Jewels of Muslim Calligraphy: Book Review of “Female Calligraphers: Past & Present by Hilal Kazan”

This is a review of the book prepared by Hilal Kazan for the Istanbul Greater City Council Cultural Foundation in order to provide a useful and important bio-bibliographic resource on the history of calligraphy of the Muslim Civilization. Written in Turkish and English, the book consists of notices of past and present Muslim female calligraphers, with many priceless examples of masterpieces of calligraphy. It emphasises also the importance of the activities of female calligraphers in the Muslim civilization at various places. The book reviewed in the following article is a unique work on the subject.

+ Click to read the full article
- Click to close

Dr. Betül İpşirli Argit* and Dr. Salim Ayduz**

Table of contents

1. Presentation of the book

2. Calligraphy and Calligraphers in the Muslim Civilization

3. Female Calligraphers

4. Calligraphy Courses

5. Sample Female Calligraphers

5.1. Shifā bt. ‘Abdullāh al-Adawiyya (7th Century)
5.2. Umm al-Dardā al-Sughrā (8th Century)
5.3. Sana (8th Century)
5.4. Fadl (d. 260/873-74)
5.5. Gulsum al-Attābī (d. 220/835)
5.6. Fadl (10th Century)
5.7. Duhtar-i ibn Mukla Shirāzī (10th Century)
5.8. Muznā (d. 358/969)
5.9. Fātima (10th Century)
5.10. Safiyyā bt. Abdurrabī' (d. 417/1026)
5.11. Fātima bt. Zakarīyā b. ‘Abdullāh as-Shebbarp (d. 427/1036)
5.12. Fātima al-Baghdādī bt. Hasan b. ‘Alī b. ‘Abdullāh Attar (d. 480/1087)
5.13. Zaynab Shāhdā bt. Ahmad b. Al-Faraj b. ‘Omar Al-Abrī (d. 547/1178)
5.14. Sittu'r-Ridā bt. Nasrallāh b. Mas'ūd (died after 567/1171)
5.15. Asmā Ibret (b. 1194/1780)
5.16. Soraya Syed Sanders
5.17. Hilal Kazan

***

Review of Female Calligraphers: Past & Present, by Hilal Kazan. Traditional Arts Series no. VI, Istanbul: Cultural Co., 2010. Hardcover, 240 pages with images. In Turkish and English. ISBN: 978-605-5592-51-6.

1. Presentation of the book

Research on women in the Islamic World is developing in concert with that on social history which came to the front in the 1970's. Research concerning the life of women who lived at different times within the wide spectrum of Islamic society is constantly increasing. Various studies deal with issues such as the daily life of women, their life within the family, their material world, their place within the legal system, their use of space, their various contributions to learning and scholarship, and the role they played in public, financial and political life, as well as their involvement in other subjects such as art.

image alt text

Figure 1: The cover page of Hilal Kazan's book.

The relationship between women and art may be examined under three headlines: women as patrons of art, women as objects in art, and women artists. It is clear that women living in the Islamic world were involved in various art forms, such as poetry, painting, literature, music and calligraphy.

Existing research into calligraphy in the Islamic world lacks information on the subject of women involved in this field from the first Islamic period up to the present day. Since calligraphy is based on professional authorization (ijāza), it shows a resemblance to the Islamic disciplines such as Prophet's Sayings (hadith), Qur'anic exegesis (tafsīr) and jurisprudence (fiqh). A consideration of calligraphers who were influential in the field of religious knowledge shows that the place of women calligraphers is important within the Islamic tradition.

Hilal Kazan's work, which gives a chronological account of the women calligraphers and their work from the early Islamic period until now, gives us information on the subject of women calligraphers. The work of the author is particularly meaningful considering the greater interest on museum curatorship, art patronage and, in particular, on calligraphy in recent years.

