The Calligrapher in the Minaret

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It is said that when the Mongols invaded Baghdad in 1258 the calligrapher Yaqut al-Musta'simi (d. 1298) took refuge in a minaret and continued to transcribe sacred text as the city burned below. This conjunction of sacred text with the vertical axis is an important feature of monotheistic traditions, and particularly significant in Islam, whose founding moment was the "descent" (tanzil) of the Divine Word. The ascent of the calligrapher with his writing implement towards the source of revelation is thus highly symbolic, and reveals affinities that have much to tell much about conceptions of space in Islam. The interplay of verticals and horizontals is the basic motif of all Islamic calligraphies. The calligraphic gesture, prototype of all art, connects the timeless and the time bound. Likewise, in the parallel context of body gestures, to worship is to transform worldly vertical movement into an elemental prostration, and back again. It can be seen as a choreographed sequence of postures in which the body is gradually compressed until the forehead touches the ground, substituting the outward with the inward, the visible with the audible, illusion with knowledge. The mosque has been fashioned in response to the requirements of the ritual--that is, in response to the relationship of word and gesture. It can thus be seen as both a book and a theatre.

Keywords: Architecture, Islam, Ritual, Calligraphy
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Eymen Homsi

Assistant Professor, Architecture Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Eymen Homsi teaches architectural design and history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (2004 to present). He graduated in biology from the University of Southern Colorado (1981), and in architecture from The Ohio State University (1991), where he taught design and theory (1991-99). He worked as an architect in Ohio at Brubaker/Brandt Architects (1987-89), at Atelier Jose Oubrerie (1992-98), and as the Director of Design at The Columbus Neighborhood Design Assistance Center (1998-99). He moved to Helsinki, Finland, and established a practice of small projects and competitons (2000-03), before coming to Hong Kong in 2004. He was Ohio State University Italy Program Resident Director in Rome in Spring 2003. He had also been a muralist and the Editorial Cartoonist at the 'Today' in Pueblo, Colorado (1979-81).

Ref: H08P0311