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Safar\Rabi-Ul-Awwal 1424 H
May 2003
Volume 16-05 No : 197
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Islamic History


Calligraphy and the Holy Quran

Calligraphy and the Holy Quran

There have been highly-skilled calligraphers in the sub-continent who nourished this art and spent their lives in saving the Holy Quran from changes and faults

By Mazhar Yusafzai

Right from the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) till today, Muslims from all over the world have used their abilities and potentials in the calligraphy of the Holy Quran. They devised versatilities in its embellishment and showed masterpieces of surprising skill. Even in this mechanical period, a historic way of calligraphy of the Holy Quran was developed. Such a dignified and noble person was a Pakistani.

Here is a historical account of calligraphy. Hazrat Khalid Bin Saeed Bin Abil A’as (RA) calligraphed Bismillah-hir-Rehman-ir-Rahim, and the last Revelation was calligraphed by Hazrat Abi Bin Ka’ab on 3rd Rabi-ul-Awwal 11 A.H. During the Prophethood, the Queeramuz script was being exercised in Mecca, while in Madina, the Hiri script was popular. So all the revelations in Mecca were being written in “Queeramuz script”, while those in Madina were being calligraphed in “Hiri script”, later known as the Kufi script.

There were about 40 companions of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him), including the Caliphs who were lucky enough to calligraph the revelations. In this period, the communication and orders of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) were usually written in Kufic script. During the holy caliphate, calligraphy was the _expression of knowledge and religion, so its betterment and progress was overlooked. However, the propagation of Islam, directions and dispatches to governors and administrators and correspondence with non-Muslim rulers stimulated the interest and necessity of Muslims and with the passage of time, it became an art and was called the art of calligraphy.

During the reign of Umayyids, chances for the propagation and development of calligraphy became prominent. The first famous calligrapher of this period was Qutba, who changed the traditional way and created four new ways of calligraphy. The Holy Quran was calligraphed for the first time with gold water. Khalid bin Abi Tahiyyaj, the courtier calligrapher of Walid bin Abdul Malik, was another popular and prominent figure of the time. He edited Khat-i-Kufi and founded artistic calligraphy.

In 96 A.H., the first Islamic exhibition of art was witnessed in Masjid-i-Nabvi when Surat Al-Shams was displayed. Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz insisted Abi Tahiyyaj to calligraph a copy of the Holy Quran for him, who showed such a sublimity of calligraphy and impressed Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz to such an extent that his eyes became wet on seeing it. He kissed it both with his eyes and lips and returned it to Khalid bin Abi Tahiyyaj as a reward in recognition.

The reign of Abassiyeds was most important in the propagation and evolution of the art of calligraphy. During this period, calligraphy was at its peak. Prominent figures of this age were Abu Ali Mohammed Bin Muqualla, Ali bin Hilal Ibne Bawab and Yaquoot bin Abdullah-ir-Roomi--al-Mustahsami.

Ibn-i-Muqualla edited and reformed Khat-i-Kufi and produced a new style in the calligraphy of the Holy Quran. He devised Khat-i-Naskh. This is the Khat-i-Naskh that became so popular that it is used for the calligraphy of the Holy Quran all over the Islamic world today. Khat-i-Mohaquique, Khat-i-Tauquee, Khat-i-Riqua and Khat-i-Salas were also invented by Ibn-i-Muqualla.

He also edited and modified Khat-i-Rehan (by calligrapher Al-Rehan) and made rules and regulations of calligraphy. Ali bin Hilal modified and produced beauty and attraction in Khat-i-Naskh. He calligraphed 64 copies of the Holy Quran in his life. Yaquoot bin Abdulah-ir-Roomi took it to its peak.

After the invasion of Tartars and the Fall of Baghdad, the centre of calligraphy moved over to Iran where it is still alive with all its beauty and delicacy. From Iran, this art came in the sub-continent and the Mughal regime is known as the Golden Age of calligraphy. Zaheer-ud-Din Babar was a highly-skilled calligrapher of the Holy Quran. He invented Khat-i-Babri. Prince Pervez, son of Jahangir and Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, were industrious and sublimed calligraphers of the Holy Quran. Aurangzeb Alamgir was also a skillful calligrapher of the Holy Quran. Mohammed Yahya Lakhnavi was a master of Khat-i-Naskh.

Fatema-tul-Kubra, the sister of Yousuf Dehlvi - a famous calligrapher of our age - was the first lady calligrapher of the sub-continent. She gained fame in the region for calligraphy of the Holy Quran and died in Karachi in 1967. There have been such highly-skilled calligraphers in the sub-continent who nourished this art and spent their lives in saving the Holy Quran from changes and faults. Their art is appreciated throughout the world.

Noor Ahmed of Delhi was the first painter of the subcontinent who mingled painting with calligraphy and founded Musawwir Tughra Naweesi. He kept in mind that the classical base of calligraphy should not be marred by the needs of painting. So his Tughras are a beautiful mingling of calligraphy and painting.

Noor Ahmed was also highly skilled in coloured lithography. His son, Ahmed Mirza Jamil, was a diploma holder from J.J. School of Arts. His family migrated from India to Karachi at the time of Partition. In 1951, Ahmed Mirza Jamil founded Elite Publishers in Karachi and started photo offset printing for the first time in Pakistan. After some time, Noor Ahmed disclosed to his son Ahmed Mirza Jamil a will of publishing such a copy of the Holy Quran which should be unique, attractive and beautiful enough to compel one to read it.

This was a time of chaos. Those who were searched out were not ingenuous enough to satisfy Noor Ahmed. Those who were reliable requested a long period for the calligraphy of the Holy Quran, that was not acceptable to him. This consumed a fair amount of time. At last, Noor Ahmed decided to take this task into his own hands. When he started the calligraphy of the Holy Quran, he was 72. After the completion of nine parts of the Holy Quran, he fell ill and could not continue this work. He died in 1966.

In this materialistic age, such offsprings are rare who fulfil the will of their parents and complete their unaccomplished work without economical benefits. There are still some people in who believe in selfless service. One of them is Ahmed Mirza Jamil.

In his brochure, Hadya-i-Noor, Ahmed Mirza Jamil explained the details of historic calligraphy of the Holy Quran as follows:

“I was deeply saddened by the incomplete realization of my beloved father’s last desire. Those who understand the calligraphic art form know very well that exact matching of one calligrapher’s script with another is virtually impossible, and so this option was not available. One day, my brother, Zahoor Ahmed, came up with the idea of completing the remaining parts of the Holy Quran by using the photo-duplicated version of the original text.

“Initially, this method appeared extremely difficult from the point of calligraphy and also, time consuming. But, at the same time, it offered the only means of completing this edition in my father’s own script. I decided to give it a try. However, the task was so full of technical and practical obstacles that only the very best of artists could be entrusted with it. And so the responsibility of making the dream see the light of the day fell on the shoulders of my father’s long-time friend and fellow calligraphist, Raza Hussain, and my dear uncle and accomplished artist, Maqbool Ahmed.

At that time, these two masters were aged 74 and 70, respectively. Work was initiated on the 11th of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1387 (20th of June, 1967). The painstaking effort of slicing each line into the required word and words into further smaller components and then bringing these back to form the words and lines of the remaining parts can hardly be described in words.

What can, however, be appreciated is that this gigantic work required 14 long years of constant struggle to accomplish. It was only by the Grace of Allah who gave these senior masters the health and strength required to sustain their efforts over these long years, that the first edition of the Holy Quran was printed and distributed free of cost.”

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