The way the author evaluates the works resembles the form widespread in the Islamic world: that of tabaqat or "Who's Who". This work which spread over a wide geographical area and period of time, is divided into two sections. The first begins with works of women calligraphers from the first Islamic period, and stretches up to the end of the Ottoman State. This section introduces women calligraphers who lived during the era of the first four Caliphs and the Umayyad Caliphate, the ‘Abbasīd Caliphate, Ilkhanids, Safawids, Mughals and Ottoman periods. The second concentrates on those who lived and worked from then until the present time. Apart from those in Ottoman territories, it also includes women calligraphers from Iran, Baghdad, Samarkand, Egypt, Rakka, Anadalusia, Khorasan, Kirman, Damascus, Tunisia, Kairouan, Lebanon, Esterābād, Al-Quds, Delhi, Haydarābād, Kandahar, Agra and Shiraz.

Figure 2: Asmā-i Nabī calligraphy by Hilal Kazan.

It is certain that the number of women artists exceeds those mentioned. As a matter of fact, if we consider the first Islamic period according to the numbers and works registered in biographical records, we see that from the 16th century onwards there is a considerable decline. The notions of privacy and modesty gave only limited access to women working in various areas including women calligraphers. Biographical information about these calligraphers, in some cases comes from their tombstones and gives information about their family structure, networks of interest, education and the teachers from whom they received instruction.

The introduction to the book gives space to information gathered from such biographical accounts. In particular, it contains information about the environment in which women calligraphers of the first period were raised. This falls into several categories, the chief of which was a palace or mansion (konak) of a vizier or pasha. Our attention is directed towards the fact that some calligraphers had relationships with the intelligentsia. The same relationship may be observed of women poets who lived during the Ottoman State. These were usually women of well-known families, related to the scholarly environment of the period. Examples of which include women such as Mihri Hatun, Leyla Hanim and Şeref Hanim.

It should be noted that during the 19th century the number of women in the field of calligraphy increased. The same may also be said for poetry. Following an interlude in the first years of the Republic, the number of women calligraphers noticeably increased as a reflection of the increasing interest in calligraphy.

The works of the calligraphers appended to the biographies add great richness to the research. The geographical spread and wide time span of the works and geography enable one to follow the development and phases of the arts of calligraphy and illumination (tazhip) in different periods.

Figure 3: Letter of approbation (ijāzat) of Hilal Kazan inscribed in both Arabic and Turkish languages at the end of her marvellous calligraphy piece on Asmā-i Husnā (The most beautiful Names of Allah).

Developing academic research on Muslim women shows their considerable influence in the social, economic and political fields. This work also points out the presence of women in education and art. This valuable material will form the basis for various works, if evaluated in the light of different questions such as how conditions during different periods influenced women's relationship to art, how their personal conditions, their networks and identity as a woman affected their works and finally how these women were perceived within the family group or in the society in the era in which each lived. Moreover, prosopographic research carried out on women calligraphers together with other women artists is also important.

Many works on the place, socio-economic situation, artistic perspective and intellectual dimensions of women have been written to date. In this work, Hilal Kazan, examines female Muslim calligraphers throughout the history of Islam. So far, a few articles have been published on this field, but in this study, for the first time, the subject of female calligraphers is being focused on in a book scale. This book contains very valuable information about the female calligraphers in Muslim Civilization.

In conclusion, this work will be of use in future research on the history of women, in the fields of biography and on the history of calligraphy. There can be no doubt that the book, together with another one by Hilal Kazan on Palace Patronage in Art in XVIth Century (XVI. Asirda Sarayin Sanati Himayesi), will extend our knowledge on the subject of women artists in the Islamic world.

