Devotion in pictures:
Muslim popular iconography


The beautiful names of God

The central motif of this picture is the Kaba, the holy building in Mecca, combined with a minaret (the tower of a mosque). The Kaba, either alone or together with the minaret, is a symbol of God, and can be seen in several of the pictures in this exhibition. Beneath it is written in large script the Arabic word "Allah" which means "God". At the top we see "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, etc ". On this poster we find more than one hundred names for God.

Each name for God expresses a particular aspect or characteristic of Him. Examples include: the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Almighty, the Protector, the Everlasting, the All-knowing, the Generous, the First, the Last, the Mild, the Judge, the Just, the Light. (Purchased in Jerusalem.)

Calligraphy of "Allah"

Perhaps the most frequently used symbol of God is the simple calligraphic image of the word "Allah", i.e. "God", as we see above here.

Below we see a more complex variant. Between the letters we once again find the Kaba with the minaret, used as a symbol for God. On the left is a symbol for the Prophet Muhammad, a green cupola and a minaret. This refers to the Prophet's mosque in Medina, where the Prophet's grave lies. Within the letters themselves lie three smaller images. From the left, these represent the holy place in Jerusalem and the mausoleums of saints in Adjmir in India and Baghdad in Iraq.

Within the red medallions we see God being addressed by two of His beautiful names: "O Compassionate, O Generous". In the lower curves of the word "Allah" we find the holy Creed "There is no God but God, Muhammad is His messenger". In the centre, above "Allah" is the number "786", which stands for the sentence "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate". The Koran at bottom right is open at verse 34 of Sura 31 "Knowledge of the Hour [of Resurrection] belongs to God; it is He who sends down rain and He who knows what is hidden in the womb. No soul knows what it will reap tomorrow, and no soul knows in what land it will die". (The upper picture was purchased in Jerusalem, the lower one, printed in India, was purchased in Zanzibar.)

God, the Light og Heavens and the Earth

The picture is framed by one of the best-loved verses in the Koran: "God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. His Light is like this: there is a niche, and in it a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, a glass like a glittering star, fuelled from a blessed olive tree from neither east nor west, whose oil almost gives light even when no fire touches it - light upon light - God guides whoever He will to his Light; God draws such comparisons for people; God has full knowledge of everything." (Sura 24, verse 35)

The Koran in the picture is open at Suras 96, 97 and 98. Sura 96 contains of the Prophet Muhammad's experience of his vocation, when an angel commanded him: "Read! In the name of your Lord who created: He created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by [means of] the pen, who taught man what he did not know." (Verses 1 - 5)

The cupolas of the mosque are crowned with the names of "Allah" and "Muhammad", and the cloister is inscribed with a very central Sura of the Koran, known as the "Declaration of Unity" or Purity: "Say, 'He is God the One, God the eternal. He fathered no one nor was He fathered. No one is comparable to Him.'" (Sura 112). (Purchased in Gaza.)

God, the Merciful

This picture also displays a calligraphy of the name of God "al-Rahman", i.e. "The Merciful", which is also the title of Sura 55 in the Koran. The whole Sura is inscribed within these letters. The first thirteen verses are as follows:

"It is the Lord of Mercy who taught the Qur'an. He created man and taught him to communicate. The sunand the moon follow their calculated courses; the plants and the trees subit to His designs; He has raised up the sky. He has set the balance so that you may not exceed in the balance - weigh with justice - and do not fall short in the balance. He set down the Earth for His creatures, with its fruits, its palm trees with sheathed clusters, its husked grain, its fragrant plants. Which, then, og your Lord's blessings do you both deny?" (Indian poster purchased in Zanzibar.)

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