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Islamic culture is a term primarily used in secular academia to describe the cultural practices common to historically Islamic peoples. The early forms of Muslim culture were predominantly Arab. With the rapid expansion of the Islamic empires, Muslim culture has influenced and assimilated much from the Persian, Bangladeshi, Turkic, Pakistani, Mongol, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Somali, Berber, Egyptian, Indonesian, Filipino, Greek-Roman Byzantine, Spanish, Sicilian, Balkanic and Western cultures.
Islamic culture is itself a contentious term. Muslims live in many different countries and communities, and it can be difficult to isolate points of cultural unity among Muslims, besides their adherence to the religion of Islam. Anthropologists and historians nevertheless study Islam as an aspect of, and influence on, culture in the regions where the religion is predominant.
The noted historian of Islam, Marshall Hodgson, noted the above difficulty of religious versus secular academic usage of the words "Islamic" and "Muslim" in his three-volume work, The Venture Of Islam. He proposed to resolve it by only using these terms for purely religious phenomena, and invented the term "Islamicate" to denote all cultural aspects of historically Muslim people. However, his distinction has not been widely adopted, and confusion remains in common usage of these article.
Islamic culture generally includes all the practices which have developed around the religion of Islam, including Qur'anic ones such as prayer (salat) and non-Qur'anic such as divisions of the world in Islam. It includes as the Baul tradition of Bengal, and facilitated the peaceful conversion of most of Bengal. There are variations in the application of Islamic beliefs in culture.
Early Muslim literature is in Arabic, as that was the language of the Islamic prophet Muhammad's communities in Mecca and Medina. As the early history of the Muslim community was focused on establishing the religion of Islam, its literary output was religious in character. See the articles on Qur'an, Hadith, and Sirah, which formed the earliest literature of the Muslim community.
With the establishment of the Umayyad empire. secular Muslim literature developed. See The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. While having no religious content, this secular literature was spread by the Arabs all over their empires, and so became part of a widespread culture.
By the time of the Abbasid empire, Persian had become one of the main languages of Islamic Golden Age, Muslim civilization, and much of the most famous Muslim literature is thus.
During the early 20th century, the liberal poet Kazi Nazrul Islam espoused intense spiritual rebellion against oppression, fascism and religious fundamentalism; and also wrote a highly acclaimed collection of Bengali ghazals. Sultana's Dream by Begum Rokeya, an Islamic feminist, is one earliest works of feminist science fiction.
In modern times, classification of writers by language is increasingly irrelevant. The Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz has been translated into English and read across the world. Other writers, such as Orhan Pamuk, write directly in English for a wider international audience.
In the performing arts, the most popular skittle of theatre in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'zieh theatre.
One of the oldest, and most enduring, forms of puppet theatre is the Wayang of Indonesia. Although it narrates primarily pre-Islamic legends, it is also an important stage for Islamic epics such as the adventures of Amir Hamzah (pictured). Islamic Wayang is known as Wayang Sadat or Wayang Menak.
Karagoz, the Turkish Shadow Theatre has influenced puppetry widely in the region. It is thought to have passed from China by way of India. Later it was taken by the Mongols from the Chinese and transmitted to the Turkish peoples of Central Asia. Thus the art of Shadow Theater was brought to Anatolia by the Turkish people emigrating from Central Asia. Other scholars claim that shadow theater came to Anatolia in the 16th century from Egypt. The advocates of this view claim that when Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Egypt in 1517, he saw shadow theatre performed during an extacy party put on in his honour. Yavuz Sultan Selim was so impressed with it that he took the puppeteer back to his palace in Istanbul. There his 21 year old son, later Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, developed an interest in the plays and watched them a great deal. Thus shadow theatre found its way into the Ottoman palaces.
In other areas the style of shadow puppetry known as khayal al-zill – an intentionally metaphorical term whose meaning is best translated as ‘shadows of the imagination’ or ‘shadow of fancy' survives. This is a shadow play with live music ..”the accompaniment of drums, tambourines and flutes...also...“special effects” – smoke, fire, thunder, rattles, squeaks, thumps, and whatever else might elicit a laugh or a shudder from his audience”
In Iran puppets are known to have existed much earlier than 1000 CE, but initially only glove and string puppets were popular in Iran. Other genres of puppetry emerged during the Qajar era (18th-19th century BCE) as influences from Turkey spread to the region. Kheimeh Shab-Bazi is a Persian traditional puppet show which is performed in a small chamber by a musical performer and a storyteller called a morshed or naghal. These shows often take place alongside storytelling in traditional tea and coffee-houses (Ghahve-Khave). The dialogue takes place between the morshed and the puppets. Puppetry remains very popular in Iran, the touring opera Rostam and Sohrab puppet opera being a recent example.
Marriage in Islam is considered to be of the utmost importance. Muhammad stated that "marriage is half of religion"; there are numerous hadiths lauding the importance of marriage and family.
Islamic art, a part of the Islamic studies, has throughout history been mainly abstract and decorative, portraying geometric, floral, Arabesque, and calligraphic designs. Unlike the strong tradition of portraying the human figure in Christian art, Islamic art often does not include depictions of living things, including human beings.
Islamic art is centered usually around Allah, and since Allah cannot be represented by imagery ["All you believe him to be, he is not"], geometric patterns are used. The patterns are similar to the Arabesque style, which also involves repeating geometric designs, but is not necessarily used to express ideals of order and nature.
Forbidden to paint living things and taught to revere the Qur'an, Islamic artists developed Arabic calligraphy into an art form. Calligraphers have long drawn from the Qur'an or proverbs as art, using the flowing Arabic language to express the beauty they perceive in the verses of Qur'an.
Islamic architecture may be identified with the following design elements, which were inherited from the first mosque built by Muhammad in Medina, as well as from other pre-Islamic features adapted from churches and synagogues.
Common interpretations of Islamic architecture include the following:
Many Muslims are very familiar to listening to music. The classic heartland of Islam is Arabia as well as other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Because Islam is a multicultural religion, the musical expression of its adherents is diverse.
All these regions were connected by trade long before the Islamic conquests of the 600s and later, and it is likely that musical styles traveled the same routes as trade goods. However, lacking recordings, we can only speculate as to the pre-Islamic music of these areas. Islam must have had a great influence on music, as it united vast areas under the first caliphs, and facilitated trade between distant lands. Certainly the Sufis, brotherhoods of Muslim mystics, spread their music far and wide.
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