2. Calligraphy and Calligraphers in the Muslim Civilization

In the early periods of Islamic history, when the art of Islamic calligraphy was still developing, those who made manuscript copies of beautifully written books were known as khattat. After the written art gained its own characteristics, society began to see a difference between scribes and khattat, and not every scribe was referred to as a khattat or calligrapher. In the few books in which the biographies of calligraphers appear the number of women calligraphers is no more than two dozen. However, in the historical sources it is stated that the number of women calligraphers in the Andalusia Umayyad State alone was in the thousands. In this book, only three or four of the women calligraphers from Andalusia have been cited in the sources. We need to take into consideration the idea that the women calligraphers who were mentioned hid themselves within the historical process due to the importance given to privacy in the culture at that time, as well as humility, a characteristic that holds an important place in Islamic doctrine. There are number of stories relating to females calligraphers, narrated by master calligraphy teachers, stories, which they learned from their teachers, that in the eras in which manuscripts and books were copied, these women recorded their works with male pseudonyms due to a certain social shyness. However, there is no written document that supports this statement. However in recent times, the large number of gravestones in Istanbul cemeteries belonging to female calligraphers that have been found as part of studies on historical cemeteries seems to support such stories.

3. Female Calligraphers

In this work, female calligraphers have been listed in chronological order, starting from the beginning of Islamic history. In Islamic history, the first woman calligrapher is Shifā bt. ‘Abdullāh, a relative of Omar; she was not only the first woman to know how to read and write, but also the first female calligraphy teacher. The earliest female calligrapher whose works can still be seen today was Fadhl, the concubine of Abū Ayyūb Ahmad b. Muhammad, who was distinguished in Kairouan in the 10th century.

In places outside the Ottoman regions, female calligraphers have distinguished themselves in regions like Iran, Baghdad, Samarqand, Egypt, Ar-Raqqa, Andalusia, Khorasan, Kerman, Damascus, Tunisia, Kairouan, Lebanon, Esterābad, Jerusalem, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kandahar, Agra and Shiraz. These women provided cultural services for the ruling states in the region and at the time in which they lived. There is information about many female calligraphers during the Qajar Dynasty, which ruled in Iran in the 19th century. However, we are only aware of the existence of three female calligraphers during the time of the Safawids, who ruled in the 16th and 17th centuries, even though their patronage of the arts was on a greater scale.

In the light of existing information, it is possible to observe that there was more than one environment from which female calligraphers appeared. The leading one was that of the palace, where a good education was provided. It can be seen that some of the daughters of Safawid and Qajar rulers were accomplished calligraphers. For example, the daughter of Shah Ismail, Sultānem Bānū and the daughter of Shāhnewāz Khān, Zībūn Nīsā Begum were both calligraphers. It is noteworthy that two daughters of Fathali Shāh of the Qajar rulers, Umm Salama and Shāh-i Begum, and his granddaughter Māh-i Ruhsār were calligraphers and that many of their works are still extant today. Outside of the palace, it can be seen that the daughters of pashas and viziers, like Salmā Hanim, Fātima Mawhiba Hanim, Nasība Farīda Hanim, were interested in calligraphy. Daughters of scholars and calligraphers also distinguished themselves in calligraphy. Most interesting of all female calligraphers is Ummi Khatun, a blacksmith's daughter from Gallipolli, from the 16th century Ottoman State. Not only does her existence strengthen the view that artistic and cultural activities had spread outside of Istanbul in the 16th century Ottomans, but it also displays the intellectual dimensions of the Ottoman woman.

The most important section of the book is the women from the 19th century who were part of the "Female Calligraphers in the Ottoman State". These women, who can be found by their name, or gravestones, or books they copied or those listed in auction catalogues, have been included along with all the information that can be found about them. Thus, instead of the twenty female calligraphers listed in works like Mustakimzade Suleyman Sadaddin Efendi's Tuhfe-i khattatīn (ed. İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal, Ankara: Türk Tarih Encümeni, 1928) and Ibnu'l-Emin Mahmud Kemal Inal's Son Hattatlar (Ankara: Milli Egitim Bakanligi, 1970), in this study the author presents the reader with thirty. New information is also provided here about Asmā Ibret, the best-known female Ottoman calligrapher many of whose works are still extant today. Previously we were not aware of some of the plaques and prayer books created by Asmā ibret, as well as the Qur'an that she copied; here we now learn that there is a copy of the Qur'an in a private collection abroad and photographs of this copy are provided for the first time.

