The development of Arabic calligraphy in the Muslim world spawned a distinctive culture, which was marked by the transmission of this art form from generation to generation through a chain of masters and their disciples, a tradition of direct learning and tutelage under the personal supervision of a master, a certificate of authorization issued by the master to the disciple, and unswerving dedication and perseverance in the pursuit of calligraphy. It is significant to note that, over the past several centuries, calligraphy has been taught and transmitted through generations regardless of the distinctions of gender, class, descent, occupation and social and economic status. Calligraphers have thus included men and women, kings and members of the aristocracy as well as commoners and descendants of slaves, townsfolk and villagers.
Calligraphy in Turkey
Islamic calligraphy attained spectacular heights during the Ottoman era. The Ottoman sultans were great patrons of artists, calligraphers, architects, poets, artisans and men of letters. Sultan Bayezid II, who was a connoisseur of art and a great patron of calligraphy, encouraged and supported Sayyid Hamdullah, a highly gifted calligrapher who introduced systematization and important reforms and innovations in the Thuluth script. The calligraphic masterpieces that adorn the walls and domes of thousands of mosques, madrasas, caravanserais, palaces and other public buildings across Turkey testify to the creative genius of Turkish calligraphers. It is no exaggeration to say that no Muslim country can compete with Turkey in its magnificent artistic and cultural heritage. The city of Istanbul represents a living museum of Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy.
Ottoman Turkey produced a galaxy of eminent calligraphers, including Sayyid Hamdullah (1429-1520), Ahmet Karahisari (who lived in the 16th century), Hafiz Osman Efendi (d. 1698), Mehmet Esad Yesari Efendi (d. 1798), Ismail Zuhdi Efendi (d. 1806), Mustafa Raqim Efendi (d. 1826), Yesarizade Mustafa Ezzet Efendi (d. 1849), Kadiasker Mustafa Ezzat Effendi (d. 1876), Mehmet Sevki Efendi (d. 1887), Sami Efendi (1838-1912), Hamid Aytac (1891-1982) and Halim Ozyazici (1898-1964). Kadiasker Mustafa Ezzat Effendi wrote the monumental 23-feet roundels depicting the names of Allah, the Prophet and the Four Caliphs at the Hagia Sophia Mosque (now a museum) in Istanbul. Sami Efendi was the official inscriber and teacher of calligraphy in the Ottoman court.
The Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), a subsidiary of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has played a highly important role in preserving and promoting Turkey’s magnificent calligraphic heritage. It has published a series of albums on the masterpieces of Turkish calligraphy and has produced a documentary on Hamid Aytac. It has published two books on the contributions of Mustafa Halim Oyzazici and Mehmed Sevki Efendi. It has published An Annotated Bibliography of Calligraphy (2002), Masterpieces of Calligraphy in Islam (1992) and The Art of Calligraphy in Islamic Heritage (in English, Turkish, Arabic, Malay and Japanese languages). Since 1987 IRCICA has been organizing international calligraphic competitions and has published catalogues of winners’ plates.
Hasan Celebi, the greatest among contemporary calligraphers in Turkey and one of the Muslim world’s most accomplished calligraphers, was born in 1937 in Erzurum in eastern Turkey. He learned calligraphy under the tutelage of some of the greatest calligraphers of his time, such as Halim Ozyazici (1898-1964), Hamid Aytac (1891-1982) and Kemal Batanay (1893-1981). He received a certificate in Naskhi and Thuluth calligraphy from Hamid Aytac in 1971 and in Taliq and Riqa from Kemal Batanay in 1980. Celebi served as an Imam at Selami Cami Mosque in Uskudar, Istanbul for many years. His calligraphic works adorn the mosque’s mihrab, dome and walls.
Hasan Celebi has produced numerous calligraphic panels for mosques, academic institutions and conferences, has been closely associated with the restoration of calligraphic panels in mosques in Madinah and Turkey, and has held exhibitions of his calligraphic work in several countries. In 1983 he was invited to work on the restoration of Ottoman-era calligraphic panels in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. He was closely associated with the restoration of calligraphic panels in several mosques in Turkey, including the inner dome of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the inner dome of the Hirka-i- Sherif Mosque in Istanbul.
Celebi’s calligraphic works are inscribed in Quba Mosque, Masjid al-Qiblatayn and Masjid al-Jumâah in Madinah, Jumâah Mosque in Johannesberg and Almati Jumâah Mosque. Celebi has received several honours in recognition of his monumental contributions to Islamic calligraphy. In 2008 he was presented with the Service Award from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. He has received awards from the Dubai and Kuwait governments for his contributions to Arabic calligraphy.
Pablo Casado, now known as Khalid Casado, was born in 1982 in Madrid, Spain. Soon after coming of age he joined a pharmacy owned and run by his family. A turning point in Casado’s life came in 2008 when he attended an introductory course on Islamic calligraphy conducted by a well-known Spanish calligrapher Nuria Garcia Masip in Madrid. He was greatly fascinated by the beauty and elegance of Arabic calligraphy and kindled in him a keen desire to pursue it further. Nuria agreed to guide him as a mentor in this quest.
Nuria Garcia Masip
Nuria Garcia Masip, a well-known calligrapher of Spanish descent, was born in Ibiza, Spain in 1978. She spent her early years in Spain and the United States. She completed her B. A. in French and Spanish Literature at George Washington University in 1999. She then travelled to Morocco, where she came face to face with the vibrant legacy of Islamic art and calligraphy. She received training in the Maghrebi script of Arabic calligraphy from an eminent Moroccan calligrapher, Belaid Hamidi. In 2000 she learned Arabic calligraphy under the tutelage of the well-known American calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya. Her deep interest in calligraphy took her to Istanbul, where she learned the various scripts and styles of Arabic calligraphy from Hasan Celebi and Davut Bektas. In 2007 she received a certificate in the Thuluth and Naskhi scripts.
Nuria currently lives in Paris, where she produces her calligraphic work and teaches courses on Arabic calligraphy. She has participated in several international calligraphic exhibitions and won prizes, including a prestigious prize at the international calligraphy competition held in Istanbul under the auspices of IRCICA in 2011. She regularly conducts workshops on Arabic calligraphy at universities in Europe and other parts of the world and has curated calligraphic exhibitions in Spain and South Africa.Nuria’s calligraphic works prominently reflect the elegance and majesty of calligraphic styles that are a distinctive feature of the Ottoman School of Calligraphy.
Casado’s Calligraphic Pilgrimage to Istanbul
At the suggestion of Nuria, Casado travelled to Istanbul, the Muslim world’s most important centre for Arabic calligraphy today, in 2009 to learn from renowned Turkish calligraphers. He enrolled at the calligraphy course at the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) under the tutelage of the master calligraphers Hassan Celebi and Davut Bektas. After two years of intensive training, Casado sat at the feet of another eminent Turkish calligrapher Ferhat Kurlu. After five years of rigorous training, Casado received the certificate of authorization (icazet) in the thuluth and naskh styles from IRCICA in 2014, signed by Hassan Celebi, Ferhat Kurlu and Nuria Garcia.
Since 2014 Casado has devoted his time and energy to the promotion of Arabic calligraphy through his own creative work as well as through workshops. He has conducted dozens of workshops and training programs in several cities in the US and in Europe. He continues to live in Madrid but regularly travels to Istanbul in order to keep in touch with his teachers and to learn more and more from them. Casado’s calligraphic work belongs to the Ottoman School of Arabic calligraphy.