History Podcasts

Calligraphic Representation of Husayn's Name

Calligraphic Representation of Husayn's Name

The Twelve Imams

The Twelve Imams (Arabic: ٱلَأَئِمَّة ٱلْٱثْنَا عَشَر ‎, al-ʾAʾimmah al-ʾIthnā ʿAšar Persian: دوازده امام ‎, Davâzdah Emâm) are the spiritual and political successors to the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Twelver branch of Shia Islam, including that of the Alawite and Alevi. [1]

According to the theology of Twelvers, the Twelve Imams are exemplary human individuals who not only rule over the community with justice, but also are able to keep and interpret sharia and the esoteric meaning of the Quran. Muhammad and Imams' words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow as a result, they must be free from error and sin (known as ismah, or infallibility) and must be chosen by divine decree through the Prophet. [2] [3]

Baha'i Points of Interest

Below is a tribute by her husband, Shaykh Abu-Turab of Qazvin, who was reported to be “a scholar and philosopher such as is rarely met with, and believed with the utmost sincerity and purity of purpose, while such was his love and devotion to the Báb that if anyone did so much as mention the name of His Supreme Holiness (the souls of all beside him be His sacrifice) he could not restrain his tears.” Often he was seen “when engaged in the perusal of the writings of His Supreme Holiness, become almost beside himself with rapture, and nearly faint with joy.”

"I married her three years ago in Karbila. She was then but an indifferent scholar even in Persian, but now she can expound texts from the Qur'án and explain the most difficult questions and most subtle points of the doctrine of the Divine Unity in such wise that I have never seen a man who was her equal in this, or in readiness of apprehension. These gifts she has obtained by the blessing of His Holiness the Supreme and through converse with her holiness the Pure (Qurratu'l-'Ayn)[Tahirih]. I have seen in her a patience and resignation rare even in the most self-denying men, for during these three years, though I have not sent her a single dinar for her expenses and she has supported herself only with the greatest difficulty, she has never uttered a word and now that she has come to Tihran, she refrains altogether from speaking of the past, and though, in accordance with the wishes of Jinab-i-Babu'l-Bab, she now desires to proceed to Khurasan, and has literally nothing to put on save one well-worn dress which she wears, she never asks for clothes or travelling-money, but ever seeks reasonable excuses wherewith to set me at my ease and prevent me from feeling ashamed. Her purity, chastity, and virtue are boundless, and during all this while no unprivileged person hath so much as heard her voice."

Mother of Mulla Husayn
In his history book, Haji Mirza Jani indicates that he met the younger brother of Mulla Husayn, Mirza Muhammad-Hasan, when he was bringing his mother and sister from Karbila to Qazvin and from Qazvin to Tihran. He points out that the virtues of Mulla Husayn’s mother surpassed those of her daughter. She “possessed rare attainments and accomplishments, and had composed many poems and eloquent elegies on the afflictions of her sons. Although Jinab-i-Babu'l-Báb [Mulla Husayn] had warned her of his approaching martyrdom and foretold to her all the impending calamities, she still continued to exhibit the same eager devotion and cheerful resignation, rejoicing that God had accepted the sacrifice of her sons, and even praying that they might attain to this great dignity and not be deprived of so great blessedness. It is indeed wonderful to meditate on this virtuous and saintly family, the sons so conspicuous for their single-minded devotion and self-sacrifice, the mother and daughter so patient and resigned.”

Mirza Muhammad-Hasan, the younger brother of Mulla Husayn – A Letter of the Living
Haji Mirza Jani recalled that when he “met Mirza Muhammad-Hasan, he was but seventeen years of age, yet I observed in him a dignity, gravity, composure, and virtue which amazed me. After the death of Jinab-i-Babu'l-Bab, Hadrat-i-Quddus bestowed on him the sword and turban of that glorious martyr, and made him captain of the troops of the True King. As to his martyrdom, there is a difference of opinion as to whether he was slain at the breakfast-table in the camp, or suffered martyrdom with Jinab-i-Quddus in the square of Barfurush." (Adapted from the Dawn-Breakers footnotes , pp. 383-385 quoted by Haji Mirza Jani, author of Tarikh-i-Jadid)

3rd Shia Imam Husain…..Barry Wymore

Prophet Mohammed
Henry IV of France

Prophet Mohammed
Henry IV of France

EditWatch this pageHusayn ibn AliPage issues

This article is about Husayn ibn Ali (626–680). For the modern political figure (1854–1931), seeHussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca.

Husayn ibn Ali
حسين بن علي (Arabic)
2nd Imam of Nizari-Ismaili and Taiyabi-Mustaali
3rd Imam of Sevener, Twelver, and Zaydi Shia

The shrine of Husayn, as seen from the shrine ofAbbas in Karbala, Karbala Governorate, Iraq

Bornc. 8 January 626CE
(3Sha’aban 04 AH)[1]
Medina, HejazDiedc. 10 October 680 (aged 54)
(10 Muharram 61 AH)
Karbala, Umayyad Empire (now inIraq)Cause of deathBeheaded at the Battle of KarbalaResting placeShrine of Imam Hussein, Karbala, Iraq
32°36′59″N 44°1′56.29″EResidenceMedina, HejazEthnicityHejazi Arab, Quraysh tribeKnown forBattle of KarbalaTitle