The female calligraphers of the Republican period, or in other words the students who were trained by valued mentors and who acted as a bridge between the Ottomans and today, have been also cited in this work. As a result, female calligraphers who have attained their ijāzat also appear in the work.

Figure 4: Asmā-i Husnā calligraphy by Hilal Kazan.

4. Calligraphy Courses

In recent years, particularly in Istanbul and other major cities in Turkey, many community courses have been offered in handicrafts and calligraphy, but, in keeping with the recommendations of master calligraphers, as they have not yet produced a female calligrapher who is in keeping with the classic standards, who has taken their ijāzat and distinguished themselves in this field, the author has not included the graduates of such courses in this book. In this section of the book, female calligraphers who have been trained in the mashk method of classic calligraphy outside Turkey are included. The works of these women have been inspected and selected by master teachers who were trained in Iran. The book recently compiled by Azra Aqiqi Bakhshayishi and published in Iran, Zenan Hoshnuvis, was used as the reference for this. This is an important book from the aspect of being the first published work. Although it was of some use, the references were limited and the scope was limited to Iran and surrounding regions. It quotes mostly modern Iranian works and as the language used was Persian this meant that it was insufficient for our needs.

5. Examples of Female Calligraphers

5.1. Shifā bt. ‘Abdullāh al-Adawiyya (7th Century)

Shifā bt. ‘Abdullāh was one of the famous female Companions of Prophet Muhammad, a relative of Omar. She was known as Umm Sulaimān b. Abī Hamsa. She was the daughter of ‘Abdullāh b. Abdishams al-Kurashiyya al-Adawiyya. She was an educated lady who knew how to read and write before the advent of Islam. She is known as the first female teacher and calligrapher in Islam and she taught many people, like the daughter of Omar, Hafsā bt. ‘Omar al-Fāruq.

5.2. Umm al-Dardā al-Sughrā (8th Century)

It is presumed that Umm al-Dardā al-Sughrā lived after 81/700. It is recorded in some sources that she taught people how to read and write during the time of her successor Umm al-Dardā. It is assumed she is the second female calligrapher after Shifā bt. ‘Abdullāh who wrote wise words with her beautiful handwriting.

5.3. Sana (8th Century)

Sana lived during the era of the Abbasid Caliphs Mansūr (r. 754-775) and Mahdī (r. 775-785). She was the concubine of lbn Fayūmā. She educated herself in the arts and received her ijāza (licence) from Ishaq b. Samad. Neither the date of her death or that of her master are known.

5.4. Fadl (d. 260/873-74)

Fadl was a poet in the Abbasid era. The sources depict her as a gentle writer with a beautiful style. In Afghani's words 'she was the supreme in calligraphy (husn-i hatt), in poetry and in the art of the eloquent spoken word.' According to the author of the work entitled Fawāt al-Wafayāt, Fadl was a Shi'a and she used her influence on the sultans to help and protect the Shi'a people. She died in 60/873-74.

5.5. Gulsum al-Attābī (d. 220/835)

Gulsum al-Attābī is the second most famous female Arabic calligrapher of the early era, coming second only to Shifa bt. ‘Abdullāh; she lived in Rakka, Syria. She was a contemporary of Caliph Ma'mūn, Caliph Mahdī and Caliph Mu'tasim. In addition to her skill at calligraphy, she was also an eloquent speaker and was interested in poetry. She died in 220/835.

