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Arabic Script * Gabriel Mandel Khan (2006)

I saw a German translation of this book in the Grassi Museum in Leipzig. There was only one copy (left), so this was the copy that everybody opened to see what the book is about. I figured I would rather get me an English translation (which I read more easily) that went through less hands and so I did.

The full title of the book is Arabic Script: Styles, Variants, and Calligraphic Adaptations. The author’s name is also written Gabriele Mandel. He lived from 1924 to 2010 in Italy, even though he was from Afghan descent. Mandel was a Muslim and joined both the Naqshbandi and the Khalwati Sufi orders. He was also a student of the art of calligraphy. Some of his work can be found in the book.

At first sight it looked like a book with Arabic calligraphy with translations. It is not very big (180 pages) and a fairly quick read, mostly because of the many images. The author does seem to asume some basic knowledge on the part of his readership. Many terms are explained and there even even a little glossary at the end, but there are also many names of (Arabic) currents and authors that we apparently are supposed to know. Then there is the overwhelming amount of information. Mandel starts with summing up all kinds of different sorts of Arabic, styles of writing, pre- and post-Islam. Soon it seems as if every author developped his own script and style.
The author continues with saying something about the alphabet (or rather “abjadīyah” after the first two letters). Each character is put in a table with different forms, the way it looks as start-, middle-, end-character or ‘standing alone’ and Mandel says a few things about the interpretation of each character. These (Sufi-)interpretations read a bit like a Kabbalistic book with Hebrew characters. Some Arabic characters are given a meaning for the name of the character, numerological values and connections to one of the elements. Also examples of the character, either or not in calligraphy are given. The alphabeth has many characters, but there are a few extras that follow at the end.

After this, Mandel gives examples of calligraphy, so the reader may somewhat learn to distinguish the many styles and schools. He does not translate or transliterate each calligraphy, which is a bit of a pitty. Of course there are a few popular lines like the “Basmala” (“b-ismi-llāhi”, “In the name of God”) and the “Shahada” (“lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh”, “There is no god but God”).

A beautiful book to page through and certainly a nice reference-work, but not ‘the ultimate’ reference work on the subject.

2006 Abbeville Press, isbn 0789208792

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