This post is primarily in response to the Week 2 lectures and readings on reading and understanding the Qur’an as well as topics concerning Islamic calligraphy and the writing of Islamic phrases. Particularly, I make reference to Michael Sells’ book, Approaching the Qur’an, Z. Sardar’s “Reading the Qur’an,” and Osman El-Tom’s “Drinking the Koran: The Meaning of Koranic Verses in Berti Erasure.” The post itself, and the photographs attached, concerns the wood-inscription of the Qur’anic phrase: Bismillah al rahman al Rahim. During the Summer of 2011 I took part in a class in Sarajevo, Bosnia in which I learned to inscribe phrases by carefully burning letters onto a block of wood. In translation, the final product reads: “In the name of God, most Beneficent, most Merciful.”
Often, this phrase has been cited as containing “the true essence” of the entire Qur’an—and the duties of its followers. Critically, the phrase itself is considered to be representative of one of the major pillars of Islam—which pronounces belief in the one God, Allah. Within the Qur’an, every chapter except for the ninth begins with this exact phrase, totaling 114 times in appearance—and serves as a reminder to its readers of the importance and will of Allah. As such, most Muslims will often say this phrase before embarking on daily routines such as eating, or significant events in their lives. As Yasin Jibouri explains, the merits of reciting this phrase include the protection of a person from hell (interestingly, the verse is comprised of nineteen letters, “the same number as the number of the keepers of the gates of hell”) and the help of Allah in completing any work or task (Jibouri, 18).
The making of this particular wooden block, which is meant to be kept inside the household, is representative of the importance not only of the recitation of this phrase, but of the need to be constantly reminded of its meaning. Written in calligraphic script, this piece is reminiscent of an art form highly revered among Islamic culture. Calligraphy, the primary means for historically preserving the Qur’an, is “has arguably become the most venerated form of Islamic art” (Sardar, 15). The engraved phrase, Bismillah al rahman al Rahim, is one resonant to all Muslims and a shared doctrine of all Islamic followers, regardless of sect divisions.