5.6. Fadl (10th Century)

Fadl was from Kayravan and was a concubine of Abū Ayyūb Ahmad b. Muhammad. The Qur'an she copied, dated November 907, is still extant today. This is the oldest known work written by a female calligrapher which has survived until today. On the opening page of the work, the calligrapher requests that everyone who reads the Qur'an that has been copied by her should say a prayer for her. The explanation page reads: "Bismillāhirrahmānirrahīm Hāzā habasat Fadl Mawlat-i Abū Ayyūb Ahmad b. Muhammad rahīmahullāh talaban li-sawābillāhi wa'd-dāri'l-āhira. Rahimallahu man karae fihi ve du'a li-sahibetihā.. wa katabat Fadl bi-khattihā fī Muharram min-sanat hamsa wa tis'īn ve miatayn" There is no other biographical information, aside from that found in her work, available about Fadl's life.

Calligrapher's page of the Qur'anic Calligraphy by Fadl, Servant of Abū Ayyūb Ahmad b. Muhammed.

5.7. Duhtar-i ibn Mukla Shirāzī (10th Century)

Duhtar was one of the teachers of Alaāddīn ‘Alī b. Hilāl, who is also known as Ibn-i Bawwāb. Ibn-i Bawwāb said that he learned the secrets of calligraphy from the daughter of lbn Mukla, i.e., Duhtar, She felt responsible for the safety and permanence of her father's works and for the continuation of his art. Duhtar dedicated herself to her father's teachings and she passed these on to her students. Ibn Bawwāb learned the style of Ibn Mukla's calligraphy from her and from this developed his own style. One of her works that has survived until today is on display at the Mir ‘Imād Calligraphy Museum in Tehran.

5.8. Muznā (d. 358/969)

Muznā was one of the concubines raised at the Andalusian palace and was a clerk for the sultan. She carried out these duties for Caliph al-Amir an-Nāsīr lī-Dīnillāh and for Abdurrahmān III (350/961). None of her works have surviveduntil today. She was famous for her husn-i hatt. She passed away in 358/969.

5.9. Fātima (10th Century)

Fātima was a palace concubine for Caliph Abdurrahman 111 (912-961) in Andalusia. She was one of the few female calligraphers who had the opportunity to write many books in her unique style of calligraphy, for both the caliph and his son Mālik Hakem II (961-976). She also wrote letters addressed to various scholars which were dictated by the caliph. In this way she was exposed to the caliph's great knowledge and his good deeds. The beautiful calligraphy in the letters that she wrote was highly regarded during her lifetime. She also copied many books on her own, concerned with both arts and sciences.

5.10. Safiyyā bt. Abdurrabī' (d. 417/1026)

Safiyyā was from Andalusia and was the daughter of Abdurrabbī'. A woman who had proved herself in husn-i hatt, she produced works concerned with literature and poetry. She passed away before she turned 30, in 417/1026.

5.11. Fātima bt. Zakarīyā b. ‘Abdullāh as-Shebbarp (d. 427/1036)

Fātima, the daughter of Zakarīyā b. ‘Abdullāh, copied many important books in her beautiful script. She passed away in 427/1036 when she was 94 years old.

5.12. Fātima al-Baghdādī bt. Hasan b. ‘Alī b. ‘Abdullāh Attar (d. 480/1087)

Fātima's father, Hasan b. ‘Alī b. ‘Abdullāh, was one of the well-known apothecaries in Baghdad. Umm al-Fadl Fātima was a female calligrapher famous for her husn-i hatt and she lived in Baghdad during the Abbāsid era. She was one of the most educated and talented female calligraphers of her time, she set standards in Islamic written works and her style, which imitated that of Ibn Bawwāb, was very influential. Her works were regarded as being of greater artistic merit than her teacher's. Due to her renowned beautiful calligraphy, she was invited to write some diplomatic letters for the Seljuk vizier. Caliph ‘Abd al-Mulk Abū Naşr al-Kundārī, and she was rewarded with 1000 dinars. Her works were imitated by later calligraphers, due to the success that she had with her diplomatic letters. The sources also indicate that she was one of the rāvis who relayed the hadiths of Prophet Muhammad through 'Omar b. Mahdī and other Companions of the prophet. She passed away in 480/1087.

