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Re: [bookartsconnection] Islamic Calligraphy

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  • Linda Snook
    Most interesting, Jill! Thank you so much for the posting. All the best, Linda
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 30, 2004
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      Most interesting, Jill! Thank you so much for the posting.

      All the best,

      At 10:38 PM 6/29/2004 -0700, you wrote:
      >Written for the glory of God
      >Detail from Dr Ahmed Moustafa's dynamic work, Frolicking Horses.
      >Calligraphy makes up the horses' forms. VERONICA SHUNMUGAM shares insights
      >into the connections between Muslim life and art gathered from a
      >fascinating exhibition of calligraphy at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.
      >IMAGINE a life immersed in art. Everywhere you turn, there is art. It
      >might not seem obvious, but that's what the Islamic life can offer.
      >Mightier than the Sword - Arabic Script: Beauty and Meaning, a joint
      >exhibition organised by the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia and The British
      >Museum, shows just how closely art fits into Islamic life. It is full of
      >exquisite everyday items that underline this fact: for Muslims, prayer,
      >daily life and art are all rolled into one.
      > Detail from Dr Ahmed Moustafa's dynamic work, Frolicking Horses.
      > Calligraphy makes up the horses' forms.
      >To begin with, Islam assigns a major role to calligraphy, a decorative
      >type of writing that is used to record (Arabic) verses of the Quran (see
      >story on The Quran-Calligraphy Connection). Islamic calligraphy is thus
      >one of the few art forms that was developed specifically to be enjoyed by
      >the man in the street - Muslim children are exposed to it in Quran
      >classes, passers-by behold it on (religious) buildings, household items
      >are decorated with it and, nowadays, you can even glimpse it on car stickers.
      >The British Museum's Department of Oriental Antiquities curator Dr Venetia
      >Porter said that the presence of Arabic calligraphy is significant in all
      >cultures touched by Islam and the Quranic text. Whether displayed on a
      >building or on the face of a coin, such flourishes of calligraphy serve as
      >reminders of the holy book. The thirtysomething Porter spoke of this in
      >detail in her talk on The Function of Writing In Artistic and Cultural
      >Traditions; the talk was held recently in conjunction with the exhibition
      >at the Islamic Arts Museum.
      >The Arabs, said Porter, had already been recording "the memories of men"
      >in graffiti on rocks in the desert, and writings on palm leaves and camel
      >bones 150 years before Islam. However, the coming of Islam was to forever
      >change Arabic script.
      >"The phrase 'The pen is mightier than the sword', has become a universal
      >expression of the power of the written word," pointed out Porter. "In
      >Islamic culture, the importance attached to writing stems from the fact
      >that Arabic is the language in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet
      >Muhammad early in the 7th century, and it was the script in which it was
      >subsequently written down. This has given the Arabic script a unique
      >significance in Islam and, as a result, it has also become one of the
      >defining features of Islamic art.
      >"The strong association between writing and God is emphasised several
      >times in the Quran. It was God who gave writing to man: 'He who taught by
      >the pen taught man that which he knew not' (96:4-5). 'And if all the trees
      >on earth were pens and the ocean were ink with seven oceans behind it to
      >add to its supply, yet would not the words of Allah be exhausted in the
      >writing' (31:27).
      >"Thus, it became incumbent on the person writing the words of God to use
      >the most beautiful script possible. This led to strict rules being laid
      >down at different times about the shapes of letters and their relation to
      >each other, rules which are still followed by traditional calligraphers
      >today," explained Porter.
      >Yet calligraphers are also encouraged to experiment, and outdo each other,
      >in creating even more beautiful styles. Egyptian-born London-based
      >artist-scholar Dr Ahmed Moustafa, 61, is of the opinion that the artist's
      >responsibility is to develop a form that is worthy of Quranic texts. He
      >spoke on Art As a Catalyst for Spiritual Consciousness at the same event
      >as Porter at the Islamic Arts Museum here. Ahmed, who trained as a
      >figurative artist in the neo-classical tradition, contributed a work
      >entitled Frolicking Horses to the contemporary art section of the
      >Letters are not the only aspect of writing that is tied to Islam and art.
      >Numbers, too, play their part - an important part, according to Ahmed's
      >presentation of his theory on squared numbers and cube shapes in Islamic art.
      >The use of geometry (the development of which is largely credited to
      >Muslim mathematicians) in Islamic art and architecture, explained Ahmed,
      >produces literature, objects and buildings that are practical as well as
      >devotional. Islam, he feels, thus tackles the age-old challenge of
      >creating artwork that is practical.
      >Both he and Porter intrigued listeners when they mentioned, in connection
      >with the "popular side of Islam", amulets containing numbers. Numbers,
      >explained Ahmed, refer to the letters of the abjad (alphabet); the number
      >one is equivalent to the first letter of the abjad, alif, the number two
      >is equivalent to ba, the second letter, and so on. Using this system, one
      >can use numbers to construct the name of Allah for use in an amulet made
      >to protect its wearer. The earliest example of this is a set of numbers
      >developed by Jabber ibn Hayan I (CE* 8 or 9) that is believed to be
      >particularly efficient for childbirth and dealing with stomach ailments.
      >Ahmed added that Quranic texts are sometimes written around numbers.
      > Even the humble box that carried a calligrapher's tools was highly
      > decorated; this is from 14th century Syria.
      >(*Increasingly, the abbreviation CE, or Common Era, is used instead of the
      >Christian-centric AD - Anno Domini, Latin for "in the year of the Lord" -
      >that refers to the period beginning after the birth of Christ. BCE, or
      >Before Common Era, now replaces BC, or Before Christ.)
      >Going on to cube numbers, Ahmed explained that cubes such as the Kaabah
      >and cube shapes such as the area of the dot are vital to Islamic design.
      >The dot - considered to be the initiation of any line and subsequent
      >drawing - is important in Islam because it is contained in the letter ba.
      >Ba begins the word "Bismi", which, in turn, begins the phrase "Bismi Laahi
      >Rahmanir Raahim" - the first verse in Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of
      >the Quran. This is a particularly important phrase as it's used by Muslims
      >to ask for God's blessing and is found at the start of almost every surah
      >(chapter) of the Quran.
      >The website islamic.org.uk proffers how the Quran was written with
      >numerical connections in mind; for example, yawm, the Arabic word for
      >"day" appears 365 times in the Quran while shahr, the word for "month",
      >appears 12 times.
      >Besides visual art, numbers and geometry, Porter observed that reading the
      >Quran encourages a heightened musical skill because readers use vocal
      >inflections. She pointed out some exhibits of scripts that were marked
      >with red dots to indicate the vocal inflections required and gold dots to
      >mark the end of a verse. In this way, the Muslim holy book is almost a
      >music score.
      >Indeed, Porter's assembly of exhibits shows how Muslims surround
      >themselves with calligraphic art even as they go about their daily grind.
      >Visitors will see holy writings in Quran manuscripts, on coins,
      >tombstones, bowls, textiles and even on calligraphic tools.
      >a.. 'Mightier than the Sword - Arabic and Script: Beauty and Meaning' is
      >on at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (Jalan Lembah Perdana, Kuala
      >Lumpur) until July 20. Museum hours are 10am to 6pm Tuesdays to Sundays
      >and public holidays (closed on Mondays). Details: (tel) 03-2274 2020;
      >(fax) 03-2274 0529; (e-mail) info@...; (website) www.iamm.org.my.
      >[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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