Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Art Of The Quran Exhibition in DC

The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts was a beautiful exhibit that opened in Fall 2016. The many scripts that were on display at the exhibit dated back to as far as the 1500's! The rare assortment is an over-the-ages collection courtesy of the Sultans (rulers) of the Ottoman Empire that once flourished in Turkey. The scripts were personal copies of the Sultans or their wives and mothers, or collectors art pieces by famous Quran calligraphers of different times. I am a born Muslim, but I was unaware of the majestic ethos of the grand legacy and history I am part of, Alhamdulillah, and so this exhibition has done volumes for me.
This enormous script written in gold and ink was the entryway highlight of the exhibit room. It weighs 150 pounds and two individuals are required to turn a page. This dates back to the 1500's. It was at least 4 feet wide spread out open inside the box.
While Caliph Uthman bin Affan RA compiled and arranged the complete Quran, Caliph Ali Ibn Abu Talib was the first calligrapher of Islam.
The style of writing is the Kufic script invented by him. angular writing is characteristic of the Kufic script.

Calligraphers of the Quran used to use special boxes to store the special pens, ornate stands to hold the pens, decorated knives to cut the nibs, and silk fabric blotters to control ink flow from the inkwell.

This is a Rehel (Urdu word), a stand used to hold big-sized Quranic script. This is made of wood, tortoiseshell, and metal. 
There were copies of Quranic scripts owned by the wives and mothers of the Sultans (kings) of the Ottoman Empire. This copy belongs to Hatice Turhan Sultan, the wife of a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. All of queens are known from their charitable and religious contributions. There is a message here about the treatment of women in Islam. They held equal ranks as men and enjoyed the same luxury as their kings. 
This beautifully painted piece is the personal Quran of Nurbano Sultan, wife of a Turkish king Selim II. She has read it so frequently, the edges of the pages are stained.  

Of course to preserve such exquisite copies of the Quran there had to be complimenting covers. This is heavy duty leather stamped with gold and paint patterns. This is a cover of the Quran retrieved from Iran dating back to sixteenth century.
It is only fitting to have a majestic box for such beautiful and expensive scripts. This is a box used to store scripts of the Quran. These boxes are made of wood, ivory, tortoiseshell, horn, gold, and other exquisite materials. 
This is the Quranic script written on silk. Such gifts have been given by the Sultans to the holy places in Makkah and Madinah.
This gorgeous piece is a lamp from a mosque in Egypt that was sold to Sackler Freer. It looks huge here inside the box on display but in the mosque it would have been a small part of the grand architecture.
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There were multiple groups of visitors who had gathered to feast their eyes on the exquisite pieces. There particularly a group of young students guided by a teacher who was narrating the details of Islam, the Quran, and the meaning of the verses that were on display. Another group was a guided tour most probably because the lady who was narrating was mentioning Sackler repeatedly. 
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It was unusual, unique, and a matter of great pride to be listening to such wonderful words about Islam, Qur'an, and Prophet Muhammad SAW from non-Muslim guides. This exhibit attracted students of arts, history, and theology and it was alarming to see the turnout specially because of the current times and the anti-Muslim hyperbole going around. 
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They were describing Islam - and rightfully so - as one of the blessed monotheistic religions of the world and a part of the chain of Abrahamic religions. Some key incidents such as the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, the ascension of Prophet Muhammad SAW to the seven heavens (Mairaj), and the revelation of the Quran through the archangel Gabriel (Jibr'il AS) upon the Prophet Muhammad SAW in the Hira Cave were being narrated to the visitors.
It was truly magnificent exhibition that provided some new perspectives. I enjoyed my visit. It reminded me of my visit to the Topkapi Museum in Turkey that had the handwritten script of the Caliph Uthman RA on display. I wish the exhibit had a live calligraphy artist around! 
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