Calligraphy and writing have been an important aspect of Islam since the beginning of the religion. In the Qur’an, Chapter 68 opens with the verse of “By the pen, and what they write” from the Surah Al-Qalam, which means ‘The Pen’.
The art of calligraphy evolved with the written surface, and was to become the highest level of art throughout Islamic lands. The fluid character of the Arabic alphabet, as well as the spiritual meanings of the scripts, propelled Muslims to develop and incorporate work of arts in calligraphic forms in its architecture, textiles, miniature paintings and decorative items.
Before the invention of paper, the word of God, later to be compiled into what is known as the Qur’an, was written on various surfaces ranging from parchment to wood. In our collection, the earliest folios go back to the 8th century AD.
The Qur’an contains 114 chapters or surah, in 30 parts or judz. Following the beginning chapter, or surah Al-Fatihah, which means ‘The Opening’, the other chapters are arranged in descending order of length.
Through the works of Islamic scholars and spiritual thinkers, manuscripts on the subjects of the sciences, astronomy, poetry, history, spiritual enlightenment as well as daily life were recorded.
The Holy Ka’aba is located at the centre of the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca. The Ka’aba is known by several names, including al-Bait al-Atiq (the ancient or liberated house) and Bait al-Haram (the sacred and honourable house). Its walls are covered with a curtain called the Kiswah. Today, it is made in Mecca in of black silk with calligraphic verses in thuluth script inscribed in zigzag pattern, black against black.
The cloth shown here is the door curtain of the Ka’aba, known as the Sitara or Burqu’. Fully embroidered with gold and silver calligraphic inscriptions, it hung over the door of the Ka’aba in 1964. It is signed as the work of Mecca factory of Abd al-Rahim Ami. The inscriptions are placed within the compartments supplemented by floral motifs.
The Kiswah is finely embroidered in several stages. These start with the sewing of cotton cords onto the black silk cloth to form the curvature of the inscriptions and decorations. The process is completed when the gold-pasted silver threads cover all the cotton cords.
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