(Arabic for Father of Freedom)
(Arabic for The Martyr)as-Sibt[2]
(Arabic for The Grandson)Sayyidu Shabābi Ahlil Jannah[2][3]
(Arabic for Leader of the Youth of Paradise)ar-Rashīd[2]
(Arabic for The Rightly Guided)at-Tābi li Mardhātillāh[2]
(Arabic for The Follower of Gods Will)al-Mubārak[2]
(Arabic for The Blessed)at-Tayyib[2]
(Arabic for The Pure)Sayyidush Shuhadā[4][5]
(Arabic for Master of the Martyrs)al-Wafī[2]
(Arabic for The Loyal)Üçüncü Ali
(Turkish for Third Ali)

Term670–680 ADPredecessorHasan ibn AliSuccessorAli ibn Husayn Zayn al-AbidinReligionIslamSpouse(s)Shahr Banu
Umme Rubāb
Umme Laylā
Umm Ishāq.Children

‘Alī ibn al-Ḥussein ibn ‘Alī (Zayn al-‘ĀbidīnAli al-Akbar ibn Husayn (Umar ibn HusaynAli al-Asghar ibn HusaynAbu Bakr ibn HusaynSakinah bint HusaynSukayna bint HusaynFatima al-SughraFatimah bint HusaynUmm Kulthum bint HusaynZaynab bint Husayn

Calligraphic representation of Husayn ibn Ali in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.

Entry gate of the shrine of Husayn in Karbala,Iraq

Husayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (Arabic: الحسين بن علي بن أبي طالب‎‎ 8 January 626 – 10 October 680) (3rd/4th Sha’aban 4 AH – 10thMuharram 61 AH), also spelled as Husain,Hussain or Hussein, was the son of Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib (fourth Rashidun Caliph of Sunni Islam, and first Imam of Shia Islam) and Fatimah Zahra (daughter of Muhammad) and the younger brother of Hasan ibn Ali. Husayn is an important figure in Islam, as he is a member of the Ahl al-Bayt (the household of Muhammad) and Ahl al-Kisa, as well as being the third Shia Imam.

Hussain became the head of Shia Imam and the head of Banu Hashim after the death of his older brother, Hasan ibn Ali, in 670 (50 AH). His father’s supporters (Shi’a Ali) in Kufagave their allegiance to him. However, he told them he was still bound to the peace treaty between Hasan and Muawiyah I and they should wait until Muawiyah was dead. Later, Hussain did not accept the request of Muawiyah for the succession of his son,Yazid I, and considered this action a breach of the Hasan–Muawiya treaty.[6] When Muawiyah I died in 680, Husayn refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid I, who had just been appointed as Umayyad caliph by Muawiyah, because he considered theUmayyads an oppressive and religiously misguided regime. He insisted on his legitimacy based on his own special position as a direct descendant of Muhammad and his legitimate legatees. As a consequence, he left Medina, his home town, to take refuge inMecca in 60 AH.[6][7] There, the people of Kufa sent letters to him, asking his help and pledging their allegiance to him. So he traveled towards Kufa.[6] At a place near Kufa, known as Karbala, his caravan was intercepted by Yazid I’s army. He was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbala on 10 October 680 (10 Moḥarram 61) by Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan, along with most of his family and companions.[8]

Anger at Husayn’s death was turned into a rallying cry that helped undermine theUmayyad Caliphate legitimacy and ultimately overthrow the Umayyad Caliphate by Abbasid Revolution.[9][10]

Husayn is highly regarded by Shia Muslimsbecause he refused to pledge allegiance toYazid I,[11] the Umayyad caliph, because he considered the rule of the Umayyadsunjust.[11] The annual memorial for him, his family, his children and his companions is called Ashura (tenth day of Muharram) and is a day of mourning for Shiite Muslims. His action at Karbala fueled the later Shiite movements.[10]

The painting by commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala, its focus is his half brother Abbas ibn Ali on a white horse [12]

A Quran written by Imam Hussain ibn Ali, from over 1300 years ago

According to most reports, Husayn was born on 8 January 626 CE (3 / 5 Sha’aban 4 AH).[6]Husayn and his brother Hasan were the last descendants of Muhammad living during his lifetime and remaining after his death. There are many accounts of his love for them which refer to them together.[6]

Muhammad is reported to have said that “He who loves me and loves these two, their father and their mother, will be with me at my place on the Day of Resurrection.”[13] and that “Hussain is of me and I am his. Allah loves those who love Hussain. Hussain is a grandson among grandsons.”[13] A narration declares them the “Masters of the Youth of Paradise” this has been particularly important for the Shia who have used it in support of the right of Muhammad’s descendants to succeed him. Other traditions record Muhammad with his grandsons on his knees, on his shoulders, and even on his back during prayer at the moment of prostrating himself, when they were young.[14]

According to Wilferd Madelung, Muhammad loved them and declared them as his Ahl al-Bayt very frequently.[15] According to popular Sunni belief, it refers to the household of Muhammad. Shia popular view is the members of Muhammad’s family that were present at the incident of Mubahala. According to Muhammad Baqir Majlisi who compiled Bihar al-Anwar, a collection ofahadith, Chapter 46 Verse 15 (Al-Ahqaf) and Chapter 89 Verses 27-30 (Al-Fajr) of theQuran are regarding Husayn ibn-Ali.

