Re: [bookartsconnection] Islamic Calligraphy
- 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
>"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
>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.
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