Islamic Art Lesson – Ideas for School Children

This post is the second of a few explaining exciting art ideas that you could do with KS2 children, linking with the RE topic of Islam. I have included some background information for anyone unsure about Islam and mosques at the end.

Build a mosque

Class of 30-divide children into 5 groups of 6. Allow about 3 lessons to complete project.

The Project Idea

  • To use recyclable materials, mixed techniques and media to create a model of a mosque.
  • To understand why a mosque is shaped the way it is.
  • To begin to understand the deeper symbols and meanings behind the art and architecture within/on a mosque.

What you need-Lesson 1

  1. Interactive White Board images of famous mosques from all over the world (see below).
  2. Images of Islamic geometric patterns. Some photocopies for reference per table.
  3. Laptops for paired/individual research.
  4. Children’s sketch books/project book or A3 paper.
  5. Pencils, colouring pencils.
  6. Graph paper with different base patterns, squares, triangles, hexagons and octagons.

The lesson

Look at images of mosques: (would be great if children have had an opportunity to actually visit a mosque). Compare purely functional mosques to the highly decorated Ottoman ones. This mosque has been rebuilt but stands in the place where the first ever mosque was built, the first ever mosque was very simple, it had palm tree pillars for walls, a partial roof and was undecorated. Also show this gorgeous mud mosque in Mali. Lastly look at the incredible golden Dome of the rock.

Features of mosques:  How mosques are used - BBC learning zone clip.

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/452209750663233538 (link to an interactive mosque drawing I did)

Discussion: Talk about what a mosque is, what it is for, who it is special for and why. You would need to have covered such topics as Who are Muslims, and what do they believe? Also discuss the parts of a mosque, what they are for and how they are used.

Design: Get the children to work on designing their own mosque on paper. This would probably be the outside of it. Get them to think about how many minarets it will have, what shape the main building will be, will it be a pointy dome or a round flat dome? What shape are the windows and doors? Will it be like a very early mosque that is less decorated? or will it be covered in decoration?

Decoration: Using the reference material photocopies and laptops children can explore Islamic patterns, sketch them and decide on some designs that they might use to decorate their mosques. These can be drawn onto their designs. Children could try using graph paper to design a tessellation. They could use 2D shapes to create a pattern, photograph it, print it and use it on the mosque. This could be linked to a study of tessellation in maths.

Colour: Children can then use the research they’ve done to colour in the designs in appropriate colours. They can draw in stained glass windows, mosaics, arabic writing, tiles, coloured dome, crescent moon and star. These should be sketches and explorations, not finished work.

Plan: Children need to indicate on their design which parts of the mosque they will make out of what sort of recyclable material. An obvious one would be to use an empty kitchen roll for the minaret. They can also make diagrams of how to manipulate materials to get the desired shape/design.

What you need-Lesson 2 & 3

For the mosque.

  1. Several domed shaped plastic bowls or blown up baloon.
  2. Newspapers.
  3. Wall paper paste for papie mache-made up into ‘gloop’, one per table.
  4. Cardboard boxes, one per table and wrapping paper and kitchen rolls, cereal boxes, larger piece of firm cardboard for mosque to stand on.
  5. Glue stick, glue gun-adult supervision required, scissors.

For the windows:

  1. Tracing paper or acetate.
  2. Black & coloured felt tip pens.
  3. Photocopies of simple Islamic geometric patterns.
  4. Scissors, glue.

For the optional carpet for inside the mosque:

  1. A3 Sugar paper cut into equal strips-can be several different colours.

For decoration:

  1. Paint, (I would recommend turquoise, orange, emerald green, gold, white, cobalt blue)
  2. Handwriting pen for finer details e.g. decorating the prayer mat, writing calligraphic decoration.
  3. Some coloured paper scraps for chn to cut into squares for a mosaic/tile pattern.

The lesson

In groups children will first decide on a group design for their mosque, this may involve making a final sketch that incorporates several ideas from people on the table.

They will then begin to work as a group to make their mosque, following the design they’ve decided on. This will require them to work as a team and delegate tasks to particular people in the group.

These jobs need to be done in each group: papie mache the dome over the upturned cling filmed, cereal bowl; construct the minaret; make the building of the mosque; design the stain glass windows; make a grand door;  weave the prayer mat out of the sugar paper strips; make bands/strips of paper decorations that can be stuck onto the outside of the mosque (if in their design).

After each part of the mosque is made, children will need to discuss when to decorate the part they’ve made, before or after assemblage. They will need to decorate, paint the mosque and this will need to be planned for either lesson 2 or lesson 3. The domes will take a day or two to dry so this may mean some children assisting with other tasks while this happens.

NB if you are using balloons to create the dome shape then you don’t need to cover the whole balloon, but you do need to cover enough of the round base to give you an open shaped dome. If using a bowl you can place cling film on the bowl first and then over lay the glue papie mache news paper strips, this will stop the papie mache dome sticking to the bowl.

NB It may be advisable for supervising adults to have a craft knife/scalpel available to help with cutting windows, doors Etc. (Obviously, keep it out of reach of the children.)