The incident of MubahalaEdit

Main article: Event of Mubahala

In the year 10 AH (631/32 CE) a Christian envoy from Najran (now in northern Yemen) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerningIsa (Jesus). After likening Jesus’ miraculous birth to Adam’s (Adem) creation,[a]—who was born to neither a mother nor a father — and when the Christians did not accept the Islamic doctrine about Jesus, Muhammadwas instructed to call them to Mubahalawhere each party should ask God to destroy the false party and their families.[16][17] If anyone dispute with you in this matter [concerning Jesus] after the knowledge which has come to you, say: Come let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then let us swear an oath and place the curse of God on those who lie.[b][16][18] Sunnite historians, except Tabariwho do not name the participants, mentionMuhammad, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn, and some agree with the Shia tradition thatAli was also among the participants in this event on the side of Muhammad. Accordingly, in the verse of Mubahala the words “Our sons” is representative of Hasan and Husayn “our women” would refer to Fatimah and “ourselves” would be “Ali”.[16][18]

Muawiyah, the governor of Levant, who had refused Ali’s demands for allegiance, has long been in fight with him.[19] However, when Ali was assassinated and people gave allegiance to Hasan, Muawiyah prepared to fight with him. The battle led to inconclusive skirmishes between the armies of Hasan and Muawiyah. To avoid the agonies of another civil war,Hasan signed the Hasan–Muawiya treatywith Muawiyah, according to which Muawiyah wouldn’t name a successor during his reign and let the Islamic world choose their successor after the latter.[20]

See also: Muawiyah I and Umayyad

According to the Shia, Husayn was the third Imam for a period of ten years after the death of his brother Hasan in 669. All of this time but the last six months coinciding with the caliphate of Muawiyah.[21] After the peace treaty with Hasan, Muawiyah set out with his troops to Kufa, where at a public surrender ceremony Hasan rose and reminded the people that he and Husayn were the only grandsons of Muhammad. And that he had surrendered the reign to Muawiyah in the best interest of the community: 𔄘 people, surely it was God who led you by the first of us and Who has spared you bloodshed by the last of us. I have made peace with Mu’awiyah, and I know not whether haply this be not for your trial, and that ye may enjoy yourselves for a time.[c][22] declared Hasan.[20]

In the nine-year period between Hasan’s abdication in 41/660 and his death in 49/669, Hasan and Husayn retired in Medina trying to keep aloof from political involvement for or against Muawiyah.[20][23]

Shiite feelings, however, though not visible above the surface, occasionally emerged in the form of small groups, mostly from Kufa, visiting Hasan and Husayn asking them to be their leaders – a request to which they declined to respond.[16] Even ten years later, after the death of Hasan, when Iraqis turned to his younger brother, Husayn, concerning an uprising, Husayn instructed them to wait as long as Muawiyah was alive due to Hasan’s peace treaty with him.[20] Later on, however, and before his death, Muawiyah named his son Yazid as his successor.[6]

One of the important points of the treaty made between Hasan and Muawiyah was that Muawiyah not designate anyone as his successor after his death the choice was left to the Ummah (the Nation). But after the death of Hasan, Muawiyah, thinking that no one would be courageous enough to object his decision as the Caliph, designated his son, Yazid I, as his successor in 680 CE, breaking the treaty.[24] Robert Payne quotes Muawiyah in History of Islam as telling his son Yazid to defeat Husayn, who was surely preparing an army against him, but to deal with him gently thereafter as Husayn was a descendent of Muhammad but to deal with Abdullah al-Zubair swiftly, as Muawiyah feared him the most.[25]

In April 680, Yazid I succeeded his fatherMuawiyah as the new caliph. Yazid immediately instructed the governor ofMedina to compel Hussayn and few other prominent figures to pledge their allegiance (Bay’ah).[6] Husain, however, refrained from it believing that Yazid was openly going against the teachings of Islam in public and changing the sunnah of Muhammad.[26][27] In his view the integrity and survival of the Islamic community depended on the re-establishment of the correct guidance.[28] He, therefore, accompanied by his household, his sons, brothers, and the sons of Hasan left Medina to seek asylum in Mecca.[6]

While in Mecca Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr,Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Abbasadvised Husayn bin Ali to make Mecca his base and fight against Yazid from Mecca.[29]On the other hand, the people in Kufa who were informed about Muawiyah ‘s death, sent letters urging Husayn to join them and pledge to support him against Umayyads. Husayn wrote back to them saying that he would send his cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel to report to him on the situation. If he found them united as their letters indicated he would speedily join them, because Imam should act in accordance with the Quran, uphold justice, proclaim the truth, and dedicate himself to the cause of God.[6] The mission of Moslem was initially successful and according to reports 18,000 men pledged their allegiance. But situation changed radically when Yazid appointed Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad as the new governor of Kufa, ordering him to deal severely with Ibn Aqeel. Before news of the adverse turn of events arrived in Mecca, Husayn set out for Kufa.[6]

On the way, Husayn found that his messenger, Muslim ibn Aqeel, was killed in Kufa. He broke the news to his supporters and informed them that people had deserted him. Then, he encouraged anyone who so wished, to leave freely without guilt. Most of those who had joined him at various stages on the way from Mecca now left him.[6]

The painting by commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala, its focus is his half brother Abbas ibn Ali on a white horse [12]