5.13. Zaynab Shāhdā bt. Ahmad b. Al-Faraj b. ‘Omar Al-Abrī (d. 547/1178)

Zaynab Shāhdā was the daughter of Abū Nasr Ahmad b. al-Farāj. She was also known as Fahrunnīsā, Sittu'd-Dār and al-Kātiba. Although her family was originally from Dināwar, she was born in Baghdad. She was a famous female calligrapher who was renowned for her work in fiqh (Islamic law) and hadiths, in addition to her husn-i hatt. She was also the teacher of Yāqūt, the last Abbasīd caliph, and the calligrapher in the Musta Palace. This important lady calligrapher, who produced many kit'as and muraccas, was known for her witty replies which she wrote in the style of lbn Bawwāb. Historic resources state that MuHammad b. 4Abd al-Mālīk, from the Egyptian school, was her teacher.

Ibn Khallikān, who is known as an important historian of the era, wrote that Shāhdā had received lessons and her ijāza (diploma) from important scholars in the 5th Hijri century like Abū al-Hattāb Nasr b. Ahmad al-Butruvānī and Abū ‘Abdullāh Hussain b. Ahmad b. Talha an-Niālī. Also, many people had the opportunity to study with her and to receive their ijāzas from her. The fame of Zaynab Shāhdā was well established. She was also known as Siqat al-dawla, because of her association with al-Muktafībillāh, the ‘Abbasīd caliph. She spent her time studying science and literature. She left some charitable works behind in Baghdad in certain tekkes and madrasas. She passed away in Baghdad, when she was almost 100 years old, on a Sunday afternoon, on the 13th day of Muharram, in 574/1178. Her family was known as "al-Ibarī" meaning "needle sellers", as this was her grandfather's occupation.

5.14. Sittu'r-Ridā bt. Nasrallāh b. Mas'ūd (died after 567/1171)

Sittu'r-Ridā, the daughter of Nasrullah b. Mas'ūd, was a female calligrapher who followed the the style of Ibn Bawwab. She was an intellectual woman who studied hadiths and was famous for narrating a number of them. It is noted in some sources that she was alive in 567/1171.

5.15. Asmā Ibret (b. 1194/1780)

Asmā Ibret Hanim, one of the calligraphers during the reign of Sultan Selim III, was the daughter of Imperial Serhasakiyān AHmad Aga, who held an important position at the palace. She was the student of the well-known, Mahmud Celaleddin; she wrote in thulth and naskh scripts. She later married her teacher. Her oldest work is a Hilye-i Sharīf (a description of Prophet Muhammad), dated 1209/1795, which is now at Topkapi Palace Museum. Although she was only 15 years old when she wrote this hilye, it can be assumed that she received her ijāza before this time. The information recorded on the reverse of the hilye indicates that it was commissioned by Mehmet Selīm Agha and then presented to Sultan Selim III; he gave 500 kurus to Asmā Ibret and granted her a daily salary from the customs office of forty akça. It is also mentioned that she was given the name ibret, which means exemplary, to set a good example.

Figure 5: A Dalail al-Hayrāt work of Asmā İbret Hanim.

Asmā Ibret's other surviving works , are, in chronological order, as follows:

  • One Hilye-i Sharīf, as a gift for the Vālide Sultan (queen mother), which is at the Topkapi Palace Museum
  • One Hilye-i Sharīf, dated 1209/1795, which is at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, inventory number 2763
  • One Alif juzu (Arabic alphabet), dated 1213/1798-99 at the Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi Collection
  • One Dalāil-i Hayrāt at Istanbul University Library, inventory number 5566
  • One qit'a, dated 1222/1807, in the Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi Collection
  • One undated qit'a in the Saffet Tanman Collection.

