polygons, each holds a meaning.
Referring to the post by Abdul Basit, it's true, that learning comes from a lot of unlearning, but, there's no problem in accepting that muslim scholars were infact, in many instances, inspired by there greek predecessors. I would have to disagree with your point that people or civilizations can think for themselves. Everyone has the capacity to think, but this world consists of a hermeneutical cycle, which is hard to transcend. It is rare, or if I daresay impossible, that a person can come up with a pure idea. Every person has previous experiences, inspirations, learnings, which he in turn interprets, and there is nothing wrong with that, infact, that is how everything works. Even the Eureka meant "I found it". If you study Islamic history, you might be surprised to find that Islamic sufism has its roots in greek philosophy, and the the famous concept of wahdat-ul-wajood, can be traced back to the concept of "Emanation of matter from spirit", Plotinus' interpretation of a basic concept by Aristotle. But, Yes, it should be acknowledged that muslim scholars dared to study these concepts more deeply and came up with these amazing discoveries.
Coming to Fatima Hijazi's post, the study of fourth dimension and hypercube was, for me, a revelation. The transcendence from one dimension to another is a fascinating topic. An interesting book in this reference is "Flatland" by Edwin. A. Abott, which discusses 2 dimensionality, 3rd dimension and 4th dimension.

Regards
Faseeha Waheed
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture

In Christian art and architecture, the octagon is a symbol for the `eighth day' (in Latin, octave dies), which gives the day, when the risen Christ appeared to his disciples for the second time after his resurrection on Easter Sunday. In the Jewish counting of the week, in use at the time of Christ, Sunday is the first day of the week, and hence the eighth day is the Sunday after Easter Sunday. In a much favored interpretation by the Catholic Fathers of the Church, the Christian Sunday is both the first day of the week and the eighth day of the week, and every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ, which is combined with the hope of eternal life. Also in Islam, the number eight is a symbol of eternal life.

Such interpretations are rooted in old traditions associated with the number eight in oriental and antique beliefs. According to Babylonian beliefs, the soul wanders after physical death through the seven heavens, which corresponds to the material heavenly bodies in the Babylonian picture of the universe, eventually to reach the eighth and highest heaven. In Christian adaptation of these traditions, the number eight (octave) becomes the symbol for the eternal salvation and fuses with eternity, or infinity. This is reflected in the mathematical symbol for infinity, a figure eight lying down, used for the first time in 1655 by the English mathematician John Wallis.
Charlotte Verhulst
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Mmmmm. I imagine that the symbol for infinity (the horizontal figure 8) is in fact a diagram of a Mobius strip, because a Mobius strip only has one plane and therefore this plane can be traced over and over an infinite number of times. :)))

Does anyone know when Mobius lived? The name uses the Latin spelling, so maybe he lived in the ancient world of Greece and Rome.
Frank John Snelling
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Dear all, number eight has a meaning in Islamic religion. According to Quran versus .. It symbolizes eight angels who carry the god throne.
Zainab Faisal
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Its very interesting to come back to this topic 7 years later! I am still fascinated by symbolism of 8 pointed star - and ideas of infinity and rebirth. I'd like to add to John Frank Snellings comment on the mobius strip. If you see imagery of 3D representation of the mobius strip - the infinity loop you may also find it looks a lot like the paisley. The paisley is most commonly seen in islamic/eastern illustration and textiles.
Fatima Hijazi
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
According to a sufi shaykh in Allepo, the "8 pointed grid" design was something popularised especially by the Turks - Syria is filled with mosques from the Seljuq, Mamluk, and Ottoman eras on this design. To get back to the point, the octagon is better seen in relation to the other parts of the mosque: The main prayer hall would be based on a square or cube - this symbolising the world. The dome above, being a sphere, symbolises the heavens. The transition between the world and the heavens is the octagon - the heavens held up by eight angels, or even symbolically, the eight angels holding up the Throne of God. The space in total is to remind the worshipers of cosmology - prayer is of this world, but the heavens, angels, and Allah are above - in essence the destination of prayers.
AbdulJaleal Nasreddin
Symbolism of 8-pointed star in Islamic architecture
Fatima, Thank you for the 3D image of a doubled-over Mobius strip (which does look like the Paisley pattern), but the more usual representation for a Mobius strip is a figure of eight and so "eight" has become a symbol for infinity.
Frank John Snelling
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