The first time I saw Andalusi calligraphy I was hooked on the exaggerated curve of the ‘ayn, the large swooping nuun like a crane dipping down to a river for water, the zigzag kaf, the boxes and semicircles that variously made up the saads, daads, taas and zaas. It was like a cartoonist had made up this extraordinary script for fun, yet it also has a seriousness borne of practicality. There’s an air of the desert, too, a sense of spontaneity hiding behind its pragmatism.
This is a script that reached its apex in al-Andalus, the 800 year period of Islamic Spain that bore witness to the most incredible explosion of learning and sophistication Europe had ever seen, and whose scholarship eventually travelled north to spark the Enlightenment.
Quick to learn, easy to write well due to its rounded nib that provides an even line (anyone who’s tried mastering angled nib calligraphy such as thuluth will confirm it takes years of practice to perfect), and easy to read, Andalusi was the vehicle for this massive boom in manuscript copying; in Córdoba around 1000 CE, there were hundreds of copy studios, one of which was staffed entirely by women.
Literally millions of books were copied out by hand and circulated in Andalusi society,religious trees that not merely confined to libraries but also found in ordinary homes. Education was obligatory for all Cordoban children of any religion, pushing literacy higher than it had ever been in Europe. and for Western Muslims today, it bears resonances of a time when Islam was not something alien to Europe, but a natural element, just one of the many religious trees with roots in this soil.
You might be wondering at this point, ‘Why haven’t I heard of this script before?’ It’s a question we asked ourselves earlier this year, when my brother Zak Whiteman, who directs the Travelling Light on Imam al-Ghazali for Mishkat Media, decided to make a documentary on the subject and asked me on board. (You’ll be hearing the sultry sounds of my voice narrating the story.)
It’s an exciting project and one we’re really looking forward to finishing…but we need help to make it a reality. Filmmaking doesn’t come cheap, and since one of our early sponsors fell through, we’ve been looking to crowdfunding to be able to complete the film.
You can watch the trailer here (yes that is our dad doing calligraphy, it’s Brand Whiteman!), and read more about the project on our LaunchGood page. We really appreciate any help towards our funding goal, as well as shares via email or social media. A huge thankyou to everyone who’s contributed already! We look forward to sharing this amazing story with the world.