Life – An Exalted Destiny – Aga Khan III

Life - An Exalted Destiny - Aga Khan III Life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can, but a lofty and exalted destiny.

Geometry figures in older Islamic art

Islamic Geometric Architecture - Muslim outside tiled Mosque -

Geometry figures in older Islamic art

By Jeremy Manier, Chicago Tribune

March 1, 2007

Harvard University
Peter Lu, a Harvard graduate student, posed with his cousin Christina Tam in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. On a visit to the region, Lu had the idea of looking for quasi-crystalline patterns in the intricate mosaics on Islamic architecture.

The intricate abstract designs of Islamic art and architecture have always struck experts as the inspired expressions of a faith that forbids direct depictions of holy figures. But a new study shows that Muslim artisans working in what is now Iran went further, producing a sophisticated geometric pattern more than 500 years before Western mathematicians identified it in the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s unclear whether artists of the time fully understood the unique features of their patterns, which researchers at Harvard and Princeton Universities found in tile decorations on a shrine and mosque dating from the 15th century.The designs are quasi-crystalline, meaning they are predictable but do not regularly repeat themselves. They match a convoluted tiling pattern discovered in recent times by the mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, best known for his work on relativity theory.

But even if the patterns’ deepest significance eluded the artisans, experts said only people with an advanced grasp of geometry could have made such elaborate interlocking designs.

The new study, published in the journal Science, offers a window into a time when Islamic scholars were centuries ahead of their European counterparts and used their mathematical prowess to convey the holy in art.

“If the authors are right in their analysis, it’s really quite extraordinary,” said Oleg Grabar, a professor of Islamic art and architecture at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. “I always knew buildings from this era were different, but I never knew the difference was in the nature of their geometry.”

For study co-author Peter Lu, a Harvard graduate student in physics, the mathematics work carries a cultural meaning now that tensions are rising between Iran and the U.S. He said it shows a tradition of inquiry that both Iranians and Americans can embrace.

“We’re talking about a branch of math that most people didn’t understand until the last 30 years,” Lu said. “That doesn’t arise in a culture that’s unwilling to have intellectual freedom.”

To make quasi-crystalline patterns, Lu believes the Iranian artisans relied on a handful of templates, called girih tiles, in the form of pentagons, decagons and other simple shapes. When arranged properly, the tiles formed a nonrepeating pattern with intriguing properties.

For example, if the tiling could be carried out infinitely, a mathematician could predict where each piece would be, even though the tile groupings would always vary.

Penrose’s discovery of quasi-crystals in the 1970s was a purely mathematical achievement, but the patterns found a practical use in the 1980s. That’s when study co-author Paul Steinhardt of Princeton and his colleagues discovered quasi-crystalline patterns in the structure of certain metallic alloys that are used in nonstick frying pans and other applications.

“Physicists were really excited about this stuff in the late 1980s,” said Joshua Socolar, a professor of physics at Duke University. “It’s fascinating that you would find these patterns in such old architecture.”

Lu said he thought of looking for quasi-crystalline patterns in Islamic art after he gave a physics lecture in the Muslim nation of Turkmenistan and toured some religious buildings there. He saw one structure with the 10-point stars and pentagons that are characteristic of Islamic patterns – and also are a hallmark of quasi-crystals.

Lu began plowing through thousands of photos of Islamic artwork with the help of Gulru Necipoglu, a Harvard professor of Islamic art and architecture. Necipoglu had published a paper on the 15th century Topkapi scroll from Iran, which contains ink drawings that served as stencils to make girih tiles.

Necipoglu said the complex geometry in art of the period trickled down from the achievements of mathematical scholars. Muslims in Baghdad had made the first translations of Euclid’s geometry in the ninth century, giving them a 200-year head start on European intellectuals and architects.

Islamic architects started “using geometry to express the holy,” said Grabar of Princeton. “It suggested something transcendental and extraordinary.”

