Last updated: 10 august, 2009 - 08:26 GMT

Art and Culture

William Morris and the Muslims

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Journalist Navid Akhtar examines the influence of Islamic design and values in the life of Victorian designer, poet, and craftsman William Morris.

The designs of William Morris are inextricably linked to the curving sinuous arabesques of traditional Islamic Art.

One of the domes of the Mir-i Arab Madrasah, Uzbekistan

He was inspired by Turkish ceramics and Persian carpets to create a new movement in British design.

For him the Muslim world had managed to preserve the art of the craftsman and avoid the ills of industrial production.

However, his admiration went beyond the surface - Morris was influenced by Islamic ideas of what art should be.

His famous advice to "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," echoes the Muslim saying in the Koran that "God is beautiful and loves beauty".

Morris's artistic ideas including his love for nature, the use of repetition and symmetry, belief in everyday beautiful objects and emphasis on craft are essential Islamic artistic ideals too.

He espoused the philosophy that art should be affordable and hand-made; this was already a reality in the Islamic world.

Not stopping at arts and crafts, he was a passionate advocate of social utopianism and believed in the rights of the worker.

Today, these ideals have profoundly influenced a new generation of British-born Muslim artists as they rediscover Morris and look to his artistic work and socialist ideas for inspiration.

Navid Akhtar examines Morris's interest in Islamic design and takes us on a journey that has come full circle from the arts and crafts movement to contemporary British Islamic Art.

This documentary was first broadcast on click Radio 4 and first aired on BBC world Service on the 10th of August 2009.

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