2000’s Cosmic Script
In “The Cosmic Script – Sacred Geometry in the Science of Arabic Penmanship”, authored jointly with Dr Stefan Sperl, senior lecturer at the SOAS, London, Ahmed set out to produce – for the first time – a comprehensive analysis of Ibn Muqla’s theory. The key objectives included an examination of the origins of proportioned script in the cross-cultural encounter between Greek learning and the traditions of classical Islam; a demonstration of its practical application and a detailed illustration of its geometrical rules; and a reappraisal of its wider implications for the visual, as well as verbal and aural arts of Islam. Ahmed and his co-author even explore the geometrical dynamics of calligraphy – juxtaposed with the status of the pen – and their influence in classical Arabic music theory. Placed in its historical and cultural context, Arabic penmanship reveals a monumental influence in the entire artistic tradition of Islam – and beyond.
A ninth century vizier and scribe, Ibn Muqla’s theory codified the geometrical laws governing the cursive Arabic script known as nask – which is the one commonly in use today. The rules of proportion are based upon the size of the alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet – and the ‘dot’, which is the unit of measurement in calligraphy. The height of the alif varies in the number of dots it contains. Three elements – the height of the alif, the width of the alif, and the grid itself – become the basis of proportion. Ibn Muqla’s time-honoured criteria have been followed for over a thousand years but Ahmed explains how the code is no longer easily understood. In his remarkable research, he realised that the grid implied in Ibn Muqla’s code is indispensable for the purpose of correctly executing the directives concerning the tracing of the letter shapes. The dot has a seminal role: the nib of the pen must be cut to an exact angle and this in turn conditions the correct manner of holding and moving the pen. The same conditions govern the size of the pen and the paper to be used.
Thus Ahmed’s fresh reappraisal of the science of Arabic penmanship illuminates not only the geometric principles that underpin the visual harmony of all Islamic art and architecture at a conceptual level, but at a practical level also the terminology, practice and construction of letter shapes of the Arabic script and their variants. In fact, “The Cosmic Script – Sacred Geometry in the Science of Arabic Penmanship”, published by Thames & Hudson, 2014, is a definitive reference work on the subject.