Calligraphy is considered a form of devotion

“Beauty of script is incumbent upon you for it is one of the keys of mankind’s daily bread.”

Attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Calligraphy, from the Greek kallos (beauty) and graphein (to write) is the art of beautiful writing. It is believed that this art form originated in China during the second millennium BC, eventually spreading to the Middle East. The art of transcribing the Qur’an in beautiful hand was considered a form of devotion and an act of piety. Through its medium, verses from the Qur’an and other revered writings became modes of refined decoration; calligraphy can be found everywhere – on the exteriors as well as interiors of the buildings.

Decorative words transferred knowledge and religious teachings from one generation to another. Hence, the skilled calligraphers and copyists were highly esteemed since printing was not available in the Islamic world until the eighteenth century. In contrast to painters, potters, and other artists, who generally remained anonymous, the calligraphers frequently signed their works and were thus well-known. Many volumes were written about famous calligraphers, discussing their stylistic innovations and recording their works. In Muslim regions, calligraphy is considered amongst the highest forms of art and devotional activity.

Image: Aga Khan Museum
Image: Aga Khan Museum

The Aga Khan Museum collection includes this oblong-shaped panel of calligraphy with the inscription of the names of the panj-e tan, or “band of five,” which includes Prophet Muhammad, his first cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, his daughter Fatima (‘Ali’s wife), and his two grandsons (the children of ‘Ali and Fatima), Hasan and Husayn. The text is the second half of an Arabic couplet, the complete version is at the Madrasa Chahar Bagh Mosque (Madrasa Madarshah) in Isfahan, Iran.

The Calligraphic Tradition in Islam, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Aga Khan Museum Online Gallery

Research by Nimira Dewji

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