29. Calligraphy, (the art of) writing, is one of the human crafts.



(Writing) is the outlining and shaping of letters to indi­cate audible words which, in turn, indicate what is in the soul. It comes second after oral expression, It is a noble craft, since it is one of the special qualities of man by which he distin­guishes himself from the animals. Furthermore, it reveals what is in (people's) minds. It enables the intention (of a person) to be carried to distant places, and, thus, the needs (of that person) may be executed without (him) personally taking care of them. 156 It enables (people) to become acquainted with science, learning, with the books of the ancients, and with the sciences and information written down by them. Because of all these useful aspects, (writing) is a noble (craft).

The 157 transformation of writing in man from potentiality into actuality takes place through instruction. The quality of writing in a town corresponds to the social organization, civilization, and competition for luxuries (among its inhabitants), and the demand for (all) that, since (writing) is a craft. We have stated before 158 that (the crafts) are that way and that they depend on civilization. For this reason, we find that most Bedouins are illiterate. They are not able to read and write. Those of them who do read or write have an inferior handwriting or read haltingly. (On the other hand,) we find that instruction in handwriting in cities with an extraordinarily developed civilization is more proficient, easier, and methodically better (than elsewhere) because the coloring (of the craft of writing) is firmly established in them. Thus, we are told about contemporary Cairo (Egypt) that there are teachers there who are specialized in the teaching of calligraphy.159 They teach the pupil by norms and laws how to write each letter. In addition, they let him teach (others) how to write each letter. This strengthens his (respect for) the rank of knowledge and (for) perception as 160 far as teaching is concerned. His habit becomes one of the most perfect kind. This comes from the perfection and abundance of crafts (there), the result of large civilization and the great amount of (available) labor.

Writing 161 is not learned that way in Spain and the Maghrib. The letters are not learned individually according to norms the teacher gives to the pupil. Writing is learned by imitating complete words. The pupil repeats (these words), and the teacher examines him, until he knows well (how to write) and until the habit (of writing) is at his finger tips.162 Then, he is called a good (calligrapher).

Arabic writing had already reached its most developed, accurate, and excellent stage in the Tubba' dynasty, because (that dynasty) had achieved a great sedentary culture and luxury. The handwriting there was called the Himyarite script. (Writing) was transplanted from (South Arabia) to al-Hirah, because the dynasty of the family of al-Mundhir was there. They were relatives of the Tubba's and shared their group feeling, and they were the founders of Arab rule in the 'Iraq. Their writing was not as good as that of the Tubba's, because (the time) between the two dynasties was short 163 and, (therefore,) sedentary culture and the crafts and other things depending on it were not developed enough for (calligraphy). From al-Hirah, the inhabitants of at-Ta'if and the Quraysh learned (writing), as has been said. The person who learned the art of writing from al-Hirah is said to have been Sufyan b. Umayyah, or Harb b. Umayyah. He learned it from Aslam b. Sidrah.164 This is a possible theory. It is a more likely theory than that of those who say that they learned it from the Iyad, the inhabitants of the 'Iraq, because of the verse of an [Iyadi] poet:

People to whom belongs the area of the 'Iraq when

They travel together, as well as writing and pen.

This is an unlikely theory. Even though the Iyad settled in the area of the 'Iraq, they maintained their desert attitude, and handwriting is a sedentary craft. The meaning of the (verse of that) poet is that the Iyad were closer to hand­writing and the pen than other Arabs, because they were closer to an urban environment. The theory that the inhabit­ants of the Hijaz learned (writing) from the inhabitants of al­Hirah, who, in turn, had learned it from the Tubba's and the Himyar, is the most plausible one.