One Hilye-i Sharīf, dated 1222/1807, which is at the Hamidiye Mausoleum. Ibnulemin used the term 'remarkable' in the explanatory note of this hilye. It is assumed by many that she could not only write perfectly in the style of her husband Celaleddin, but also that many times Celaleddin signed his name to works that had been written by her. Previously it was thought that Asmā ibret had not made a copy of the Qur'an, but one Qur'an copied by her has been found in the Nafia al-Fayez collection; Nafia al-Fayez is a member of the well-known Saudi family. This Qur'an was written when she was 28 years old, in September of 1808, and is her last known work. The first page, the last page and the explanatory page of the Qur'an are decorated in the rococo style, and the other pages are framed by gold lines. Asmā Ibret is buried in the Sheikh Murād Buhārī Dergāhi cemetery in Eyup Sultan along with her husband, but as there is no tombstone, the date of her death is unknown.

5.16. Soraya Syed Sanders

Soraya Syed was born in London in 1976 to immigrant parents. Her father, born in Kenya, but with roots in Pakistan, came to live and work in the UK in the 196O's. Her French mother, on the other hand, moved from Paris to London in the 1970's; it was here that the two met. Soraya's upbringing was liberal and bridged two different religions and cultures.

Figure 6: A Muthanna style calligraphy by Soraya Syed Sanders.

Soraya knew from an early age that she was artistic. Her maternal grandfather was keen to promote this and gave her 10 francs for every artist's name she could remember. He also took her to the great art museums of Paris. In 1994, at the age of 18, Soraya was accepted to study at one of London's most famous art schools. But she was not satisfied with her studies here. She did not feel that she was learning any skills, but rather that art was just being taught for its own sake.

At university she found a strong desire to study the art of Islamic calligraphy. In 1996 Soraya went to spend the second year of her degree in Arabic and the History of Art & Archaeology in Alexandria, Egypt; here, she also hoped to find a calligraphy teacher.

One day she rang a friend, but when a man answered the phone, she realized she had dialed the wrong number. It was through this mishap that she met Celal Ibrahim Mu?ammed, who also happened to be her friend's roommate. And this is how Soraya found her first calligraphy teacher the very week of arriving in Alexandria; she quickly started her lessons with him. The lessons in riqa and naskh continued for a year. She tried to continue with her lessons by correspondence after returning to London, but she was unable to complete her studies in this manner. In her search for a new teacher her path crossed with Efdaluddin Kilic, through a group of Turkish artisans who came to England to display their works and to organize workshops in the summer of 1999. This was a coincidence for Soraya, A friend of Soraya, who had signed up for the calligraphy class, could not attend and asked her to go in his place. Soraya spent two intense and transforming weeks studying thulth with the calligrapher Efdaluddin Kilic. She knew from that moment on there was no going back. After completing her masters at the Prince's School of Traditional Arts in 2001, Soraya went to Istanbul to concentrate on calligraphy lessons. Here she had a chance to meet leading calligraphers and the opportunity to attend the weekly classes of the most important living calligrapher, Hasan Celebi, at the History and Nature Waqf in Uskudar. His teaching was quite different from what she had received in Alexandria. It seemed that according to the Ottoman-Turkish style, praise was very much restrained and criticism was direct. This contributed immensely to her artistic life. She was also very impressed by the Ozcan siblings. She describes her introduction to the Ozcans and her observation of their work as a great opportunity and a turning point for her. During the time that she spent with them, she also witnessed how they restored many works of art.

Figure 7: Letter of approbation (ijāzat) of Soraya Syed Sanders.

After her marriage, she moved to Istanbul again, in 2003, this time with her husband and they stayed for three years. After continuing with her education for three years, she received her ijāza in a ceremony during the Ramadan of the same year, with a qit'a she wrote after Nazif Bey.

