You are on page 1of 16


Wood is the most plentiful material in nature and the first thing that drew man's
attention. It is a comparatively scarce material in many parts of the Islamic world and
being place a higher status and levels of workmanship. Woodcarving is one of the
popular methods of carvings used in Islamic art and buildings/architecture especially
mosque. The significant effect of woodcarving in the mosque enhances beauty and
introduces symbolism to the vernacular architecture.
Wood carving is the technique of creating elaborate designs in wood by hand, with the
help of carving tools. It may vary from floral, traditional motifs to geometrical or abstract
patterns. It is always necessary to first identify the texture of wood before the process of
wood carving is initiated.
The appearance always in abstraction, symbolizing the plant feature or geometry into
three types of architectural components, namely, structural, elemental and ornament.
Woodcarving is the process and product of shaping wood into decorative and sculptural
forms.. Wood is a widely prevalent and self-restoring source of supply, available in sizes
suitable for small objects as well as buildings. Strong enough to support great weight
and to span considerable areas, it is not too heavy to be neither handled by an
economical amount of manpower nor too resistant to be worked readily and accurately
with simple hand tools. Wood has a pleasing range of natural color, tonal depth and
receptivity to a number of sensuously satisfactory surfacing treatments.


Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of both secular and religious styles from
the foundation of Islam to the present day, influencing the design and construction of
buildings and structures in Islamic culture. The principal Islamic architectural styles are
the mosque, the tomb, palace, fort and others.
Islamic art covers several time periods and includes many influences. Islamic
woodcarving, a popular art form, dates back hundreds of years and exhibits a variety of
woodworking techniques.
Woodcarving became a form of architectural ornament in traditional Islamic culture
between the years 836 and 892 in the city of Samarra in Iraq. Islamic woodcarving, with
its focus on intricate geometric and organic plant motifs, can also be found during the
medieval period which spanned from the 11th to the 15th century. The styles originating
in Samarra were adopted throughout the Islamic world.
Traditional Islamic woodcarving is displayed in many art museums and is studied by art
historians throughout the world. Architectural carvings were one of the most important
forms of art in the 9th century.
The wood carvings works can be found at Palaces, patronage houses, Mosques and
waqf and ancient buildings. In carving, an artist uses a pointed chisel to remove portions
of the wood. This was the preferred woodworking method of early Islamic artists of the
Middle East between 1060 and 1307 A.D.

The transition of mind thought has led to architectural transformation and evolution and
the result reflects to the peoples way of life. They become more efficient in making and
produce the quality wood carvings, and also more design that allowed and compatible in
Carved components architecture were more complex in pattern back then in early era of
establishment of Islamic woodcarving architecture/building which most them were done
for palaces. It is said that carvings were associated to status of people in the
community, compare to nowhere less complex that motifs and patterns become simpler
with less curves


(Images source: Google)

Islamic woodcarving is known for its intricate patterns. The patterns include floral,
geometrical and calligraphical motifs that allowed in Islamic art, which made Islam more
special and different than other religions. Same goes to principle of Islamic art, the
prohibition of figuration and representation of living creatures in arts, which means no
For the Muslim, in recognising the reality of the fundamental formula of Islam: "There is
no divinity other than God". He sees in figurative art, a fundamental error or illusion in
projecting the nature of the absolute into the relative, by attributing to the relative an
autonomy that does not belong to it.
Islamic artists developed complex decorative designs, as well as intricate patterns of
such as the arabesque, with which to adorn palaces and mosques and other Islamic

Floral Motifs
Floral is the most dominant motifs and it remains until now. The study found that floral
motifs were early started after the arrival of Islam which was inspired by craftsmen,
designers and also architects. They also create an authentic, attractive and beautiful
besides an artistic and sensibility master piece of woodcarving.
The selected flowers were chosen by craftsmen or designers before proceed on the
buildings based on the physical appearance, fragrance, shape, colour and size which
exist at the surrounding but the motifs on woodcarving are not exactly similar detailed
as flower, it is came from interpretation of flower, leaves and others.
Some of the floral motifs on Islamic architecture buildings
Example of a column in a mid-19thcentury mosque "overgrown" with
floral carving.

Wood carving of floral motifs on the pillar

of the Historical Mosque in Kalam, Swat

Image sources: Google

Calligraphy Motifs
Calligraphy is the most important and most common kind of Islamic art. It has always
been considered the best form of art because the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, is
written in Arabic. The use of beautiful writing (calligraphy) is found in all arts including
wood carving. Calligraphy with the flora and geometric motifs and also from verses of Al
Quran usually has a meaning for public. These designs were often preserved so that
they could be copied by later generations.
Some of the calligraphy motifs on Islamic architecture buildings
Example of a calligraphy motif detail
from wooden panel in museum in
Spain with Arabic inscription. Literally,
it has meanings for public.

