Life and Work of Women in Early Islamic Era Research Paper

Pages: 10 (2967 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 22  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … art forms of Islam include architecture, literature, arabesque and calligraphy. These art forms became prominent throughout the Islamic world due in large part to religious restrictions on the depiction of idols which precluded artistic expression in sculpture or paintings, for example, and the efforts of Islamic artists were focused on refining the art forms that were available to them. As a result, calligraphy assumed a prominent place in the Islamic world, with skilled practitioners being held in high esteem and even becoming important governmental officials as the result of their calligraphic talents. Although there is a growing body of knowledge concerning the origins and development of Islamic calligraphy in general, there is less known concerning the role of women calligraphers in the early Islamic world, a gap that this paper sought to fill. To this end, this paper reviews the relevant literature regarding art in early Islamic era in general and more specifically, the role of women in adopting calligraphy as their way of expressing their artistic talent and as a means of making a living. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

The Life and Work of Women in the Early Islamic Era

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Islamic art as depicted in a wide range of artistic forms, including architecture, literature, arabesque and calligraphy, all of which have been celebrated and appreciated for centuries for their grace, elegance and beauty. The origins of Islamic calligraphy and its applications over the centuries represent a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people who developed its modern form, as well as its role in contemporary Islamic society. Although there is a growing body of knowledge concerning the origins and applications of Islamic calligraphy, less attention has been focused on the role of calligraphy in the lives and work of women in the early Islamic era. To help fill this gap, this paper reviews the relevant literature concerning art in early Islamic era in general and the role of women in adopting calligraphy as their way of expressing their artistic talent and a way of generating income in particular. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Research Paper on Life and Work of Women in Early Islamic Era Assignment

Art in the Early Islamic Era

Generally speaking, Islamic art has traditionally been viewed as "the art made by artists or artisans whose religion was Islam, for patrons who lived in predominantly Muslim lands, or for purposes that are restricted or peculiar to a Muslim population or a Muslim setting" (Blair and Bloom 152). As a result, the term "Islamic art" includes the vast majority of the art that was produced over the course of 1,400 years in the Islamic world, which is typically defined as the "arid belt covering much of West Asia but stretching from the Atlantic coast of North Africa and Spain on the west to the steppes of Central Asia and the Indian Ocean on the east" (Blair and Bloom 152). These geographic regions were the locations where Islam spread during the seventh and eighth centuries CE (Blair and Bloom 153). Early Islamic art included everyday items such as small jugs, carpets, architecture and literature, as well as metalwork, ceramics, glass, textiles, wood, ivory, rock crystal and even gardens (Blair and Bloom 154).

Because of religious proscriptions that forbid the depiction of idols, Islamic art in general has traditionally been dedicated to decorative applications only. For instance, according to Ettinghausen (1950), "It is generally acknowledged that Islamic art is an art of decoration" (137). Moreover, Islamic art in the early era of the religion was intended to connect the artist with the divine. In this regard, Nasr advises that, "The art of Islam, without doubt, is essentially a contemplative art. This means that it expresses above all a state of the soul that is open toward the interior, toward an encounter with the Divine Presence. We can say equally that it is directly concerned with a sacred art or the absence, in its most typical works, of any individual impulse; the artist is effaced in the work or in the tradition which guarantees its legitimacy" (1997:506). These observations are applicable to all Islamic art forms, but they are especially salient with respect to Islamic calligraphy which is discussed further below.

Islamic Calligraphy

Calligraphy is among the most important and beautiful of all of the art in Islam. Indeed, Ernst (2009) enthuses that, "Arabic calligraphy has exerted its enchantment over many generations of writers and readers alike" (431). Likewise, Eaton suggests that together with architecture, calligraphy represents the pinnacle of Islamic art: "The two supreme arts of Islam are calligraphy (combined with illumination) and architecture, the one having to do with the revealed Word, the other with the human environment" (1985:204). Notwithstanding its importance to the Islamic world, there has been a dearth of scholarly investigations concerning its aesthetic and spiritual foundations. In this regard, Ernst adds that, "Despite the existence of numerous treatises in Arabic and Persian on the techniques of penmanship, hearkening back to the methods developed by the great calligraphers of the Abbasid era such as Ibn Muqla (d. 940) and Yaqut (d. ca. 1297), few authors have attempted to explain the aesthetic and spiritual bases of the art of the pen" (2009:431).

What is known is that the elevation of this art form to a sublime and captivating level was due in part to the fact that Islam prohibits the depiction of idols in art forms such as sculpture and painting (Zakariya 1). In this regard, Hubbard reports that, "One profound difference between Islamic art and the art of the rest of the world is that the religion prohibits pictures of people and animals. As a result, the focus of Islamic art has always been on the sacred words written in the holiest of Islamic books, the Koran. While people and animals could not be shown, however, artists were free to enrich their calligraphy with decoration. This they did with great enthusiasm using designs based on plants and flowers, together with crowing abstract patterns called 'arabesques'" (22). According to Schimmel, "The arabesque, that is, strictly speaking, a tendril that grows through leaves, palmettes, and flowers without end, ever expanding, is the central motif of Islamic art. The decorative pattern of the--seemingly -- central motif continues infinitely by being doubled, halved, or by means of simple or twisted mirror effects, all based on sophisticated mathematical rules" (1992:46).

As a result, Muslims throughout the centuries have largely focused their efforts on other artistic modes including architecture, literature, arabesque and calligraphy. Like their monk counterparts in the Western world during the Middle Ages who painstakingly copied the Holy Bible in their scriptoriums with elaborate illuminations, calligraphy in the Muslim world was also important for copying the Quran, an effort that was deemed to imbue significant merit on the calligrapher (Zakariya 2). In fact, Brown, Anderson, Bauer, Hirst and Miller (2006) emphasize that, "Islamic calligraphy begins with the Quran and the need for its precise and appropriate transmission" (178).

Two forms of Arabic script were in use by the 7th century CE, an angular script known as Jazm and a more stylized and elongated form known as Kufah (Brown et al. 178). According to these historians, "After the 13th century, Kufic went out of general use and was from the on mainly used for decorations. Besides the elongated Kufic, a number of more rounded, cursive scripts had been used for personal use and for administration. Early attempts at improvement had led to the creation of more than 20 different styles, all lacking elegance and discipline" (Brown et al. 178). This point is also made by Sukkal who notes, "Cursive scripts coexisted with Kufic and date back to before Islam, but because in the early stages of their development they lacked discipline and elegance, they were usually used for secular purposes only. In a slow but continuous process, older styles were perfected, while new styles were invented to meet the demands of different occasions" (1993:6).

During the 10th century, a highly talented and renowned Baghdad calligrapher, Ibn Muqlah, endeavored to redesign these 20 disparate styles to make them more suitable for copying the Quran. According to Brown and his associates, "His system of calligraphy rested on mathematical measurements: the rhombic dot, the standard alif, and the standard circle" (178). These calligraphic features were created as follows:

1. The rhombic dot was formed by pressing the pen diagonally on the paper so that the length of the dot's equal sides were the same as the width of the pen;

2. The standard alif was a straight vertical line measuring a specific number of dots, primarily between five and seven; and,

3. The standard circle, which has a diameter equal to the length of the standard alif.

The evolution of these forms is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Samples of Kufi Styles of Arabic calligraphy. From top to bottom: Early Kufi, Eastern Kufi, Foliate Kufi, Knotted Kufi, and Square Kufi


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