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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 11    Issue 15-16   16 December 2016 - 15 January 2017


Professor A. R. MOMIN

There is a saying to the effect that the Holy Quran was revealed in Makkah and Madinah, recited in Egypt and written in Turkey. Islamic calligraphy attained spectacular heights in Ottoman Turkey. 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 generous patron of calligraphy, encouraged and supported Shaykh Hamdullah, an exceptionally gifted calligrapher who laid the foundations of what came to be known as the Ottoman School of Calligraphy. 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 and vibrantmuseum of Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy.

Ottoman Turkey produced a galaxy of eminent calligraphers, including Shaykh 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.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the establishment of Turkey as a republican and secular state in 1923, Ataturk launched a state-sponsored project of modernization, Westernization and secularization and introduced sweeping changes in Turkish society, with a view to make it a mirror-image of Western societies. The education system was overhauled and modern subjects replaced the traditional Islamic subjects. The Islamic calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar and Islamic family laws were supplanted by the Swiss Code. Turkish replaced Arabic as the liturgical language and it was decreed that calling the faithful to prayer (azan) should be in Turkish, not in Arabic. People were prohibited from going on pilgrimage to Makkah. The Quran was to be read not in Arabic but in its Turkish translation. The post of Shaykh al-Islam was abolished and the ulama were made state employees under the authority of the ministry of religious affairs. Sufi orders were banned and Islamic madrasas and Sufi lodges (tekkes) and shrines were closed down. Sunday replaced Friday as the weekly public holiday. The Arabic script of the Turkish language was changed to Latin and an official campaign was launched to purge it of words of Arabic origin. The wearing of the traditional Turkish cap – fez -- was prohibited and the wearing of veils and headscarves was banned in all public institutions, including schools, universities, government offices and public hospitals. In 1928 the Assembly voted in favour of deleting the words ‘The religion of the Turkish state is Islam’ from Article 2 of the constitution. The ruling regime sought to nationalize and manipulate religion in order to make it subservient to the secular ideology of the state.

The deliberate and systematic marginalization of Arabic and the replacement of the script of the Turkish language from Arabic to Latin dealt a severe blow to Turkey’s cultural heritage, including Arabic calligraphy. However, a small but dedicated group of Turkish calligraphers, led by Hamid Aytac, Necmeddin Efendi (d. 1976) and Halim Ozyazici, kept the Ottoman tradition of Arabic calligraphy alive.

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 Turkey’s magnificent calligraphic legacy and in its promotion and dissemination. 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.

Ottoman School of Calligraphy

The Ottoman School of Calligraphy was founded by Shaykh Hamdullah (1436-1520), a highly gifted and renowned Turkish calligrapher. He was born in Amasya in Ottoman Turkey in a highly respected family of scholars and sages. Shaykh Hamdullah not only mastered the six standard calligraphic scripts – Thuluth, Naskh, Kufi, Muhaqqaq, Rayhani and Ta’liq or Nast’aliq – but also refined them to perfection. In addition to numerous calligraphic works of exceptionally high quality, he produced 47 copies of the Holy Quran in different calligraphic styles.

Hamid Aytac

Hamid Aytac (1891-1982), the most celebrated Turkish calligrapher of the 20th century, made an outstanding contribution to the revival and revitalization of the Ottoman School of Calligraphy. He was born in Diyarbakir in Ottoman Turkey and learned the Thuluth calligraphic style from Mehmed Nazif (1846-1913), Thuluth and Naskh from Kamil Akdic (1862-1941) and Taliq from Mehmed Hulusi (1869-1940).

His calligraphic masterpieces, which are of exceptionally high quality and represent the splendid tradition of the Ottoman School of Calligraphy, are reflected in the copies of the Quran written by him and in calligraphic panels at the Sisli Mosque in Istanbul as well as in many public buildings in Istanbul and Ankara. His most famous pupil is Hasan Celebi.

Huseyin Oksuz

Huseyin Oksuz was born in Konya, in Turkey’s Anatolian region, in 1945. He evinced a keen interest in Arabic calligraphy from an early age and began earning it from Hamid Aytac, the doyen of Turkish calligraphy. Though he graduated from the Istanbul School of Pharmacy in 1970, Oksuz continued to learn calligraphy from Aytac. The international calligraphy competitions held under the auspices of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) provided a great source of inspiration and stimulation. He took part in the competitions while he was learning calligraphy from Aytac and was awarded the first prize. After ten years of rigorous training under the tutelage of Aytac, Oksuz received the ijaza (icazet in Turkish) or certificate of authorisation from his master.

Oksuz has received wide recognition and acclaim for his exquisite calligraphic works and for his wide-ranging contributions to the revival and dissemination of the Ottoman School of Calligraphy in Turkey and overseas. In 1990 Konya’s Selcuk University conferred an honorary doctorate on him. The following year he submitted a doctoral dissertation on the Ottoman School of Calligraphy to Selcuk University. In 2013 he was awarded the Outstanding Service Prize by the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The prize was presented by then President Abdullah Gul. He was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the International Baghdad Islamic Calligraphy Festival. His calligraphic works were ranked among the top 10 of 706 works exhibited at the festival.

Professor Huseyin Oksuz has been teaching calligraphy at Konya’s KTO Karatay University for many years. He has trained hundreds of students and at least 20 of his selected students have received the ijaza from him. His calligraphic panels adorn several mosques in Sydney, Australia, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Germany, Kyrgyzstan and New York.


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