bookporn #36: asian civilizations museum, singapore

Islamic calligraphy comes in a bewildering, beautiful array of scripts. Copying the Qur’an is a sacred act, and — so I suppose — extreme calligraphic exertions are one way of demonstrating extreme piety. One of the most demanding scripts is the ghubar script — literally, “dust script” — and it requires that the scribe produce words that are as fine as hairs while still legible (on pain of eternal damnation, for distorting the Holy Book is a Mighty Sin). To an extent this sort of miniature writing had some actual functionality: sending long, compact messages to far-off lands by carrier pigeon, for example. But…

Qur'an in Ghubar script

Behold, this fifteenth century Ottoman Turkish scroll, which resides on the third floor of the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore. It is astoundingly beautiful, and also crazy. There are two levels of wording on the scroll. The large Arabic letters, unravelling in perfect thulth script across the scroll, form a prayer, beginning with the invocation of Allah’s blessings on Muhammad, followed by the names of the twelve Shiite Imams and an invocation to ‘Ali. But those letters are shaped from smaller words: in fact, no less than the words of the entire Qur’an, painstakingly inscribed in tiny tiny ghubar script according to the design of the larger prayer (most certainly best viewed large):

Qur'an in Ghubar script

Some scholars suggest that this sort of words-inside-words calligraphy carried particular appeal for Islamic mystics, for when they read out the larger (and briefer) text, it would be as if that single prayer contained within it the whole, unabridged word of God and His glory.

Personally, I think it’s 100% showing off. Also, 1 million % devastatingly awesome. I have never wanted to steal something so much in my life.


3 responses to “bookporn #36: asian civilizations museum, singapore

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