Huff Post: by Michael Wolfe
In Western art calligraphy is a minor art form, mostly confined to books and the occasional decorative function. But in Islamic art, the practice of beautiful writing is much more.
Because it grew up alongside the Quran, Islam’s sacred book, calligraphy developed from a central root and flourished broadly, spreading to every branch of artistic expression. (The full breadth of these arts are the subject of “Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World,” a film I co-produced that airs Friday as part of the PBS Arts Summer Festival.)
Take the way Arabic writing literally jumped off the page into architecture: Any tourist visiting the Alhambra Palace in Spain, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem or the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, can’t help being struck by the central role calligraphy plays in traditional Islamic buildings.
Written Arabic emerged from humble beginnings. Among the earliest examples, in Mecca, are crude letterings chipped into standing boulders that date from the late seventh century. They were a people’s way of memorializing significant parts of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, who lived and had recently died there. The very earliest verse in the Quran is a command for people to re
Read! Read in the name of your Creator,
Who made you from a wet drop
And generously taught you with the pen
What you didn’t know.
No wonder the word gained such primacy.ad. In English it might run like this: