I am here to share some experiences related to Arabic calligraphy
"One of the first lessons I was given by the master calligrapher, mathematician and astronomer, Shaykh Misbah Zedah was the following profession of faith:
"I believe in Allah, His Angels, His Heavenly Books, His messengers, in the Last Day, the Divine decree, its good and harmful is from Allah; and that the resurrection after death is true. There is no deity except Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
This is one of the exercises that should be taught to our children in order to master the science of penmanship. "
Shaykh Muhammad Shareef is a scholar, artist, calligrapher and martial artist who currently resides in Mali. I briefly interviewed the shaykh after following his facebook page for some time. His mastery of penmanship and mesmerising illumination work amazes me. He visited South Africa in 2000, where he delivered a khutbah at the Auwal Masjid in Bo-kaap, and travelled to Durban and Johannesburg to do some da'wah work.
Faheem: Could you please tell us about yourself, your name and your interesting facebook name. How did that come about?
Hei Xuanfeng: My name is Muhammad Shareef the son of Farid Shareef. The online moniker, "Hei Xuanfeng" is a name which my Wushu teacher gave me, because if you are in China, as I have been for seven years, you will normally receive a Chinese name; much like Arabs, or Indians who give themselves an English name when they move to the west. The name "Hei Xuanfeng" means the Black Whirlwind and it was the name given to a Black Chinese scholar/warrior named Li Qui during the Warring State period. This Hei Xuanfeng was very dark by Chinese standards and was a master of the double axe. Because I specialize in the double broadsword, my teacher gave me the name.
I use the name online as a way of 1: diverting the evil eye and 2: having a pen name, much like Hồ Chí Minh, which was only the pen name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung, the founding father of the Vietnamese Republic who defeated the French and the United States. Like the name Hồ Chí Minh, Hei Xuanfeng is simply a pen name or an online persona, designed to ward off the evil eye but also to divert attention from me directly.
As a martial artist as well as a calligrapher, do you see a connection between the two?
Hei Xuanfeng: You are absolutely right! There is a symbiotic relationship between swordsmanship and fine calligraphy. All the great swordsmen were great calligraphers: Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mayomoto Musashi and many others. A person who masters calligraphy also has a knack for swordmanship. And the master of the sword has the potential to be a great calligrapher.
What inspired you to learn calligraphy? and Who were your teachers?
Hei Xuanfeng: I was inspired when I was a young man in the Nation of Islam, because my mom first taught me how to write in fine cursive English, and my father bought me a Shaeffer calligraphy pen when I was about 11. I used to copy Arabic calligraphy and sell them at the Muhammad Temples on Sundays when I was young. So from a young age I was inspired to write both Arabic and English using classical styles. It was in 1979 in london UK that I first studied calligraphy formally from the master calligrapher of Iraq, Shaykh Misbah Zedah. In 1982 I studied calligraphy at the Khartoum Polytechnic. And later in 1986 I sat and studied with Shaykh Jafar Muhammad in Sokoto as well as Shaykh Sharif Bala in Kano, copying their styles.
MashaAllah, so did you take Ijazah in any formal Ottoman styles under Shaykh Misbah?
Hei Xuanfeng: There is no such thing as Ottoman styles. There are approximately 36 styles of calligraphy none of them originated in Turkey. Although the Turks have mastered these calligraphic styles, none originated there.
What I meant by Ottoman styles is actually the Ottoman school of calligraphy as most of the Ottoman Ijaazaat I believe are linked to Hafiz Osman or Shaykh Hamidullah, but yes , agreed that the Ottomans used the existing scripts and modified them elegantly.
I've heard about the Nation of Islam but do not know much about it. Do you still form part of this organisation?
Hei Xuanfeng: No I left them back in 1977
In your knowledge and experience, what would be the benefit for Muslims to learn the arts, and how has this impacted on your life?
Hei Xuanfeng: If by the "arts", you mean the martial arts; I believe that the study of martial arts should be combined in the personal training and discipline of tasawwuf. During the salaf, the people of tasawwuf were the men of the Rabats, who trained in the art of war, but also the religious sciences. My methodology of teaching is to combine the teaching of the religious sciences, awraad and martial arts training in my suluuk.
When I traveled to the southern Shaolin Temple and the Taoist Wudang Mountain Temple; I saw that the monks combined the spiritual training with, martial training as well as the sciences of medicine and calligraphy. I felt that we the Muslims have a greater right to utilize that kind of system. In fact that was the system of epistemology of the salaf, it just died. I am trying to revive it.
Interesting answer, by 'arts' I meant the Islamic visual arts, but the answer is great shukran.
In South Africa, we do not have a uniquely African style script. I have always admired the Magrabi / Moroccan style of writing. Could you please explain a bit about other African varieties of Arabic scripts especially those used for the writing of Quran?
Hei Xuanfeng: I would refer you to a paper by a friend of mine on the same topic. (Document attached below)
The Sudanic script has four varieties:  the Timbuktu Andalusian script prevalent in the far western Sudan (Senegal, Mali, Niger, northern Ghana); the Barnawi script of the central and part of the central Sudan (Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria, Chad, western Sudan); the Jihadi script prevalent in central Sudan (northen Nigeria, southern Niger, Chad, Cameroon); and the Naskh script of the eastern Sudan (Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia).
6. What advice could you impart with us as to how to go about designing a uniquely South African style of calligraphy?
Hei Xuanfeng: I would say that you already have a unique writing style. All you have to do is go to the Masjid al-Awwal in Cape Town where they have a hand written Quran composed some 100 years ago by a Malay/African Muslim. I saw it with my own eyes. That is a calligraphic style which should be standardized and copied as a cultural heritage. In fact, I was told that Afrikaans was actually written using this Arabic script similar to how the Fulani and the Hausa use the Arabic script to record their language.
Shukran very much. The Owal masjid is where i grew up. Actually Tuan Guru Imam Abdullah bin Qadi Abdussalaam was a political exile from Tidore Island in indonesia. We do have a facsimile copy of his Quran now which I'm currently using as a guide. Its no coincidence that you mention this.
Hei Xuanfeng: ...well, there you go
I hope that I answered all of your questions.
Jazaakumullah khayran Yaa Shaykh, this was a truly inspiring conversation.
For the month of October, all calligraphy enthusiasts are encouraged to take up this challenge. To participate, just pick up your writing tools, using ink on paper and script anything related to the themes in the above list.
Use the hashtag #Arabinktober to post your work daily and tag @abangfahim and @arabiccalligraphers.sa on instagram. Have fun and use the opportunity to connect with the Quran via these interesting themes.
(It is Hajj season, and the pilgrims are already on their way back home. I have been asked many times if I do Hajj Mabool paintings. In general, I am not a painter although I can paint and I love it.
I do not (or should I say not yet) have a gallery where people can view my art, calligraphy or anything I have created because most of what I have done in the past are requests or commissioned work.
For the benefit of all those who cannot find something simple which says "Welcome Home" to their friends and family returning from Hajj, I have designed a simple poster in black and white which can be downloaded and printed in any required size and possibly used in any other digital artwork if need be.
I hope you like it and comment below if you have any suggestions. Shukran and Hajj Maqbool and Mabroor to all the Hujjaaj.
PS: this is what it looks like, but please only download the PDF file below it as it is print ready :)
Thursday, 25th July 2019 was the third time I have met up with Ustad Refik Carikci. On all three occasions, we met at the Noor el Hamedia Mosque in Long street, which establishment of it in 1881 was inspired by the Ottoman scholar Sh Abubaker Effendi (R.A) d.1880.
I have been raving about Ustad Refik with just about everyone who shares a passion for Arabic calligraphy. Adil Jacobs, my friend and graffiti artist (threeflare) came into contact with him via a close contact last week, and we ended off our evening having coffee together with Ustad Refik and his cousin Mehmet, a master carver. Adil was surprised that just the day before meeting Ustad Refik, we spoke at length about him and the meeting was almost as if divinely planned (and literally was).
Originally from Turkey, he grew up in Germany where he met his first calligraphy master at the age of 12. Noticing the raw talent in writing Arabic, his madrassah teacher advised him to learn the art of calligraphy (Hatt Sanati / Khatt Al Arabiy). He then studied the art for 5 years until he was sent to Istanbul to meet the great masters. Masters of the traditional scripts, Mustafa Effendi, and Prof Ali Alparsalan were his mentors eventually awarding Ustad Refik the Ijazah / diploma or license to transmit the knowledge of calligraphy. He is now skilled in at least 5 scripts, and mastered the most difficult ones i.e Thuluth and Naskh along with other scripts (Divani/Jeli Divani, Nata'leeq and Ta'leeq).
When asked about his accomplishments, he humbly says that he still has to keep his calligraphy tools with him wherever he travels so that he can maintain his practice daily. Learning calligraphy in the traditional way takes time and practice, and sometimes requires 2 years of study for proficiency in one script. Although he has been practicing this art for 40 years, he still does not consider himself a master. "Art is patience", he says as he explains how one student felt he had practiced the Alif enough. After 3 days of practicing Alif, the student said to him, "I am done with Alif, can we please move on to the next letter?". His reply was, "You are done, but I am not done".
Adil spent the entire afternoon with the two masters, taking them for lunch and a visit to the aquarium. "I see Arabic letters in everything!" Ustad replied when asked if he draws inspiration from the fish or nature. This reminds me of Sami Effendi the great Ottoman calligrapher who said,“know that if you do not practice your art, your profession, even in your dreams, you will not make progress.”
We were left with words of wisdom before ending off the evening with coffee. Ustad advised us to maintain practice, but to beware of bad practice. Practicing regularly is the key to success in this art, and practicing incorrectly is like watering a tree with acid instead of pure water. The knowledge imparted to us from a teacher is like a key to the door of success, but if you use the key incorrectly, the door will not open.
The two masters will be returning to Cape Town to complete the restoration and decoration of the Nur el Hamedia masjid inshaAllah.