In 165 the biography of one of Milik's companions, Ibn Farrukh-'Abdallah b. Farrukh-al-Qayrawani al-Firisi al­Andalusi,166 in the Kitab at-Takmilah of Ibn al-Abbar, I have seen the following remark, reported by Ibn Farrukh on the authority of 'Abd-ar-Rahman b. Ziyid b. An'um,167 on the authority of his father, who said: "I said to 'Abdallah b. 'Abbas: 'You Qurashites, tell me about the Arabic script. Did you use it in the same way, before God sent Muhammad, with its connected and unconnected letters, such as ', l, m, n?' (Ibn 'Abbas) replied: 'Yes.' I continued: 'From whom did you learn it?' He replied: 'From Harb b. Umayyah.' I asked: 'From whom did Harb learn it?' He replied: 'From 'Abdallah b. Jud'in.' I asked: 'From whom did 'Abdallah b. Jud'in learn it?' He replied: 'From the inhabitants of al-Anbir.' I asked: 'From whom did they learn it?' He replied: 'From a Yemenite newcomer among them.' I asked: 'From whom did he learn it?' He replied: 'From al-Khullajin 168 b. al-Qisim, who wrote down the revelation of the prophet Hid. He used to say:

 Do you invent a new procedure every year,

Or an opinion that is to be explained in a different way?

Indeed, death is better than a life in which among those who abuse us,

There are the Jurhum and the Himyar.' '

End of the quotation from the Kitab at-Takmilah of Ibn al-Abbar.

At the end of the passage, Ibn al-Abbir added: 169 "I was told this by Abu Bakr b. Abi Jamrah, in his book, on the authority of Abu Bahr b. al-'Asi,170 on the authority of Abul-Walid al-Waqqashi,171 on the authority of Abu 'Umar at­Talamanki,172 on the authority of Abu 'Abdallah b. Mu­farrij, 173 who was my written source, on the authority of Abu Sa'id b. Yunus,174 on the authority of Muhammad b. Musa b. an-Nu'min, on the authority of Yahya b. Muhammad b. Khushaysh, on the authority of 'Uthmin b. Ayyilb al­Ma'ifiri at-Tunisi, on the authority of Buhlul b. 'Ubaydah at­Tujibi, on the authority of 'Abdallah b. Farrukh.

The Himyarites had a script called musnad. 175 The letters were written separately. It could be studied only with their permission. The Mudar learned the Arabic script from the Himyar. However, they did not write it well, as is the case with crafts practiced in the desert. The crafts there have no firmly established methods and show no inclination toward accuracy and elegance. There is a wide gap between the desert attitude and craftsmanship, and Bedouins can for the most part dispense with crafts. Thus, the writing of the Arabs was a Bedouin (script), exactly like, or similar to, the writing the Arab (Bedouins) use at this time. Or, we might say that the writing the Arab (Bedouins) use at this time shows a better technique, because (the Arab Bedouins today) are closer to sedentary culture and have more contact with cities and dynasties (than the Mudar of old). The Mudar were more firmly rooted in desert life and more remote from sedentary areas than the inhabitants of the Yemen, the 'Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Arabic writing at the beginning of Islam was, therefore, not of the best quality nor of the greatest accuracy and excellence. It was not (even) of medium quality, because the Arabs possessed the savage desert attitude and were not familiar with crafts.

One may compare what happened to the orthography of the Qur'an on account of this situation. The men around Muhammad wrote the Qur'an in their own script, which was not of a firmly established, good quality. Most of the letters were in contradiction to the orthography required by persons versed in the craft of writing. The Qur'anic script of (the men around Muhammad) was then imitated by the men of the second generation, because of the blessing inherent in the use of an orthography that had been used by the men around Muhammad, who were the best human beings after (Muhammad himself) and who had received his revelation from the book and word of God. At the present time, people similarly imitate the handwriting of saints or scholars because of the blessing (inherent in that), and they follow the orthography whether it be wrong or right. One could hardly compare these men to the men around Muhammad or the things they write down to (the divine revelation) they wrote down! Consequently, (the Quranic orthography of the men around Muhammad) was followed and became established, and the scholars acquainted with it have called attention to passages where (this is noticeable).

