Impressive Calligraphy Exhibition in Washington
By Aisha Chapra

Rasheed Butt talks about calligraphy. On his right is DCM Mohammad Sadiq

On the evening of May 19 master calligrapher, Rasheed Butt, opened an exhibition of his works with a talk on the art of calligraphy at the Embassy of Pakistan.
Deputy Chief of Mission, Mohammad Sadiq introduced Mr. Butt as not only an artist but “a philosopher”. Mr. Butt’s art is unique and exquisite, displaying the beauty of classic Islamic art. He is the president of Pakistan’s Calligraphy Association and a Jury Member of the International Calligraphy Competition in Istanbul, Turkey. Mr. Butt has spent over 40 years practicing the art of classic calligraphy. In his works he has revived the practice of illumination from the tenth century and he is the most prominent and world-renowned professional calligrapher from Pakistan.
Mr. Butt thanked the over-flowing auditorium of guests and admirers for “sparing the time to see the glorious Islamic art”. In a brief history of calligraphy, he described how it was developed into an art form. At the inception of Islam only a handful of people could read or write. To spread the message of the Almighty, the Qu’ran had to be written. This marked the beginning of the art of Islamic calligraphy.
During the rule of Hazrat Ali the tradition to “illuminate and illustrate the Qur’an” in stylized script was started. The Kufic style was developed in the city of Kufa, the capital of the Muslim world in 656 AD. Kufa for two centuries was one of the leading centers for Muslim theology, for Arabic grammar, philology, literary criticism, and literature. Ibn-i-Mughul, a minister and scholar created six different scripts of calligraphy during this century, including Naskh, which is still used today to write the Qur’an. Naskh was the script created to spread the message of the Almighty and it was one of the earliest to develop.

A section of the audience                                   Drawing Bismillaah ur Rahman ur Rahim

In the eighth century a new script, Nastaleeq or Khat Al Farsi, was developed in Baghdad. The tradition to create new calligraphic styles continued over the centuries. According to Mr. Butt the golden era of Islamic calligraphic art was during “the Ottoman, the Mughal and the Sufavid empires”.
In Pakistan, Mr. Butt explained, there tend to be mainly commercial calligraphers, instead of professional calligraphers. However, in the recent years there has been a surge in support of Islamic art. He particularly mentioned the Secretary General of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference), Prof. Dr., Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu as the greatest supporter and promoter of Islamic Art. He has worked towards advancing calligraphy and calligraphers around the world.
Mr. Butt laughingly said that when people see his work the most often asked question is, “How long did it take you to make this?” He said it is because most people become captivated by the intricacy and aesthetic beauty of the design and forget that calligraphy has literal meaning.
Mr. Butt disclosed that currently he is working on representing this era through his art. “I have an absolute belief that Almighty chose me to write his words”. He feels his work is serious and sacred — the texts he chooses must be a message to all of mankind, not just Muslims. Mr. Butt gave an example of such a message from the Qur’an and it was translated to “He who helps humanity, his name cannot be removed from this earth”. Mr. Butt believes that through the appeal of Islamic art, which goes beyond divisions of faith, ethnicities and race, it can effectively battle the negative perceptions of Muslims since 9/11.
He finished his talk by telling the audience his philosophy on the purpose of life. The first purpose is to pray to Almighty and the second is the exploration of the universe.

A group of guests at the exhibition

Then, in an incredible display of his talent and his expertise, Mr. Butt drew Bismallah ur Rahman ur Rahim (In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful) in less than three minutes in two different calligraphic styles. The audience responded with spontaneous applause in awe of the beauty Mr. Butt created simply with a marker on a poster. After the display, the audience became engaged and people started asking questions about the technical aspects of calligraphy. Mr. Butt told the audience that each calligraphic script has a different science of proportion. It has taken Mr. Butt years to study and perfect the various styles of classic calligraphy.
Questions were asked about the paper and ink he uses to create his calligraphies. Mr. Butt explained that making his own paper would take up to two years and that is why he buys the best paper available in the market. Mr. Butt said he believes that life is unpredictable and time is of essence, so he must finish his work representing this era for the upcoming generations as soon as he could. Thus, he does not take the time to make his own paper or ink.
Finally, Mr. Butt was asked how he plans to pass on his knowledge to future generations. “For three years I taught calligraphy through television, and through that I have millions of students — my students write to me, send in their calligraphies and I share with them my knowledge and knowledge of other calligraphers around the world.”
The exhibition opened in the Jamshed Marker Hall at the Embassy of Pakistan. It attracted people of all ages and ethnicities. The exhibition was a remarkably beautiful display of Islamic art. Mr. Butt’s works’ aesthetic value cannot be put into words. The guests at the exhibition witnessed the splendor and glory of each of his calligraphies. Pictures, some of them included in this article, cannot do them justice.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.