Light and Illumination in Islamic Architecture

Allah is the Light (al-Nur) of the heavens and the earth. His light is like a niche in which there is a lamp, the lamp is in a crystal, the crystal is like a shining star, lit from ˹the oil of˺ a blessed olive tree, ˹located˺ neither to the east nor the west, whose oil would almost glow, even without being touched by fire. Light upon light! Allah guides whoever He wills to His light. And Allah sets forth parables for humanity. For Allah has ˹perfect˺ knowledge of all things.  

-Ayah an-Nur (The Light) 24:35


This verse from The Holy Qur'an, translated by Dr.Mustafa Khattab, points to the deep spiritual significance of light in Islam. Al-Nur (النور), is one of the 99 Attributes of God (Allah), and it is essential for life itself. 

The Holy Quran’s opening sura, “Al-Fatihah,” includes a call to God (Allah) to show the believer the true way.  In fact this sura can be read as an indirect evocation of the light that one needs to be able to see in order to find a path forward. Literally, one cannot see the way ahead or avoid any perils on the road without light; metaphorically, light is necessary to read the very sacred texts through which God makes the path of righteousness known. 

Certainly, Islam is not unique in this respect. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism are just three of the many traditions that attach a special divine significance to light. Think of the lamps during the Diwali festival, the candles of a Hanukkah menorah, the candles that must be left burning in a Catholic church whenever the consecrated Eucharist is present, or the candles surrounding statues of the Buddha in temples and monasteries. Islam has never existed isolated in a vacuum, so these faiths and cultures have left their traces on one another. 

This collection acknowledges that, but in accordance with the scope of Archnet, it focuses on light in the built environment of Muslim societies across space and time, and in all its variety. 

When you click “View the Collection,” you will be taken to a collection of images showing some striking examples of light from the Archnet collection.  There are examples from both secular and sacred architecture, and the selection is both highly subjective and somewhat random.  What would you have added that we might have missed?  

You will also find a selection of articles on the use of light in architectural design, as well as an article on Ibn-Haytham, aka Alhazen, one of the most important figures in the study of light and vision. 

Enjoy your exploration!


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