Close-up of wooden dome of Sultan

Hassan mosque with the use of
calligraphy motif in woodcarving

Image sources: Google

Geometry Motifs
In Islamic world the skills of carpentry were traditionally associated with geometry.
Geometric motifs were popular with Islamic artists and designers in all parts of the
world, for decorating almost every surface, and parts of the Islamic buildings. Intricate
geometric design is a trademark of Islamic art.
Some of the geometry motifs on Islamic architecture buildings

Window from the Umayyad Mosque,


A decorative wall panel of geometrical

patterns on the exterior of Bahia
Palace in Marrakech

Image sources: Google

Arabesque Patterns
Arabesques patterns of Islamic art are often said to arise from the Islamic view of the
world. To Muslims, these forms constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the
visible material world. Many in the Islamic world, symbolize the infinite, and therefore
uncentralized, nature of the creation of the one God (Allah).
Some of the arabesque patterns on Islamic architecture buildings

Islamic relief panel from Medina

Azahara, Cordoba, Spain.

Palace door within The Alhambra,


Image sources: Google

Woodcarving architecture such as houses or mosques would be adorned with so many

carved components. The components are categorized into several types according to
structure, element and decoration. They can be seen on the facade of the buildings
such as fascia boards, door leaves and ventilation panels over doors or windows, and
perforated wall panels. The ventilation panels and perforated wall panels allow air
breeze to circulate into and out from the building and also allow sunlight to pass through
its perforation and consequently lit the interior.
Intricate shadows are casted on the house floor adding beauty to the interior. Carved
components of the buildings performed both functional and aesthetic purposes.
By looking at the development of mosques other buildings that using Islamic designs,
we can see the development of Islamic culture itself, especially the background history
and different timeline.

Some parts of the Islamic buildings

Perforated wall pane

Fascia boards

Image sources: Google

For mosque, there are some carvings in the mosques classified as elemental
components. These components include ventilation panels of door or window, door
or window leaf, walls, railings and mimbar. Ventilation panels are the conspicuous
carving components that characterize the architecture of this region. They are part of
the fenestration allowing air and light into the building. The perforated timber boards are
placed on top of doors, windows or walls allowing circulation of air and light into the

Some parts in the mosque building that using woodcarvings.

Figure 2- Carved door of Mosque of Uqba,


Figure 1 Carved window of Ihsaniah Iskandariah

Mosque,Kuala Kangsar, Perak.


Other parts in some Islamic building that using woodcarvings.

Alhambras paneled wall Granada,

Woodcarving patterns/motifs:
(Photo: courtesy of American Institute
for Advanced Studies in Cultural

Surah An-Nas woodcarving in

International Islamic University
Malaysia (IIUM)s library
This artwork is using caligraphical
(Photo: Flickr)

Wooden dome symbolizing the

universe in The Alczar of Seville
Spanish Islamic royal palace in Seville,
This dome is using geometrical motif
of woodcarving.
(Photo: Google)


Carvings on the door of a mosque in

Doha, Qatar.

Door of a mosque in Dubai, United

Arab Emirates



Some of types of wood used include nut, sycamore, oak, ivory, mahogany, maple, pine,
poplar, birch, cedar, basswood etc.
These woods are suitable for carving some parts in the Islamic building and easy to
use. For example cedar, basswood, birch and oak woods are great in carving.
Some images of the common soft woods.

Poplar Takes paint better

than stain

Oakwood commonly used

Birchwood easy to work


Pine easy to shape


Pierced carving - Carving punch comes from a piece of wood or some boards drilled
with drill saws (saws drill) so translucent flower shapes or patterns

Chip Carving - Carving in which just removes small chips of the material from a flat
surface wood.

Relief carving - Sculptural form in which figures are carved in a flat panel of wood. A
type of woodcarving which is old as antiquity, yet it is still been using until today.


Islamic patterns are present everywhere in the world where the Islamic faith was
adopted in significant numbers.
Woodcarving in Islamic architecture/buildings is an expression which portrays the
beauty of Gods creations and shows them into various forms.
The manifestation is a skill developed through the process of observation of the living
environment. The form of the carved components of the mosque depicts the motifs of
flora, calligraphy, and geometry.
Flora motif controls the carving on structural, elemental and decorative components that
influence of Islamic faith of craftsmen toward their work of art. The carving is part of the
mosques architecture that without it the building feels incomplete to be categorized as
vernacular architecture of the region.
In conclusion, there is a clear evolution of motif in the Islamic carving dated from 1850s
until now.


Nomad Inception

Jonathan M.Bloom (January 2, 2012), The Masterpiece Minbar.

Benjamin Shakir Haye ( (2009)
A. Schimmel, Calligraphy and Islamic Culture (1984); R. Ettinghauser and O.
Grabar, the Art and Architecture of Islam: 6501250 (1987); O. Grabar, the Formation of
Islamic Art (rev. and enl. ed. 1987); B. Brend, Islamic Art (1991); S. S. Blair and J. M.
Bloom, The Art and Architecture of Islam, 12501800 (1995).


You might also like