Graduate student Osama Qureshi worked with five black ink pens on Saturday afternoon, crafting ornate name signatures of Arabic calligraphy for visitors to the Islamic Center and Masjid in College Station.
“Islam is very iconoclast,” Qureshi explained as he transformed names such as “Graham” and “Samuel” into works of art, each syllable becoming a shape.
What fun to have your very own name, transformed into exotic Arabic, by a practiced calligrapher. “Yes, of course you may take it home. No, there’s no charge. We want to share with you the art of Arabic calligraphy. Just as we want to share our faith with you.” Words to that effect.
“[We] don’t like doing images of people’s faces, which is why this [mosque] is decorated very sparsely. Images are very looked down on out of fear they might lead to idolatry. So going off of that, calligraphy developed within Islam to basically glorify the word of God. There’s a [Plato] quote, ‘beauty is the splendor of truth.’ What is more truthful for a Muslim than the word of God? Now it has become the pinnacle artform of Islam.”
Osama Qureshi knows, but is not about to tell visitors, why “[we] don’t like doing images of people’s faces.” The reason why Muslims over the past 1,400 years have avoided depicting images not just of people’s faces, but of any living creatures, is that in a hadith, Muhammad reports that the angel Gabriel said he wouldn’t enter a house where there is a “dog or pictures.” “Pictures” have been taken by Muslims to mean all depictions of living creatures, whether in paintings or in statues. Thus, because of one hadith, more than 1.5 billion Muslims today continue to severely limit their means of artistic expression.