The “Bismillah”

One of the joys of living in Saudi Arabia was seeing Arabic calligraphy, especially the “bismillah” and other  renditions of  verses  from the Qur’an,  expressed artistically  in various media.  “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate” is a key phrase in Islam. It prefaces ritual prayer, and is said often throughout the day, to oneself or out loud, when embarking  upon a task.

I remember an outing to the desert with a group expats from  King Faisal Specialist Hospital, in which I worked. Our Saudi driver said it before starting the bus. He said it quietly, almost to himself.  After that, I noticed other Muslims saying it, often before doing something new or something that involved the well-being of others. I liked the phrase. It encompassed the best of intention, the realization that we act in faith, without  the assurance of  the consequences of our actions, and in the acceptance of whatever result followed.

I began seeing calligraphy everywhere, especially the bismillah, which always graced the letterhead of official stationery. In the suq, I saw wonderful wall hangings, some painted, some inked, some sewn with gold letters on black velvet.  Book covers in the Arabic section of bookstores showed dramatic, often shiny gold calligraphy, and I never could decipher the titles, even after I learned how to read Arabic. In the women’s cafeteria of the hospital hung a large panel painted in bold brush strokes of mauve, purple, blue, yellow, green, with flecks of gold and diamond-like textures that caught the ambient light.

I know nothing of the art or science of calligraphy. All I know is that seeing it pleases me immensely, fascinates my eye and  engages my heart. I won’t mind learning how to do it. Until and if I ever do, I’ll remain content with looking at it, especially at the bismillah.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
This entry was posted in Arabic Language, art, Islam, Saudi Arabia. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The “Bismillah”

  1. Zuhura says:

    Marahm, you might enjoy this video: (The Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour “Hamdulillah” Official Music Video) No calligraphy but I love the simple repetition of “Hamdulillah” and “Bismillah”.

  2. Marahm says:

    Thank you, Zuhura. I had no idea there was an Arabic female rap singer. The video was interesting, and I browsed a few other ones featuring Shadia Mansour. She has a lovely, yet powerful voice.

  3. bangalore photoblog says:

    You will like this work from Bangalore in South India. Calligraphy

  4. Umm Ibrahim says:

    I love the bismillah and other Islamic calligraphy too although I am less keen when I see the letters woven into some image such as a animal. I prefer when the Islamic art remains abstract.

    There are so many styles of calligraphy – I would love to learn to do this myself.

  5. Marahm says:

    I, too, dislike seeing the letters shaped into the form of something recognizable as a created image. The abstract nature of the calligraphy is part of its beauty, and part of its function as a reminder that we are spiritual beings.

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