Zillij Patterns

Zillij Patterns lesson plan

Study the complex, geometric ornamentation of Islamic art. Discover intricate, authentic Zillij designs using math and aesthetic principles.

  • 1.

    Muslim mosques are rich with geometric ornamentation called Zillij. These patterns reflect basic Islamic beliefs as well as mathematical truths. Muslims see these patterns as being "discovered rather than created."

  • 2.

    Look at photographs of mosques and other Islamic art. Study the patterns of the tiles in wall and floor mosaics. What do you notice about these arrangements? The designs are endlessly repeating in elaborate complexity.Looking at the whole, you see no center but rather an even, total, and unending aesthetic.

  • 3.

    Islamic designs convey spirituality without iconography (drawings and statues). Although they are intense and brilliant in color and design, they are impersonal and anonymous. Nowhere do you see the artist’s hand, only the pure form and color.

  • 4.

    Islamic artwork is not made using random, free-choice designs, but is drawn within the constraints of symmetry and the laws of proportion. The basic component is a simple shape, repeated in patterns following bilateral or radial symmetry. Are you ready for the challenge of discovering these designs?

  • 5.

    On white paper, lay out a grid using Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils and a straight edge. On the grid, construct a repeating pattern with plain square shapes. If you change your mind, you can erase the lines!

  • 6.

    Make patterns in the grid by alternating light and dark schemes using Crayola Twistables to color in shapes.

  • 7.

    By rotating squares, more complex patterns emerge. Increase the design possibilities by introducing a diagonal element. If you overlap and interlace shapes, you can discover endless variations on an isometric grid.


  • Students explore the aesthetic and geometric patterns dound in Islamic art.
  • Students experiment with construction of Zillij patterns from simple shapes to more complex repeating patterns.


  • Students draw a pattern in which their original lines and calculations are not seen in final design. Other students "uncover" the geometric framework.
  • Explore the influences of Classical Greek geometry upon the Islamic style.
  • Infinite Zillij patterns are often contained within an enclosing, finite border. Study some design examples. Draw decorative borders that parallel the main design.
  • After drawing a repeating pattern, change the degree of the angle or joining points and redraw the design. Note how the change affects other elements of the design.