In 2005, she started to study dīwānī with Ali Alparslan Hoca at the Sulemaniye Library, who unfortunately passed away a few months later. She continued to study the script with Efdaluddin Kilic.

In 2006 she went back to London with her husband, fulfilling her wish to work and teach there as a calligrapher. She has participated in many calligraphy exhibitions in various countries. Soraya now lives in West London with her husband and children. Her struggle to write better is even greater now with the blessed but challenging role of motherhood. Her calligraphy is very much a too! for expressing her beliefs. Soraya gives talks and workshops to Muslim and non-Muslims around the UK and abroad.

5.17. Hilal Kazan

Hilal Kazan was born in Kartal, İstanbul, the fourth of five children of the late Ahmet Bey, who moved to Istanbul from Drama after the Treaty of Lausanne, and the late Semiha Hanim, who was from the same region as her husband. She completed her high school education at the Erenkoy Girls High School. She became very interested in the writings on the dome of the Süleymaniye Mosque when on a school trip. She asked her teacher how the text had been written on the ceiling of the dome. Her teacher's incorrect answer led to her deep interest in calligraphy. Not knowing who Ahmet Karahisari was at the time, her teacher told Hilal that the calligrapher had written the most perfect text on the ceiling by dipping the pen in a bowl of ink and writing hastily and without any deliberation. She continued her education at the university at Istanbul University, Turkish Language and Literature Department, a department that she had very much wanted to attend. There she was introduced to Islamic arts. The late Dr. Ali Alparslan was her teacher. Her friends and family encouraged her to take up calligraphy, due to her beautiful Ottoman handwriting. With help from friends, she was included in the lessons of the late calligrapher and hafiz, Muserref Celebi. Muserref Hanim, who had given up calligraphy works for a long time, due to family reasons, started agian when working with Hilal. In the mean time, Hilal tried to continue calligraphy along with her university studies. After graduating from university, she worked in a private waqf in various positions.

Figure 8: Master Calligrapher Hasan Celebi with Prof. Salim Al-Hassani and Hilal Kazan.

In the spring of 1994, she visited the calligrapher Hasan Celebi to improve her writing technique and she was honoured by becoming his student. As she began learning the thulth-naskh style from scratch, with her teacher's encouragement she enrolled in post-graduate studies to research calligraphy academically. Her teacher awarded her the ijāza in the thulth-naskh style in 2000. She finished her doctoral dissertation in 2007, on the topic of The Ottoman Palace's Patronage of the Arts in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Originally Hilal Kazan had wanted to research the calligrapher Mehmed As'ad Yasārī, with whom she shared many characteristics, but her teachers directed her to archival studies due of her good grasp of Ottoman, Arabic and Persian.

She gave calligraphy classes and conferences at California University as a guest artist in 2008. She gave a hands-on-workshop in Islamic calligraphy at the LACMA, which is one of the renowned art museums in Los Angeles. The same year she went to South Africa and organized daylong calligraphy exhibitions over three days, in three major cities to introduce the Ottoman Art of Calligraphy. She gave many speeches at both national and international conferences on this subject. Her articles and essays have been published in various magazines. She has participated in many group calligraphic exhibitions. She has also been involved with many organizations and is currently developing and working on various projects.

Hilal Kazan feels that all her abilities are a gift from God; she is fully aware that she has reached a point in her life which she had never dreamt that she could. There is one important characteristic that has guided her, which is her curiosity and desire to learn. When she was a child, her elders taught her that the key to knowledge was to ask questions. She says that she owes her success in calligraphy not to her natural talent, but to the encouragement of her first calligraphy teacher, the late Muserref Hanim, and to the unlimited patience and efforts of her teacher, Hasan Çelebi.

*Dr. Betül İpşirli Argit - Researcher, Bogaziçi University, Istanbul.
**Dr. Salim Ayduz - Senior Researcher at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, UK and Lecturer at Fatih University, Istanbul.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
See full gallery