Behold, Arabic Geometry

Using the ‘random blog’ feature on WordPress, I found this nifty blog, Digital Niqabi, which gave me links to these two articles: and
Both articles are from February of this year and are about the geometric figures in Islamic art being several hundred years ahead of their time.
From the BBC article:

They made tilings that reflect mathematics that were so sophisticated that we didn’t figure it out until the last 20 or 30 years.”

The Islamic designs echo quasicrystalline geometry in that both use symmetrical polygonal shapes to create patterns that can be extended indefinitely without repetition.

And from the Scientific American article:

Medieval Islamic artisans seem to have developed a procedure for creating jigsawlike mosaics that ultimately led them to an exotic pattern that mathematicians would discover nearly half a millennium later. Researchers report that 15th-century buildings in Iran feature tiles arranged in a so-called quasicrystal, which is symmetric but does not repeat itself regularly.

In particular, the Darb-i Imam shrine in Isfahan, Iran, which dates to A.D. 1453, is covered in a symmetric pattern of pentagons and 10-sided stars. If extended indefinitely in all directions, the researchers say, it would never repeat itself—the hallmark of a quasicrystal.

The researchers note that the pattern is equivalent to the most famous example of a quasicrystal, discovered in the 1970s by famed mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose, who showed how to construct it by fitting two types of “Penrose tiles” edge to edge according to certain rules.

The Digital Niqabi site is pretty neat because it’s written by mainstream American Muslims who are very conversant in American culture. That is, they’re just like you and me. Also, they have a lengthy blogroll and list blogs from many different countries in the Middle East. I think it’s nice to see how alike we are and how much we have in common.
Postscript: After I posted the above, I kept thinking it sounded condescending, which is not how I meant it. I kept asking myself, “What is it about Digital Niqabi’s site that makes it so accessible?” Finally I realized: It’s in English!


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Filed under arab, arabist

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