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Islamic calligraphy

Currently viable crafts

 

Islamic calligraphy

 

The practice of handwriting and calligraphy, in the languages which use the Arabic alphabet or the alphabets derived from it.

 

Status Currently viable
Historic area of significance Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, India, Pakistan
Area currently practised London, Edinburgh
Origin in the UK 20th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
6-10
Current no. of trainees 21-50
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1-5
Current total no. of leisure makers
101-200 (see other information)
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Dr Bilal Badat states that “[a]s a designative term ‘Ottoman calligraphy’ refers to a specific set of aesthetic, artistic, and ritualistic traditions practised and followed during the chronological and geographical scope defined by the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923).” ‘Traditions’ refers to ‘writing’ traditions.

So given that Islamic calligraphy is a genus of Ottoman calligraphy, we may define Islamic calligraphy similarly but broaden its chronological and geographical scope to that of the Islamic civilisations since the early 7th century, around the advent of Islam.

The history of Muslim communities in the UK is relatively short and thus the appreciation of Islamic calligraphy has remained low. Soraya Syed was the first Briton to receive her calligraphy license (icazetname) although Dr Martin Lings and others wrote about it in the 1970s.

 

Techniques

 

 

Local forms

A multiplicity of styles have developed throughout the Islamic world since Yaqut Al-Musta’simi but six in particular have remained popular today so much so that they are well known today collectively as Al-Aqlam As-Sittah (‘The 6 Scripts’). These are Kufic, Thuluth, Naskh, Taliq, Diwani, and Riqa. That said, many other styles still exist across the Islamic world such as the Maghribi script of North Africa which has gained global prominence in recent times, whilst others have seen a re-emergence after not having been practiced for centuries like Muhaqqaq.

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Skills issues: Training from a master calligrapher is not available in the UK
  • Training issues: Lack of qualified teachers
  • Market issues: Lack of demand for artwork/skills and a lack of information about the craft.
  • Lack of awareness: An appreciation for high quality Islamic calligraphy is scarce in the UK
  • Negative effects of COVID-19: Not many calligraphers are accustomed to online tuition, perhaps because it is something that demands face-to-face interaction to be taught well.
  • Positive effects of COVID-19: A few students who aren’t able to travel to their masters in other countries like Istanbul regularly are now able to take regular lessons with them online.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Soraya Syed
  • Gulnaz Mahboob
  • Dr Bilal Badat
  • Ruh Al-Alam
  • Jawdat Al Sabbagh
  • Fatih Yilmaz
  • Taha Alhiti
  • Razwan Baig
  • Moustafa Hassan
  • Dr Ahmed Moustafa
  • Samir Malik

Note: not all listed are considered ‘professional makers’ but all are at least ‘trainees’.

Businesses with two or more employees:

 

Other information

In order to gain the highest quality training, students have to gain skills outside of the UK.

In the 1960s the number of individual calligraphy masters of Istanbul were very few in number (perhaps in the 10s) however today, as an example, around 100 classes of students have graduated at the hands of Hassan Celebi who has been delivering weekly classes at various venues for decades.

Mohammed Zakariya (USA) was the first Westerner to receive his diploma (icazetname) as a professional calligrapher from Hassan Celebi in 1988. Since then three or four professional calligraphers have graduated at his hands in America, and many more international calligraphers were encouraged or inspired by him, and the tradition of the art has become much more well-known in the West as a result.

Although occasionally some Turkish masters in the past were self-taught to some degree, that level of mastery is unachievable in the UK without the guidance of a master.

 

References