No attention should be paid in this connection to the assumption of certain incompetent (scholars) that (the men around Muhammad) knew well the art of writing and that the alleged discrepancies between their writing and the principles of orthography are not discrepancies, as has been alleged, but have a reason. For instance, they explain the addition of the alif in la-'adhbahannahu "I shall indeed slaughter him" as an indication that the slaughtering did not take place (la­adhbahannahu). The addition of the ya' in bi-ayydin "with hands (power)," they explain as an indication that the divine power is perfect.176 There are similar things based on nothing but purely arbitrary assumptions. The only reason that caused them to (assume such things) is their belief that (their explanations) would free the men around Muhammad from the suspicion of deficiency, in the sense that they were not able to write well. They think that good writing is perfection. Thus, they do not admit the fact that the men around Muhammad were deficient in (writing). They (want to) consider them as perfect by ascribing good writing to them, and they seek to explain (orthographic peculiarities) that are contrary to good orthographic usage. This is not correct. It should be known that as far as (the men around Muhammad) are concerned, writing has nothing to do with perfection. Writing is an urban craft that serves to make a living, as has been shown above.177 Perfection in a craft is something relative. It is not absolute perfection. A deficiency from (perfection in the crafts) does not essentially affect one's religion or personal qualities. It merely affects things that have to do with making a living, and (does so) in accordance with the (existing) civilization and co-operation for (civilization), since writing indicates what is in the souls. The Prophet was illiterate. That was perfection so far as he was concerned and it was in keeping with his station, because he was noble and had nothing to do with the practical crafts, all of which are matters connected with making a living and with civilization. (On the other hand,) as far as we are concerned, illiteracy is not a perfection. (Muhammad) was exclusively devoted to his Lord. We, however, must co-operate in order to make life in this world possible for us. The same applies to all the crafts, including even the theoretical 178 sciences. As far as (Muhammad) is concerned, perfection means that he has nothing to do with any of them. The opposite is the case with us.

Later, royal authority came to the Arabs. They conquered cities and took possession of provinces. They settled in al­Basrah and al-Kufah, and the dynasty needed the art of writing. At that time, they (began) writing.179 They sought to practice and study it, and it came into common use. As a result, a high degree of excellence in (writing) was achieved. (Writing) became firmly established. In al-Kufah and al­Basrah, it reached a great degree of accuracy, but did not reach the limit (of perfection). The Kufic script is still known at this time.

The Arabs then spread over all the regions and provinces and conquered Ifriqiyah and Spain. The 'Abbasids founded Baghdad. There, the different kinds of writing reached the limit (of perfection), because civilization was highly developed in (Baghdad), since it had become the home of Islam and the center of the Arab dynasty.

The 180 norms of writing used in Baghdad were different from those in al-Kufah, in that they inclined toward well­shaped letters, brilliancy, and splendor. This difference became established (and lasted) for a long time. The wazir (Aba) 'Ali b. Muglah 181 became its protagonist in Baghdad. He was followed in this respect by the secretary, 'Ali b. Hilal, who is known as Ibn al-Bawwab.182 The tradition of instruction in the Baghdadi and Kufi writing ended with him in the fourth [tenth] century 183 and afterwards. The forms and the norms of the Baghdadi script then departed still further from Kufic, and eventually, there was a complete break. Later on, the differences were accentuated by masters who always tried to find new forms and improved norms of writing, up to the time of such later calligraphers as Yaqut al-Musta'simi 184 and al-Wall 'Ali al-'Ajami.185 The tradition of the teaching of writing stopped with them. This (type of calligraphy) was transferred to Egypt where (the script) was somewhat different from the 'Iraqi script. The non-Arabs learned the ('Iraqi script) there (in the 'Iraq). It turned out to be different or completely distinct from the writing of the Egyptians.

The Ifriqi script, the old form of which is (still) known at this time, was close to the forms of the eastern script. Spain became the domain of the Umayyads. Their situation as to sedentary culture, the crafts, and the various scripts was a special one. As a result, the Spanish script, as it is known at the present time, became special, (too).

Civilization and sedentary culture developed greatly everywhere in the (various) Muslim dynasties. Royal authority increased, and the sciences were cultivated. Books were copied, and they were well written and bound. Castles and royal libraries were filled with them in an incomparable way. The inhabitants of the different regions vied with and rivaled each other in this respect.

Then, the Muslim empire became disorganized and shrank. With its shrinking, all these things shrank, too. With the disappearance of the caliphate, Baghdad lost its out­standing position. The position it had held with regard to calligraphy and (the art of) writing, and, indeed, with regard to scholarship (in general) was taken over by Egypt and Cairo. The art of writing continues to be cultivated there at this time. There are teachers of writing there who are employed (just) to teach the letters. For that, they have norms of how the letters are to be drawn and shaped. These norms are generally recognized among them. The student soon learns to draw and form the letters well, as he learns them by sensual perception,186 becomes skilled in them through practice in writing them, and learns them in the form of scientific norms. Therefore, his letters turn out to be as well formed as possible.

The inhabitants of Spain, on the other hand, were dispersed throughout the (various) regions when the rule of the Arabs in Spain and that of the Berbers who succeeded (the Arabs), were annihilated and the Christian nations gained the upper hand. From (the time of) the Lamtunah (Almoravid) dynasty down to this time, they have spread all over the coast of the Maghrib and Ifriqiyah. They permitted the people settled (there) to share in the crafts they possessed, and they attached themselves to the ruling dynasty (in Northwest Africa). In this way, their script replaced the Ifriqi script and wiped it out. The scripts of al-Qayrawan and al-Mahdiyah were forgotten, once the customs and crafts of (the two cities) were forgotten. All the various scripts of the inhabitants of Ifriqiyah were assimilated to the Spanish script used in Tunis and adjacent regions, because there were so many Spaniards there after the exodus from eastern Spain.187 The (old script) has been preserved in the Jarid, where people had no contact with those who wrote the Spanish script and were not in close touch with them, because (the Spaniards who came to North­west Africa) used to proceed 188 to the capital city of Tunis. The script of the inhabitants of Ifriqiyah thus became a representative 189 of the Spanish type of writing. Eventually, the shadow of the Almohad dynasty receded somewhat, and sedentary culture and luxury retrogressed with the retrogression of civilization. At that time, writing also suffered a setback, and its forms deteriorated. The method of teaching writing was no longer known, in consequence of the (general) corruption of sedentary culture and the decrease in civilization. Traces of the Spanish script remain there. They attest to the (perfection in it) which the people had formerly possessed. The existence of such traces is explained by the fact that, as we have mentioned before, 190 it is difficult to wipe out the crafts once they are firmly established in a sedentary culture.

In the later Merinid dynasty in Morocco, a kind of Spanish script established itself, because (the Spaniards) were close neighbors and the (Spaniards) who left (Spain) soon settled in Fez, and the Merinids employed them during all the days of their rule. (But) in regions far from the seat and capital of the realm, writing was not cared for, and it was forgotten as if it had never been known. The (various) types of script used in Ifriqiyah and the two Maghribs inclined to be ugly and far from excellent. When books were copied, it was useless to look at them critically. (Study of them) merely caused pain and trouble, because the texts were very corrupt and full of clerical errors, and the letters were no longer well formed. Thus, they could be read only with some difficulty. In this way, writing was affected like all the other crafts by the decrease of sedentary culture and the corruption of the (ruling) dynasties.

"God decides and no one can change His decision." 191

Professor 192 Abu 1-Hasan 'Ali b. Hilal al-Katib al­Baghdadi, who is known as Ibn al-Bawwab; 193 wrote a poem in the basit meter 194 with the rhyme on r, in which he mentions the craft of writing and the matters with which it has to do. The poem belongs among the best things ever written on (the subject). I considered it proper to insert it in this chapter, so that those who want to learn the craft of (writing) may profit from it. It begins:

 O you who want to write a calligraphic hand

And desire to write and draw (the letters) well:

If you are truly desirous of mastering the art of writing,

Pray that your Master make it easy (for you)!