Main article: Battle of Karbala

On his path towards Kufa, Husayn encountered with the army of Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad in his path towards Kufa. Husayn addressed the Kufans army, reminding them that they had invited him to come because they were without an Imam. He told them that he intended to proceed to Kufa with their support, but if they were now opposed to his coming, he would return to where he had come from. However, the army urged him to choose another way. Thus, he turned to left and reached Karbala, where the army forced him not to go further and stop at a location that was without water.[6]

Umar ibn Sa’ad, the head of Kufan army, sent a messenger to Husayn to inquire about the purpose of his coming to Iraq. Husayn answered again that he had responded to the invitation of the people of Kufa but was ready to leave if they now disliked his presence. When Umar ibn Sa’ad, the head of Kufan army, reported it back to Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, the governor instructed him to offer Ḥusayn and his supporters the opportunity to swear allegiance to Yazid. He also orderedUmar ibn Sa’ad to cut off Husayn and his followers from access to the water of the Euphrates.[6] On the next morning, as ʿOmar b. Saʿd arranged the Kufan army in battle order,Al-Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi challenged him and went over to Ḥusayn. He vainly addressed the Kufans, rebuking them for their treachery to the grandson of Muhammad and was killed in the battle.

Selections of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Calligraphy: Calligraphers of the Persian Tradition

The Library of Congress has a collection of more than 100 single-page calligraphic sheets containing poetic excerpts in Persian. These sheets appear to have been extracted from albums (muraqqa c at) of calligraphies and paintings, fragments of which are maintained in other libraries and art collections such as the Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Unlike the Qur&rsquoanic fragments, these sheets do not cover an extremely broad expanse of time and location of production rather, the signed calligraphies tend to date from the Safavid period (1501-1722) in Iran.

Although a large number of fragments are neither signed nor dated, others bear signatures and/or dates that contribute to our knowledge of some of the master calligraphers of the nasta c liq script in Iran. The script&rsquos putative inventor, Mir c Ali Tabrizi (d. ca. 1446), blended naskh with ta c liq in order to create a new script more suitable for the writing of Persian poetry, with which it became intimately associated. [i] Almost all the single page poetic fragments in the Library of Congress are written in nasta c liq, thus attesting to the script&rsquos status and popularity during the 15 th and 16 th centuries.

The only calligrapher of the pre-Safavid period whose name emerges in the collection of Persian poetic fragments is that of Sultan c Ali al-Mashhadi (d. 1514), who was active in a number of Turkman (ca. 1378-1502) and Timurid (ca. 1370-1506) courts, including that of the last Timurid ruler, Sultan Husayn Bayqara (r.1470-1506) in Herat. He transcribed royal manuscripts, designed inscriptions for buildings, and authored a treatise on calligraphy. One undated fragment signed by Sultan c Ali contains the lyric poems (ghazals) of Amir Khusraw Dihlavi written in a small script and in diagonal format (1-84-154.33). Another page signed by Sultan c Ali, as well as by his pupil Sultan Beyazid (d. 1578), includes verses composed by the mystical poet Hilali delicately written in black or white ink on beige- or blue-colored paper (1-87-154.158). The latter piece exhibits how a master and his pupil may have worked collaboratively, or how fragments may have been arranged onto a gold-flecked album page at a later date to demonstrate the transmission of the craft from one generation of calligraphers to the next. [ii]

Many more examples of signed calligraphies from the Safavid period exist in the Library of Congress. Four fragments are signed or attributed to Mir c Ali Heravi (d. 1544-45), who practiced calligraphy in Herat until he was taken to Bukhara (modern-day Uzbekistan) in 1528-29. He typically signed his works with the diminutive epithet al-faqir (the &ldquopoor&rdquo or &ldquolowly&rdquo). His signature is noticeable in a quatrain of Rumi (1-88-154.65) and another series of poetic verses (1-87-154.159) mounted on album pages either decorated with stenciled designs or white-and-blue marbling.

Shah Mahmud al-Nishapuri (d. 1564-65), a celebrated master of nasta c liq active during the reign of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76), also executed a quatrain (ruba c i) mounted onto an album page filled with registers of poetic verses (1-87-154.155). Verses by Amir Khusraw Dihlavi written by Muhammad Husayn, a calligrapher patronized by Shah Isma c il II (r. 1576-77), and dated 1590, are preserved on a similar album page (1-85-154.89). Shah Mahmud&rsquos colleague Malik Daylami, who joined him in transcribing a lavish copy of the Haft Awrang (Seven Pavilions) of Jami, ca. 1556-65, [iii] also seems to have written at least one page of the Munajat (Supplications) of c Abdallah Ansari (1-87-154.91), which he signed mashq-i Malik (&ldquocomposition of Malik&rdquo).

Shah Tahmasp&rsquos respected &ldquoelderly secretary&rdquo (Ikhtiyar al-Munshi), Kamal al-Din Husayn (d. 1566-67) was not only a master of nasta c liq but also of ta c liq and tarassul, both epistolary scripts (scripts used for writing letters). Two of his compositions eulogizing a ruler&mdashin this case certainly the Safavid monarch&mdashshow the dexterity of a mature calligrapher who, although blind in one eye, mastered the challenging &ldquooutlined&rdquo script in gold (1-87-154.157) and in light blue (1-04-713.19.36). Kamal al-Din arranges his compositions with unequaled artistic flair and technical finesse.

Shah Muhammad al-Mashhadi, a calligrapher originally from the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, later migrated to India. In 1560-61 he transcribed a number of poetic verses on beige paper decorated with plants and animals painted in gold and later mounted onto a decorative album page (1-87-154.161).

Shah Muhammad&rsquos contemporary, the famous and prolific Safavid calligrapher Mir c Imad al-Hasani (d. 1615), [iv] is well represented in the collections of the Library of Congress at least seven fragments bear his name. One item includes verses in Persian and Chaghatay Turkish (1-84-154.3), and a second item contains verses set on a vertical or longitudinal album page typically described as a safinah (literally, &ldquoboat&rdquo) shape (1-85-154.77). A third fragment consists of a calligraphic practice sheet (siyah mashq) executed on a pale ground signed by Mir c Imad in a playful fashion (1-84-154.43)--in this instance, he signed his name four times as if he were perfecting the contours of his own autograph. At this time, siyah mashq sheets, which include repeated letters or combinations of letters, became respected as collectible works of art mounted onto album pages rather than considered disposable preparatory calligraphic exercises (1-84-154.44 et seq). [v]

Rukn al-Din Mas c ud al-Tabib, active at the turn of the 17 th century, is another noteworthy Safavid calligrapher. Rukn al-Din was a royal physician (tabib) to Shah c Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) in the Safavid capital city of Isfahan. After losing favor with the monarch, he journeyed to Balkh (modern-day Afghanistan) and eventually settled in India. One of his two signed works in the Library of Congress includes a eulogy to a king, perhaps Shah c Abbas I, later overpainted and mounted onto a Mughal album page (1-88-154.153).

Rukn al-Din&rsquos move to India, like that of Shah Muhammad al-Mashhadi&rsquos, helped solidify the Indo-Persian nasta c liq school. A selection of 18 th -century fragments calligraphed in nasta c liq and shikastah serve as a testament to the development of this school over several centuries. Fragments include twenty-two signed epistolary (insha&rsquo) compositions (1-84-154.49 R et seq), as well as calligraphic items signed by c Abdallah Lahuri (1-04-713.15.1) and Munshi Ram (1-04-713.19.54).

Nasta c liq continued to be practiced in the Indian subcontinent while calligraphers active in Iran during the 18 th and 19 th centuries investigated further graphic aspects of script styles and techniques. As noted previously, one experiment included the revival of naskh (especially within a Qur&rsquoanic context) another explored the artistic potential of combining a variety of scripts in a genuine spectacle of calligraphic bravura. For example, the calligrapher Husayn Zarrin Qalam (The &ldquoGolden Pen&rdquo) explored the gulzar (literally, &ldquofull of flowers&rdquo) script in a panel dated 1797-98 (1-85-154.95). The panel includes plants, animals, and human beings inserted into the calligraphed letters, thus proving itself more inventive than al-Bukhari&rsquos calligraphic panel of Indian provenance (1-2004-713.15.8a).

Album of Baha’i calligraphy

An album of Baha&rsquoi calligraphy including childhood calligraphic exercises by Baha&rsquou&rsquollah and tablets by Baha&rsquou&rsquollah copied by the calligrapher Mishkin Qalam.

Who was Baha&rsquou&rsquollah?

Mirza Husayn &lsquoAli Nuri (1817&ndash1892), known as Baha&rsquou&rsquollah, was the founder of the Baha&rsquoi faith. Born in Tehran into a prominent family of court officials, his father was one of the most renowned calligraphers of his generation. Calligraphy was an important part of Baha&rsquou&rsquollah&rsquos education and still remains a key means of communication and expression.

This album

This album contains tablets, or letters, from Baha&rsquou&rsquollah to Muhammad Riza Shirazi, who was one of Baha&rsquou&rsquollah&rsquos confidants and accompanied him when he was exiled to Acre, Israel. Nine of these are by the renowned calligrapher Mirza Husayn Isfahani (1826&ndash1912) who was given the title Mishkin Qalam (&lsquoBlack&rsquo or &lsquoMusk-scented Pen&rsquo) by the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848&ndash1896). Two examples, both signed by Mishkin Qalam and addressed from Baha&rsquou&rsquollah to Muhammad Riza Shirazi, are dated (folio 9) Shaʻban 1308 (March/April 1891) and (f. 4, digitised image 3) 1310 (1892/93). An example of Mishkin Qalam&rsquos calligraphy is the Arabic inscription (f. 19, digitised image 7) Yā Bahāʼ al-abhá (&lsquoO Glory of the Most Glorious&rsquo) which has been adopted as a universal Baha&rsquoi symbol.

Perhaps the most important items in the album are those written by Baha&rsquou&rsquollah himself. These include childhood exercises (ff. 15 and 16, digitised image 6) and two short letters to Muhammad Riza Shirazi (folio 11/1, digitised image 5) and his son Habibullah Huvayda (folio 11/2, digitised image 5). Baha'is would ask a skilled calligrapher to write out a passage from the writings of Baha&rsquou&rsquollah and then an artist would decorate these in gold and other colours to enhance the beauty of the calligraphy.

This volume was presented to the British Museum by Habibullah Huvayda who became Persian Consul-General in Syria and Palestine &lsquofor safe-keeping and in memory of my father the late Mohamed Riza Shirazi&rsquo on 21 May 1929.

History About Calligraphy

Calligraphy (from Greek κάλλος kallos “beauty” + γραφή graphẽ “writing”) is the art of writing (Mediavilla 1996: 17). A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is “the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner” (Mediavilla 1996: 18). The story of writing is one of aesthetic evolution framed within the technical skills, transmission speed(s) and materials limitations of a person, time and place (Diringer 1968: 441). A style of writing is described as a script, hand or alphabet (Fraser & Kwiatkowski 2006 Johnston 1909: Plate 6).

Modern calligraphy ranges from functional hand lettered inscriptions and designs to fine art pieces where the abstract expression of the handwritten mark may or may not supersede the legibility of the letters (Mediavilla 1996). Classical calligraphy differs from typography and non-classical hand-lettering, though a calligrapher may create all of these characters are historically disciplined yet fluid and spontaneous, improvised at the moment of writing (Pott 2006 & 2005 Zapf 2007 & 2006). Calligraphy continues to flourish in the forms of wedding and event invitations, font design/ typography, original hand-lettered logo design, religious art, various announcements/ graphic design/ commissioned calligraphic art, cut stone inscriptions and memorial documents. Also props and moving images for film and television, testimonials, birth and death certificates/maps, and other works involving writing (see for example Letter Arts Review Propfe 2005 Geddes & Dion 2004).

Western calligraphy
Sacred Western calligraphy has some special features, such as the illumination of the first letter of each book or chapter in medieval times. A decorative “carpet page” may precede, filled with geometrical, bestial and colourful depictions. The Lindisfarne Gospels (715-720 AD) is an early example (Brown 2004).

As for Chinese or Arabian calligraphies, Western calligraphic script had strict rules and shapes. Quality writing had a rhythm and regularity to the letters, with a “geometrical” good order of the lines on the pages. Each character had, and often still has, a precise stroke order.

Unlike a typeface, irregularity in the characters’ size, style and colors adds meaning to the Greek translation “beautiful letters”. The content may be completely illegible, but no less meaningful to a viewer with some empathy for the work on view. Many of the themes and variations of today’s contemporary Western calligraphy are found in the pages of the Saint John’s Bible.

Persian calligraphy
Persian calligraphy is the calligraphy of Persian writing system. It has been one of the most revered arts throughout Persian history. It is considered to be one of the most eye catching and fascinating manifestations of Persian culture.
The history of calligraphy in Iran dates back to the pre Islam era. In Zoroastrianism beautiful and clear writings were always praised.

Around one thousand years ago, Ebne Moghleh Beyzavi Shirazi (in Persian: ابن مقله بيضاوی شيرازی) and his brother created six genres of Iranian calligraphy namely “Tahqiq”, “Reyhan”, “Sols”, “Naskh” and “Toqih” and “Reqah”. These genres were common for four centuries in Persia. In 7th century (Hijri calendar), a new genre of Persian calligraphy was invented and named “Ta’liq”.

Morteza Gholi Khan Shamlou and Mohammad Shafi Heravi created a new genre called “Shekasteh Nastaliq”. Abdol-Majid Taleqani brought this genre to its highest level.

East Asian Calligraphy
The art of calligraphy is widely practiced and revered in the East Asian civilizations that use or used Chinese characters. These include China, Japan, Korea, and to a lesser extent, Vietnam. In addition to being an art form in its own right, calligraphy has also influenced ink and wash painting, which is accomplished using similar tools and techniques. The East Asian tradition of calligraphy originated and developed from China, specifically the ink and brush writing of Chinese characters. There is a general standardization of the various styles of calligraphy in the East Asian tradition. Calligraphy has also led to the development of many other forms of art in East Asia, including seal carving, ornate paperweights, and inkstones.

Indian calligraphy
Indian traders, colonists, military adventurers, Buddhist monks and missionaries brought the Indic script to the countries of South East Asia.
The languages of these regions were influenced by the Indic script the influence came in the form of the basic internal structure, the arrangement and construction of syllabic units, manner of representation of characters, and the direction of writing (left to right) . Fine Sanskrit calligraphy, written on palm leaf manuscripts was transported to various parts of South East Asia, including Bali

It is hypothesized that Persian influence in Indian calligraphy gave rise to a unique and influential blend in Indian calligraphy, although it should be noted that a number of different calligraphic traditions existed in India and that Indian scripts were fundamentally different from scripts used in Arabic and Persian traditions. Some of the notable achievements of the Mughals were their fine manuscripts usually autobiographies and chronicles of the noble class, these manuscripts were initially written in flowing Persian language. This style of calligraphy was thought to influence other traditions of India, such as the Indian epics, including the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Emperor Humayun had bought Persian calligraphers into India they would later be joined by native Hindu artists of India to further promote this art in the court of emperor Akbar. A page from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh religion.

The Arabic text on the Qutab Minar is in the Kufic style of calligraphy decorations with flowers, wreaths and baskets show the native influence of Hindu and Jaina traditions.

Sikhism played a key role in the history of Indian calligraphy. The holy book of the Sikhs has been traditionally handwritten with illuminated examples. Sikh calligrapher Pratap Singh Giani is known for one of the first definitive translations of Sikh scriptures into English.

The Oxford manuscript of Shikshapatri is an excellent example of Sanskrit calligraphy. The manuscript is preserved in the Bodleian Library.

The Indian calligraphy actually carries many modern day names known as arleen. The word arleen actually means homo in ancient times but was changed as many Indians renamed their kids to arleen and arlen.

Introduction to mosque architecture

From Indonesia to the United Kingdom, the mosque in its many forms is the quintessential Islamic building. The mosque, masjid in Arabic, is the Muslim gathering place for prayer. Masjid simply means “place of prostration.” Though most of the five daily prayers prescribed in Islam can take place anywhere, all men are required to gather together at the mosque for the Friday noon prayer.

Mosques are also used throughout the week for prayer, study, or simply as a place for rest and reflection. The main mosque of a city, used for the Friday communal prayer, is called a jami masjid, literally meaning “Friday mosque,” but it is also sometimes called a congregational mosque in English. The style, layout, and decoration of a mosque can tell us a lot about Islam in general, but also about the period and region in which the mosque was constructed.

Diagram reconstruction of the Prophet’s House, Medina, Saudi Arabia

The home of the Prophet Muhammad is considered the first mosque. His house, in Medina in modern-day Saudi Arabia, was a typical 7th-century Arabian style house, with a large courtyard surrounded by long rooms supported by columns. This style of mosque came to be known as a hypostyle mosque, meaning “many columns.” Most mosques built in Arab lands utilized this style for centuries.

Common features

The architecture of a mosque is shaped most strongly by the regional traditions of the time and place where it was built. As a result, style, layout, and decoration can vary greatly. Nevertheless, because of the common function of the mosque as a place of congregational prayer, certain architectural features appear in mosques all over the world.

Sahn (courtyard)

The most fundamental necessity of congregational mosque architecture is that it be able to hold the entire male population of a city or town (women are welcome to attend Friday prayers, but not required to do so). To that end congregational mosques must have a large prayer hall. In many mosques this is adjoined to an open courtyard, called a sahn. Within the courtyard one often finds a fountain, its waters both a welcome respite in hot lands, and important for the ablutions (ritual cleansing) done before prayer.

Mihrab & minbar, Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo, 1356-63 (photo: Dave Berkowitz, CC BY 2.0)

Mihrab (niche)

Mihrab, Great Mosque of Cordoba, c. 786 (photo: Bongo Vongo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another essential element of a mosque’s architecture is a mihrab—a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca, towards which all Muslims pray. Mecca is the city in which the Prophet Muhammad was born, and the home of the most important Islamic site, the Kaaba. The direction of Mecca is called the qibla, and so the wall in which the mihrab is set is called the qibla wall. No matter where a mosque is, its mihrab indicates the direction of Mecca (or as near that direction as science and geography were able to place it). Therefore, a mihrab in India will be to the west, while a one in Egypt will be to the east. A mihrab is usually a relatively shallow niche, as in the example from Egypt, above. In the example from Spain, shown right, the mihrab’s niche takes the form of a small room, this is more rare.

Minaret (tower)

One of the most visible aspects of mosque architecture is the minaret, a tower adjacent or attached to a mosque, from which the call to prayer is announced.

Mimar Sinan, Minaret, Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul, 1558

Minarets take many different forms—from the famous spiral minaret of Samarra, to the tall, pencil minarets of Ottoman Turkey. Not solely functional in nature, the minaret serves as a powerful visual reminder of the presence of Islam.

Qubba (dome)

Most mosques also feature one or more domes, called qubba in Arabic. While not a ritual requirement like the mihrab, a dome does possess significance within the mosque—as a symbolic representation of the vault of heaven. The interior decoration of a dome often emphasizes this symbolism, using intricate geometric, stellate, or vegetal motifs to create breathtaking patterns meant to awe and inspire. Some mosque types incorporate multiple domes into their architecture (as in the Ottoman Süleymaniye Mosque pictured at the top of the page), while others only feature one. In mosques with only a single dome, it is invariably found surmounting the qibla wall, the holiest section of the mosque. The Great Mosque of Kairouan, in Tunisia (not pictured) has three domes: one atop the minaret, one above the entrance to the prayer hall, and one above the qibla wall.

Because it is the directional focus of prayer, the qibla wall, with its mihrab and minbar, is often the most ornately decorated area of a mosque. The rich decoration of the qibla wall is apparent in this image of the mihrab and minbar of the Mosque of Sultan Hasan in Cairo, Egypt (see image higher on the page).


Mosque lamp, 14th century, Egypt or Syria, blown glass, enamel, gilding, 31.8 x 23.2 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

There are other decorative elements common to most mosques. For instance, a large calligraphic frieze or a cartouche with a prominent inscription often appears above the mihrab. In most cases the calligraphic inscriptions are quotations from the Qur’an, and often include the date of the building’s dedication and the name of the patron. Another important feature of mosque decoration are hanging lamps, also visible in the photograph of the Sultan Hasan mosque. Light is an essential feature for mosques, since the first and last daily prayers occur before the sun rises and after the sun sets. Before electricity, mosques were illuminated with oil lamps. Hundreds of such lamps hung inside a mosque would create a glittering spectacle, with soft light emanating from each, highlighting the calligraphy and other decorations on the lamps’ surfaces. Although not a permanent part of a mosque building, lamps, along with other furnishings like carpets, formed a significant—though ephemeral—aspect of mosque architecture.

Mosque patronage

Mihrab, 1354–55, just after the Ilkhanid period, Madrasa Imami, Isfahan, Iran, polychrome glazed tiles, 343.1 x 288.7 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Most historical mosques are not stand-alone buildings. Many incorporated charitable institutions like soup kitchens, hospitals, and schools. Some mosque patrons also chose to include their own mausoleum as part of their mosque complex. The endowment of charitable institutions is an important aspect of Islamic culture, due in part to the third pillar of Islam, which calls for Muslims to donate a portion of their income to the poor.

The commissioning of a mosque would be seen as a pious act on the part of a ruler or other wealthy patron, and the names of patrons are usually included in the calligraphic decoration of mosques. Such inscriptions also often praise the piety and generosity of the patron. For instance, the mihrab now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bears the inscription:

And he [the Prophet], blessings and peace be upon him, said: “Whoever builds a mosque for God, even the size of a sand-grouse nest, based on piety, [God will build for him a palace in Paradise].”

The patronage of mosques was not only a charitable act therefore, but also, like architectural patronage in all cultures, an opportunity for self-promotion. The social services attached the mosques of the Ottoman sultans are some of the most extensive of their type. In Ottoman Turkey the complex surrounding a mosque is called a kulliye. The kulliye of the Mosque of Sultan Suleyman, in Istanbul, is a fine example of this phenomenon, comprising a soup kitchen, a hospital, several schools, public baths, and a caravanserai (similar to a hostel for travelers). The complex also includes two mausoleums for Sultan Suleyman and his family members.


The Calligraphy originated during the Stone Age. Letters did not exist then but things were described by making pictures. The major events of the caveman’s life were described by the caveman on the walls of the cave in the form of pictorial representation.

The art of making pictures modernized with the development of humans. Egyptians played a very important role to develop drawing pictures. In about 3600 B.C, the Egyptians created the hieroglyphics for which they are so well known. These symbols were used inside the tombs of the pharaohs or painted with brushes across papyrus paper. Around 1000 B.C, the Phoenicians created what is now believed to be one of the first alphabets and writing systems. They were seafaring type hence they passed their talent in every seaport they reached. They influenced the Greeks a lot, who later on developed their own kind of writing which by 850 BC the Romans had adapted to suit the Latin language.

Latin was the lingua franca of the churches of Europe in the Middle Ages and the monks (and a smattering of nobility) constituted the only literate members of society. The monks started to write ancient text in books. Since paper was costly at that time, so the monks discovered a new style of Calligraphy which can accommodate more words in a single line. This new style was known as Gothic and lasted as a popular scribing technique throughout much of the Middle Ages.

Based on the Gothic style of the monks, in 15 century, Johannes Gutenberg discovered the printing press. This allowed a faster printing of books. Although the use of printing press was high, the handwriting skill was in demand. Italians during this time invented the italic script, which became popular throughout most of Europe.

One hundred years later, artistic penmanship was in a steep decline.

In 19th century, flat-edge pens were replaced by the fountain pens and steel pens. It became difficult to achieve beautiful curves of calligraphy with these replaced pens due to its rounded tips. The value of calligraphy was going to disappear but a British poet and artist William Morris in the mid-19th century spearheaded a calligraphic revival, reintroducing the flat edged pen and elevating the act of writing to the art form of its past.

Composite page of calligraphy

Detached album folio composite page of calligraphy text: Persian in black nasta’liq script four calligraphic panel with poetry, one panel contains a quatrain from the Divan of Hafiz corners embellished with triangular illuminated panels panels are signed by Abdul-Khaliq, Muhammad Qasim al-Husayni, and Mir Husayn al-Husayni.
Border: The text panels are set in gold, red and blue rulings mounted on marbled, gold-sprinkled paperboard.

Detached album folio composite page of calligraphy text: Persian in black nasta'liq script four calligraphic panel with poetry, one panel contains a quatrain from the Divan of Hafiz corners embellished with triangular illuminated panels panels are signed by Abdul-Khaliq, Muhammad Qasim al-Husayni, and Mir Husayn al-Husayni.
Border: The text panels are set in gold, red and blue rulings mounted on marbled, gold-sprinkled paperboard.

Bottom right, triangular illuminated panel: "written by the sinful slave Abdul-Khaliq, God forgive his sins [A.H.] 964, [A.D. 1557]."
Bottom page: "poor Muhammad Qasim al-Husayni."
Center left panel: “Mir Husayn al-Husayni May [God] forgive him."

Album pages often comprised an assemblage of verses copied by different calligraphers. The couplets in the upper right are by Hafiz (died 1390), one of the most renowned Persian mystical poets, whose work was often included in albums. Signed and dated by Abdul-Khaliq in 1585-86, the poem is copied in nasta'liq , the preferred script for lyrical poetry after the late fifteenth century. The script is notable for its crisp lines and perfectly rounded forms that can vary in size as is evident from the different calligraphic panels arranged on this sheet. Hafiz's couplets read as follows:

At dawn, the well-wishing crier of the tavern
Called, come back, you are an old customer of this place
O traveler of the road, to the impoverished ones at
the tavern
Show kindness, if you know the secret of God.

The other anonymous verses are signed by Muhammad Qasim al-Husayni and Mir Husayn al-Husayni.

  • Glenn D. Lowry, Milo Cleveland Beach, Elisabeth West FitzHugh, Susan Nemanzee, Janet Snyder. An Annotated and Illustrated Checklist of the Vever Collection. Washington and Seattle. cat. 436, pp. 354-355.

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.

CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

This image is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions). You can copy, modify, and distribute this work without contacting the Smithsonian. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.