This post is an ode to the age old Islamic craft of illuminating books. When one stops to think about the implications of the care and investment given to books, whether they were literary or scientific texts, in the golden age of Islamic civilization, one understands why it was at its zenith. Books were venerated and beautified out of placing value on learning and on spiritual worship. These are the two sure stepping stones to success in every way.
This commitment to beautiful texts reached a point where specialized workshops were opened and maintained by sultans and kings for calligraphers and illustrators to do their magic. And where schools and techniques developed and innovations followed to evolve the craft and keep it relevant.
Islamic dynasties, well known for their flourishing arts like the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Mamluks, and the Ottomans as well as the Persian dynasties all produced masterpieces in this craft as a witness to their thriving economies and true immersion in arts and culture. These bore local influences rather than creating a copy and paste of the thoughts and processes of other civilizations, great as they were. Don’t get me wrong, the exchange of cultures is pivotal to growth but should be grounded in local craftsmanship, symbols and way of life to carry its full power forward.
Then, eventually this subject brings us to miniature paintings, and that is where my joy is complete. The effect of this art is almost unparalleled on my senses. Let alone speaking of books that are a part of the spiritual practice like “Dala’il Al-Khairat” or to our lore like “Kalila and Dimna” then, be still me heart! The intricate, delicate, rich and elegant detail that is part and parcel of this art is what captures my imagination and interest.
The best of all, is how this art gives Qurans the beauty in presentation that they deserve. The familiar arabesque elements, the same as those used in Islamic arts in different fields are there on the first page, the verse number, and the rectangular panels where the place of revelation, and the sura’s length are written.
What makes this kind of exhibit all the more special is that it was held in my hometown of Riyadh where I spent my childhood and I am now excitedly witnessing a boom in the arts. Here is another testament to the place and power of the rulers to collect, preserve and give access to works of art that give us the beauty of our legacy to inform and inspire us as this exhibit was held at the King Faisal Center for Islamic Arts and Research.
When I went about two weeks ago to Riyadh, I was so excited about the art movement that I decided that I would find something to go to and bask in on my own, without the help of family or friends. I discovered this gem through my favorite new guide source, instagram, haha. It didn’t let me down, as a short five minutes later I was looking at the flyer for Wahj and was excitedly planning the visit with my mother, the one who taught me to fall in love with art and books, along with everything else I love, including love itself.
It was an interesting trip to the entrance of the center. It was hidden like a true gem! But well worth the effort. We found it and I ambled up the stairs... by the way, we later we found out that there is an entrance through a high tunnel from the Faisaliah Mall - for those who can’t do stairs. There were stairs still though in the exhibit halls themselves but they were conquerable for someone ok to walk slowly up. It was such a pleasure to walk through the exhibit and I felt such feelings of gratitude and of pride.
LEARN more about the King Faisal research center
The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) was established to continue the noble mission of the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz (1906-1975) in transmitting knowledge between the Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Center serves as a platform for research bringing together researchers and institutions to preserve, publish, and produce scholastic work. The Center aims to expand the scope of existing literature and research so as to bring to the forefront of scholarly discussions the contributions and roles of Muslim societies in the humanities, the social sciences, literature, the and arts – historically, as well as today.
DISCOVER Al Faisal Museum for Arab Islamic Art
The Al Faisal Museum seeks to encourage a dialogue exploring the fields of ‘Islamic art’ and ‘Islamic history’ Our aim is to add a narrative, among the many existing narratives about this unique civilization, from an Arab perspective.
There are many narratives that enrich our understanding of Islamic civilization, but the role of Arab culture is often neglected in an academic and museological circles when compared to other cultures such as Indian, Persian, and Turkic. We thereby initiate our discussion by focusing on the Holy Qur’an, the Arabic language, and the art of calligraphy, as an indispensable preface to understanding our cultural and artistic heritage. Our featured exhibition, Masahif Al Amsar, displays examples of Qur’anic manuscripts from the King Faisal Center’s treasured collection.