Muslim heritage treasure trove: Reviving the art of Islamic calligraphy

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By Dr. Saeed Ahmad Ali

LAHORE, Nov 15 (APP):The beautiful saying of Hazrat Ali Bin Abi Talib (RA), the fourth caliph of Islam, reads as “the beauty of writing is the tongue of the hand and the elegance of thought.” 

Another famous saying which is attributed to him narrates as,  “the art of calligraphy is defined as tongue of the hand and elegance of imagination”. Calligraphy may be defined as a visual art which is associated with writing, an art of giving attractive form to written letters that incites and catches the emotions of the viewers.

In calligraphy, most often a broad tip instrument, a brush, pen , pencil or similar other writing tools and instruments are used. Islamic history reveals that the recognition of Islamic calligraphy is attributed to Hazrat Ali Bin Abi Talib (RA) and the Islamic calligraphy script was originated in Kufa, which is the oldest of all scripts, so this is the reason that style was named as Kufic.

The attribution of the discipline of Islamic calligraphy has a direct association with spiritual elevation and its fusion with art is spellbinding. Fashion of calligraphy is not new, by viewing history, its roots resonate within Islamic culture since the early centuries.

There is a famous saying that purity of writing is the purity of soul, as the art of Islamic calligraphy is not only a medium of expression but also food for the soul of both the reader and the calligraphist.

With the advent of Islam and its spread, calligraphy further gained momentum and advancement in new regions by getting new shapes and form.

The fabulous Islamic art of writing, from time to time adopted many disciplines and techniques regarding the diversity of the local culture and requirement. After Hazrat Ali Bin Abi Talib (RA), the foundation of Islamic calligraphy was laid by three renowned calligraphists hailing from Baghdad, namely the Vizier, and Ibn Muqla of the Abbasid Court who determined and established the basic principles of calligraphy art, including  Ibn al- Yakut al-Musta’sim of Amasya  and Bawwab, which are still practiced.

Islamic calligraphy writing is commonly linked with geometric Islamic art which as a part of
Arabic-Muslim heritage, is often found on walls and ceilings of the mosques. However, modern calligraphy is different from classical inscription and design to fine-art in which letters may be readable or difficult to read. 

There are a number of Pakistani artists who have earned a rich identity and excellence worldwide, in formulating new styles and joint scripts both in classical and modern calligraphy. Few popular of these noted artists included Ismail Gul’gee , who won extraordinary awards worldwide, was an engineer by profession and got his education from Aligarh University,  Ahmed Khan and Asghar Ali.

Among these artists, Sadequain was considered as the finest calligraphists of Pakistan, and similarly Bukhari and  Bin Qulander were also well known  artists of  Pakistan. Later Islamic calligraphy entered in an era to stay in as a devotional art, with its attribution to express beautifully the sacred words of the holy Quran. 

Abdul Rahim, a noted calligraphist at Anarkali told APP that as a practice, calligraphy  grew and nourished in the vast expanse of the Muslim culture.

The style and scripts which expanded manifold and touched the new eights in modern art included Khat-i-Mushajjar, Diwani, Khat-e-Kufi, and  Khat-i-Tughra, he said adding, these scripts have now become the identity face of calligraphy.

Due to the changing trends in the art field the Pakistani calligraphists are also trying their best to keep these scripts alive as an equally important fragment of contemporary art in the country, Rahim said.

In Diwani style most scripts are written with sharp and bold outlines with a downward slope, whereas in the Persian-diwani style the outlines are smoother and regular, although the two styles are not very different, he added. 

To a query Abdul Rahim  said the style used in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan to some extent were different from the other two.

In many Muslim countries, the developing tradition of calligraphy brought out a number of outstanding calligraphists in different Muslim regions who, with their brilliant achievements, added to the rich identity of the calligraphic classic.

Mustafiz-u-Rehman a noted author, narrates in his book ‘Mughal Calligraphy’ that of the three major branches of fine arts,  painting, architecture and calligraphy, the later usually occupies a first and substantial place in Mughal culture.

According to Encyclopedia Iranica, there are three notable distinct  styles and scripts  which are generally  recognisable, including  Turco-Arab, Indo-Afghan and Persian. Among these scripts, Diwani is a cursive style of Arabic calligraphy which was developed in the 16th and early 17th centuries during the reign of the early Ottoman Turks, it says. 

This style of calligraphy was invented by Housam Roumi, and reached its climax under the  Suleyman-I, the Magnificent (1520–1566), it reveals.

However, in Pakistan, Khursheed Alam Gauhar Qalam, a renowned calligraphist, who was born in 1956, emerged as a prominent artist among the others. Under the peculiar contribution, the calligraphic tradition flourished more eminently with the continual emergence of  the esteemed art work of khursheed. With keen interest in calligraphy, he took lessons from Hafiz Mohammed Yousuf Sadeedi, a  great master of his time. 

Being the master of the calligraphy, he had revived the Islamic calligraphy and gained expertise in a number of styles, namely Nastaleeq, Naskh, Thuluth and Tughra.A number of famous mosques and distinguished mausoleums in Pakistan are indebted to him for beautiful calligraphy on their minarets, their walls and roofs.