By the end of the sessions you should end up with one mosque per group of six children. This is a great opportunity for the children to exhibit the mosques and for you to photograph them and create a work sheet using the photographs so that they can label some of the parts of a mosque and you can assess how much they have learnt.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Information About Mosques:      A mosque is a building used to bring muslims together to surrender to God by the act of prayer and group worship.

Decorated or undecorated?     The first mosques were very undecorated buildings, the reason for this was based on the belief that if people got distracted with decorations ,they might forget the true purpose of the building. There was also a risk of showing off wealth, which would disturb cohesion with non muslim communities. Decoration was also not encouraged in order to avoid an obvious disparity between the rich people funding the decoration and the poor people unable to do so. Islamic beliefs encourage humility in power and modesty in wealth.

Hagia-Sophia, Byzantine church turned into a mosque. 1453-1931

Over hundreds of years the mosque became a far more decorated building, culminating in the Ottoman times. Often an Ottoman Sultan (king) would commission the building of an elaborate mosque to show his wealth, power and to be remembered by. There was also a bit of competition between the Muslims and the Christians who competed with each other to build the best religious building. During early Ottoman times many Byzantine (Christian) artisans were commissioned to work on mosques and many churches, in conquered lands, were also turned into mosques.

Small mosques are often built upon the graves of saints and some believe that the goodness of the saint will make the mosque a blessed/special place. Here’s one in Konya, Turkey. The most famous is the mosque built around the tomb of the Prophet Muhammed himself.

KEYWORDS

  • Mosque/Masjid
  • Dome – points to the heavens, is supported by octagonal shape before the cube shaped building beneath it. Often filled with mesmerizing patterns to remind the viewer of the endless cosmos and God’s infinity.
  • Minaret-tall thin tower like part from which the muezzin chants his call to prayer,
  • Muezzin-specially trained person who performs the call to prayer. Hear an Egyptian Athan. (Each country has a different style of singing the Athan.)
  • Adhan- (pronounced athan) the call to prayer.
  • Mihrab-niche in which the Imam leads the prayers in front of the congregation,
  • Imam- similar to a priest.
  • Minbar-stairs from which the Imam delivers his sermons, he never stands at the top because it is symbolically reserved for the prophet Muhammad,
  • Qiblah-the direction that worshipers face when praying, it faces Mecca.
  • Ablution- the ritual washing worshippers do before prayer. (Traditionally the ablution ‘sink’ was octagonal, a reminder to Muslims of the allegory of the throne of God which will be carried by 8 angels on judgement day-reminding them that they are responsible for their own actions.)
  • Prayer mat-has a special design to ensure all worshippers are stood next to each other in rows, this reminds them that all people are equal before God, (The prophet Muhammed describes this to be ‘like the teeth of a comb’.)

SYMBOLS AND MEANINGS

Islamic art can be viewed as simply a way of people expressing themselves non figuratively. However it can also be seen as a series of symbols that together point the viewer towards deeper spiritual meanings. Laleh Bakhtiar (Sufi 1976) and Keith Critchlow (Islamic Patterns 1976) write about some of these deeper meanings.

Symbolic significance of some colours in Islamic art:

Gold/yellow has a sense of Divine enlightenment, most holy, Divine royalty

White represents purity, goodness, potential, not of this world-away from materiality.(During burial the body is wrapped in a white shroud).

Blue is a reminder of life, water is the life giving and sustaining element on earth. Heaven is also said to be full of beautiful, fresh flowing streams and rivers. God’s limitless ability to sustain.

Green is a reminder of the lush gardens of paradise, God’s limitless generosity and to give life. Saint’s tombs are often covered in green silk, and the Prophet Muhammad often wore a green robe. Also linked with Al Khidr or the green knight, an illusive saint who appears to people and give them guidance.

Symbolic significance of numbers in Isamic art:

One signifies the one Creator, the Absolute in his Absoluteness. God. Allah. The dot or the centre of the circle, the origin. All creation resides in One God. This is multiplicity within unity.

Three signifies the first potential for creation, the triangle. It can also represent human consciousness.

Four represents earth, stability, the square, four elements-earth water fire air, hot cold wet and dry, matter.

Five and ten as a star points to the enlightened soul, to the Prophet Muhammed. Five can also be a symbol for the five daily prayers, five pillars, the golden proportion, growth.

Six consists of two groups of three and so recalls the meanings of three, hexagon is a symbol of heaven.

Seven links to the seven days of the week. Connected to 28 and the phases of the moon.

Eight connects to the throne of God being carried by seven angels, connects to the qualities of four.

Twelve connects to three, four and six and their related properties. The signs of the Zodiac.

Twenty eight points to the phases of the moon. Links to the crescent moon, a symbol used to represent muslims.

As you look at the geometry you can begin to glean a little of the hidden meaning behind the beautiful patterns and colours.

If you find this lesson idea useful and use it in your class, please take some photographs and send them to me so that I can post them up on here. Your kids will love to know that their art work is on the internet!!

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