The Cosmic Script – Sacred Geometry in the Science of Arabic Penmanship

Two-volume book set is the first comprehensive exploration of the ‘Proportioned Script’, an Arabic writing system attributed to the Abbasid wazir (minister) Ibn Muqla and the master scribe Ibn al-Bawwāb that has dominated the art of Arabic and Islamic penmanship from the 10th-century to the present day. A remarkable work of original scholarship that ranges across multiple disciplines – history, literature, philosophy, theology, sacred geometry and calligraphy, Drs Moustafa and Sperl have succeeded in unearthing the very foundations of Arabic penmanship, with implications for the arts of Islam as a whole.


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The Cosmic Script
Sacred Geometry and the Science of Arabic Penmanship

Ahmed Moustafa and Stefan Sperl

This monumental work offers a comprehensive and convincing new account of the geometry of the Arabic script, accomplishing in the process a revolution at the intersection of art, mathematics and spirituality. It is essential reading for anyone interested in Islamic art, calligraphy and the beauty of geometry.

– Carl W. Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil

A landmark publication in the study of Islamic calligraphy, exploring more deeply than ever before the historical and cultural roots of this quintessential Islamic artform

Calligraphy is the central visual art of Islam. At its core resides a perennial challenge: What letter shapes traced by human hands are rightful bearers of the divine message? The answer lies in the “Proportioned Script,” an Arabic writing system codified by Ibn Muqla, minister under the great Abbasid Caliphate in 10th-century Baghdad, and refined by the 11th-century master scribe Ibn al-Bawwāb.

Emphasizing harmony and geometry, the system they designed has governed the practice of Arabic scribal art up to the present day. In this two-volume, richly illustrated study, Ahmed Moustafa and Stefan Sperl analyze each letter form of Ibn Muqla’s perfected penmanship and share their decades of research on Islamic letter shapes, revealing the history, linguistics, philosophy, theology, and sacred geometry that underlie this spiritual art form.

Volume One, Sources and Principles of the Geometry of Letters, traces the origin of the Proportioned Script, revealing the foundational trilogy of prophecy, penmanship, and geometry. Providing a fully illustrated analysis of Islamic calligraphy’s geometrical principles as transmitted in surviving writings and key manuscript sources, they examine the geometric grid of square, circle, and hexagon that informs the pen strokes of each letter shape and explore how the golden ratio appears within the matrix of the grid. They examine the development of Ibn Muqla’s system in the context of the sciences, arts, and penmanship of 10th-century Baghdad and trace its origins to the cross-cultural encounter between Greek learning and the scientific, artistic, and philosophical pursuits of classical Islam.

In Volume Two, From Geometric Pattern to Living Form, the authors construct each of the letter shapes on the grid module and compare their findings to samples traced by two classical master scribes. They conclude by examining the religious, aesthetic and cosmological significance of the Proportioned Script in the wider context of the Islamic cultural heritage.

Unearthing the theoretical and scientific foundations of Arabic calligraphy, this unique study examines the aesthetic implications of Ibn Muqla’s theory for the visual, verbal, and aural arts of Islam as well as the Islamic mystical tradition.

Dr Ahmed Moustafa is an acclaimed artist and scholar in the art of Islam who has also studied Western art. Numerous of his works have been acquired by major museum and private collections worldwide, including the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He has also lectured widely on the subject of Arabic penmanship.

Dr Stefan Sperl is Senior Lecturer in Arabic at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. He has studied Arabic in Oxford, Cairo and London. His published work covers aspects of classical Arabic literature, Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.

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