The first word to be revealed to Prophet Muhammad through the intermediary angel Gabriel was IQRA, which translates as READ, the following lines commanding, “Read in the name of the Lord. Proclaim ! Thy Lord is Bounteous, he who taught the use of the pen, Teaches man that which he knew not”.
IQRA is the basis of human knowledge, and the spirit of Islam lies in nurturing the intellect. A chapter of the Quran is called “Al Qalam” in which God swears by the pen. The verses in the chapter demonstrate the importance of seeking knowledgs, the sanctity of the written word and the pen as an instrument of inscription.
There is a concept of a divine pen with which the destinies of all created beings to come into this world until the Day of Judgment are inscribed upon the Lauh-e-Mahfooz ——- the divine guarded tablet.
The Quran contains inexhaustible possibilities of creativity, attesting to the “ink” in the verse —— “if all the trees in the earth were pens, and if the sea eked out by seven seas more were ink, the words of God could not be written out unto their end”.
All Islamic art is based on a saying of Prophet Muhammad, “God is beautiful and loves beauty”. It remains the most visible feature of Islamic civilisation. Arabic is written from the right to the left ——- this is said to symbolise the movement from the periphery to the heart, which is located on the left side of the body. Traditionally, Muslims have practised “calligraphy”, not just to improve their handwriting, but also to discipline their souls. Through centuries, Sufis and Sages have studied the “hikmah” (wisdom) of Islamic calligraphy, drawing spiritual nourishment from the sacred art form.
The art of Islamic calligraphy reflects on the earthly plane the writing of His word upon the written tablet. It is a visual representation of the divine message. Some traditionalists call it the “geometry of the spirit”. Each letter has a personality of its own, symbolising in its visual form a particular divine quality as the letters of the sacred alphabet correspond to features and qualities of God, the divine scribe.
The Universe can be symbolised by a tree, which, according to the Quran, has “its roots firm and its branches in the heavens”. Islamic patterns often combine Quran verses with stylised plant forms, known as “arabesque”, and geometric patterns. Through the symbolism of its forms, Islamic calligraphy represents the intertwining between permanence and change, characterising the very nature of creation. “Vertical letters and patterns”, represent the “principal of divine unity”, the “horizontal”, the “multiplicity of manifestation”. Quranic calligraphy represents the response of the soul to the divine message.
————- Sadia Dehlvi.