An Introduction to the Practice, Methods and Materials of Islamic Calligraphy with Soraya Syed

Even though I have an MA in Visual Islamic Traditional Art, I've never had the opportunity to study Arabic calligraphy. I've managed to do a few day and afternoon courses here and there, but they were too few far between. 

So as a self elected professional development venture (read; treating myself) I eagerly signed up for a course in Introduction to Islamic Calligraphy with the super talented Soraya Syed. Soraya has been practicing calligraphy for about 20 years, and has an ijaza from a calligraphy master in Istanbul, Turkey. As well as celebrating the traditional art form, Soraya is also innovative and exploratory in her practice, and has launched the Nuqta app, collating images of calligraphy from around the world. 

So I'll be honest, I've always found calligraphy particularly difficult. Even in the past, I've never managed to get my letter shapes right, or to the correct measurement, even though I know that I can write beautifully otherwise. It is somewhat strange that the native tongue of my fingers is the Roman script. But, I want to learn, and to practice, and to give it a go. So I did! I told myself at the beginning of the week that no matter what, I will remain positive. I will not feel intimidated by the other people around me, and they've been doing it for years so that wouldn't even make sense anyways. I'm going to try, and remain positive and happy, and enjoy it. And what happened? I absolutely loved it. So this week was much more than a lesson on writing beautifully, it also helped me tame my mind games with myself. Now I just have to keep it up! 

After an introduction to the history and heritage of Islamic calligraphy, (and if you know me for the geek that I am, this had me hooked) we cut our won reed pens (the qalam) and prepared our qalam, silk, and ink. We began with the riq'a script, which is the simplest and traditionally used for standardised official documents. writing out each letter again and again did make me feel like a little child again, but even that innocence was liberating. We would write things out, and Soraya would correct our work and how us where we had gone wrong and how to improve.

After a couple of days we were introduced to the thuluth script, which is one of the most beautiful, and often used in Ottoman Arabic calligraphy. When learning this script, students don't start off with the alphabet, but instead the dua Rabbi Yassir.. (O Lord, make this easy for me..) Watching Soraya write it out for us individually (cheese alert) and demonstrating the dots and measurements, and their beauty, made me feel like I was falling in love, and falling hard. Also, practicing our letters and getting into a contemplative and meditative state only helped me ease up on myself, and my hands flow more freely. 

During the course, we were also really fortunate to be visited by world famous master calligrapher from Pakistan, Rasheed Butt today. He told stories, gave us some laughs, and also lots of positivity, encouragement and reflection, and even his duas and blessings. He's having some eyesight problems at the moment, but still wrote a beautiful basmalla out for us.

Feeling grateful and replenished. Now to keep up the practice..! A good project for Ramadan maybe..?