Lu’s study of the Topkapi scroll and tile patterns on the Darb-i Imam shrine in Iran suggested how artisans could have used simple methods to make the dizzyingly complex Penrose patterns.

The artists would have started with large versions of girih tiles, then followed rules for subdividing the tiles into patterns of much smaller pieces. The rules ensured that all the tiles would fit together – and that the overall pattern would be a nearly perfect quasi-crystal.

Experts said further research might shed more light on whether anyone in the 15th century grasped the singular geometry of their creation.

“If this is all the evidence we ever get, I will remain skeptical,” said Socolar of Duke.

Yet Lu said he’s intrigued by how deliberate the rules were, suggesting in-depth knowledge of the tricky geometry of pentagons and decagons – shapes that are notoriously hard to use in tile patterns. Necipoglu said her research suggests that Islamic art and engineering often had a theoretical basis.

“If an artisan was running into a major problem decorating the king’s palace, there would have been a mathematician sitting right there,” Necipoglu said. “There’s no reason why they couldn’t have been in contact.”


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Quran, 13:28

ألا بِذِكْرِ اللهِ تَطمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“Verily! In the remembrance of Allah do hearts find contentment.” - Quran, 13:28

Prophet Muhammad

Prophet Muhammad:

‘Ali is ‘as my own soul’ (ka-nafsi).

He said to ‘Ali, ‘You are from me and I am from you (anta minni wa ana minka).’

‘Truly, ‘Ali is from me and I am from him (inna ‘Ali minni wa ana minhu), and he is the wali (patron/spiritual master) of every believer after me.’

Hazrat Ali

12. When some blessings come to you, do not drive them away through thanklessness.

13. He who is deserted by friends and relatives will often find help and sympathy from strangers.

Imam Ali Sayings

Imam Jaffer Sadiq

لاَ يَكُونُ شَيْءٌ فِي اْلاَرْضِ وَلا فِي السَّمَاءِ إِلاَّ بِهذِهِ الْخِصَالِ السَّبْعِ: بِمَشيئَةٍ وَ إِرادَةٍ وَقَدَرٍ وَقَضَاءٍ وَ إِذْنٍ وَكِتابٍ وَأَجَلٍ. فَمَنْ زَعَمَ أَنَّهُ يَقْدِرُ عَلى نَقْضٍ وَاحِدَةٍ، فَقَدْ كَفَرَ.

“Nothing occurs in this earth and in the heaven except with the following seven stages: Will, intention, destiny, decree, permission, book and implementation. Then whoever thinks that he can reduce any of these stages, then indeed he has disbelieved.”

- Imam Jaffer Sadiq, Usul al Kafi, vol. 1, p. 149

Rumi on Ramadan

The month of fasting has come, the emperor’s banner has arrived; withhold your hand from food, the spirit’s table has arrived. The soul has escaped from separation and bound nature’s hands; the heart of error is defeated, the army of faith has arrived. Fasting is our sacrifice, it is the life of our soul; let us sacrifice all our body, since the soul has arrived as guest. Fortitude is as a sweet cloud, wisdom rains from it, because it was in such a month of fortitude that the Koran arrived. …Wash your hands and your mouth, neither eat nor speak; seek that speech and that morsel which has come to the silent ones.


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99 Beautiful Names

Asma-ul Husna


Aga Khan jokes

Aga Khan Speech Brown University May 1996:

"Looking around this colorful gathering, I recall helping in the choice of the Aga Khan University's regalia. Our research into Islamic traditions of academic dress revealed that an academic's rank determined the height of his hat. The higher the rank, the taller the hat. The senior most professors therefore appeared taller than their students even when sitting down. I have just learnt that my friend Neil Rudenstein, the President of Harvard has given instructions that all Harvard hats are to be heightened by at least a foot. This has caused havoc in the Ivy League which is now debating resolution MAHH96, standing for Maximum Allowable Hat Height. My academic standing and that of President Gregorian, should be evident from the hats that we are presently wearing!"

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