The Calligrapher in the Minaret
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
Assistant Professor, Architecture Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong