You might have heard of al-Andalus, that 800 year period of Islamic Spain where the arts and sciences flourished beyond the wildest imaginations of the time, but have you ever wondered how all that knowledge was transmitted?
Andalusi script, said to be Europe's only indigenous way of writing the Holy Qur'an, is a style that is at once arrestingly beautiful and astonishingly easy to pick up. This latter feature was what made it the vehicle for the production of literally millions of copies of books in al-Andalus, from works on the Islamic sciences to botany, medicine, astronomy, poetry, chemistry, agriculture and much more. This was in turn the catalyst for the Enlightenment in Europe, opening the doors of knowledge to all.
But with the fall of Al-Andalus in 1492, and the abolition of Arabic in Spain shortly after, this script had to go underground, with documents hidden in false walls, or into the diaspora, reaching places as far afield as Morocco, Turkey and even Mali. Cut off from its native Spain, however, it gradually fell into disuse - until the modern era, when calligraphers, many of them Western-born, recognized the value of this bridge between East and West and began to revive it.
From the history of the script to the techniques and materials involved, this is the story of how something as simple as pen and paper can transform the lives of individuals and societies at the broadest level, preserving and conveying that most valuable of treasures: knowledge.
To do this unsung script justice, a new multimedia label called Barzakh is seeking to tell its story, and the story of the Andalusi Muslims it worked so hard for, through a documentary film set in Andalusia itself. Narrated by experts in the fields of Spanish Islam, art and history, it will also follow one modern-day practitioner of this script who will show us the bold, simple elegance of the script in real time.
In a world where Islam is increasingly portrayed negatively in mass media, it is of vital importance that we revisit the times when Muslims defined sophisticated society, and create high quality visual media in our own voices that balances out the stereotyping.
This is where you can help. A crowdfunding campaign at LaunchGood is currently raising the funds to ensure that this documentary is made (www.launchgood.com/calligraphy), and your contribution could be the tipping point that gets it on its way. The initiative is open to sponsorship by individuals as well as organisations.
Abdallateef Whiteman is a designer and calligrapher, currently residing in the Alpujarra mountains, one of the last places Andalusi Muslims lived. He will be narrating his personal discovery of Andalusi calligraphy, and providing practical examples of the style. The documentary will also feature contributions from a number of local specialists, to help us understand the context this calligraphic style evolved in.
Zakariyya Whiteman (Zak) is a freelance director and producer based in Granada, Spain. With over a decade of filmmaking experience, he has worked on documentaries, corporate videos and short films, as well as a number of multimedia projects. Other areas of activity include audio production, graphic design, photography and visual arts. He is currently directing and producing the Travelling Light series, for the Muslim Academic Trust, in Cambridge, UK. Samples of recent productions may be found here: www.youtube.com/mishkatmedia
Barzakh is a new, independent production label that aims to create quality content with Islamic themes. As the audiovisual branch of Alia Multimedia (www.alia.pro), their collective experience covers all aspects of multimedia creation, including audiovisual production, motion graphics, as well as design for print and web. Their intention is to produce and distribute material for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, metaphorically speaking 'bridging the gap'.