Prepare a calamus that is straight

And strong, capable of fashioning elegant writing with craft.

If you propose to nib the calamus, aim

At applying to it the greatest symmetry.

Look at both ends of it, and then nib it

At the end where it is thin and narrow.

Give the part of the calamus that is nibbed a moderate size,

Neither too long nor too short,

And make the split precisely in the middle of the calamus so that the space nibbed

On both sides of it will be exactly equal.

Eventually, when you have done all this as carefully

As the careful craftsman who knows what is wanted,

Then, turn all your attention toward cutting the point,

For cutting the point is the crux of the procedure.

Do not beg me to reveal its secret.

I am chary of its secret, a thing concealed.

But the sum total of what I want to say is that

The (point) should be something between oblique and round.

Stir the (ink in the) inkstand with soot that is treated

With vinegar or verjuice.

Add to it red pigment that has been diluted

With orpiment and camphor.

Eventually, when (the ink) has fermented,

Go to the clean, pleasant, tested paper.

After cutting it, press it with a press, so as

To remove all trace of crumpling and soiling.195

Then, make patient imitation your habit.

Only a patient person achieves what he desires.

Begin by writing on a wooden slate, wearing it out 196

With a resolution kept free from haste.

Do not be ashamed of your bad writing

When you begin to imitate (the letters) and draw lines.

The matter is difficult (at the beginning), and then becomes easy.

Many a thing that is difficult (at the beginning) turns out later on to be easy.

Eventually, when you have achieved what you have hoped for,

You will be filled with 197 joy and gladness.

Then, thank your God and do His pleasure!

God loves all those who are grateful.

Furthermore, pray that the fingers of your hand will write

Only what is good for you to leave behind in the house of deception.198

Everything a man does, he will be confronted with on the morrow,

When he is confronted with the written decree (on the Day of Resurrection).

It should be known that writing shows the things that are spoken, just as the things that are spoken show the ideas that are in the soul and the mind. Both writing and speech must express clearly (what they want to express). God said: "He created man, taught him clarity." 199 This includes clarity in all the things one expresses.

The perfection of good handwriting consists in the fact that it is clear. (This is achieved) by indicating clearly the conventional 200 letters of (the script), arranging and drawing them well. Each letter by itself is distinct from the others, except where connection between the letters within a word is an accepted technicality. This does not apply to letters that have been accepted as letters that should remain unconnected, such as ' when it precedes (another letter) in the word, nor to r, z, d, dh, and others. It is different when (these letters) follow (another letter in a word). It is this way with all (letters).

Later scribes then agreed to connect words with each other and omit letters 201 that were known to them but not to others who did not know the code, which, thus, remained unclear to others. These (scribes) are the officials who write government documents and keep court records. It seems that they use such a special code, from which others are excluded, because they have to write a great deal, and they are famous for their writing, and many people connected with them 202 know their code. When they write to others who do not know their code, they cannot use it and have to try to write as clearly as possible. Otherwise, their writing would be like non-Arabic writing. It would be in the same category with it in as much as both (types of writing, the code and non­Arabic writing) are not (generally) agreed upon (by conventional usage). There is no (real) excuse for (writing in code), except in the case of officials of the government's tax and army (bureaus). They are required to conceal (their affairs) from the people, since (these affairs) are government secrets that have to be kept secret. Therefore, they use a very special code among themselves, which is like a puzzle. It makes use of the names of perfumes, fruits, birds, or flowers to indicate the letters, or it makes use of forms different from the accepted forms of the letters. Such a code is agreed upon by the correspondents between themselves, in order to be able to convey their thoughts in writing. Occasionally, skillful secretaries, though not the first to invent a certain code (and with no previous knowledge of it), nonetheless find rules (for deciphering it) through combinations which they evolve for the purpose with the help of their intelligence,203 and which they call "solving the puzzle (decoding)." Well-known writings on the subject are in the possession of the people.

God is knowing and wise.