Many people believe that Muslims are not allowed to depict animals or human beings. Indeed there are many Muslims who conclude this based on particular interpretations of certain hadiths. The fact is that Muslims have always painted animals and human beings, except in mosques and other religious buildings because this distracts from worshipping God. Persians, Turks, Indians, Afghans, Uzbeks and Indonesians, for example, have a long tradition of figurative art which continues to this day. Arabs too used figurative representations in their art for hundreds of years, including pictures of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. The Prophet Muhammad himself told his followers not to destroy a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus which was kept in the Kaaba.
Since the 14 century the depiction of living beings started to disappear from the Arab world and the well known geometrical patterns became the sole basis of Arabic art. There are three reasons for this change. First, the Arab world got into economic decline and there were no rich patrons to pay for this type of art (which was mainly book illustration) anymore. Secondly, the Ottomans had taken over the Arab lands and Ottoman Turkish became the most important language. Most book illustrators couldn't read this language, which undermined their work. The third reason was the growing influence of religious orthodoxy in those days.