I first heard of Ayman from the American calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya. '"You really need to meet Ayman, man does he have a sweet Talik. He's going to be a star." Those words were enough to send me on a manhunt that would take me through Turkey and Spain and eventually land me in Kuwait where we were able to connect. I found, not only an amazing calligrapher, but also a really cool guy. Here is a short interview that he granted Al-Madina Institute. -Moutasem Atiya
What led you to the study of the sacred arts?
It may sound strange to say that I was interested in the art of calligraphy even before I started learning the alphabet. My elder brother who was four years older than me was attending some calligraphy classes at school and I was very impressed with the variety of lines the calligraphy pen was drawing with black ink on a blank sheet of paper. I was 5 or 6 years old back then, it's one of the very few images I can recall from those days. During school days I was always interested in the handwriting classes and enjoyed them very much. Ever since that young age I've been always touched by the beauty of Arabic letters. Allah determines not only the physical and materialistic aspects of our existence, but also the spiritual ones. It is a great honor to feel that Allah has made you to glorify His words with your hand and pen.
You are originally from Syria and living in Kuwait, yet your calligraphy teachers are in Turkey. How did you take lessons from them?
First of all, I must express the deepest gratitude to my teacher Hasan Chalabi, the man who shared his knowledge generously not only with me but with hundreds of students from all over the world. I wonder if there are people as polite, humble and generous as he is, but I haven't so far had the chance to meet anyone like him. Nevertheless, he is not my only teacher. As you mentioned, I'm a Syrian living in Kuwait, so it is normal to start seeking knowledge from people in the same country. Here I must mention Waleed Al-Farhood who was one of my first teachers. During the summer, I used also to visit Mr. Adnan Sheikh Othman in his office in Homs, Syria. In addition to his talent as a calligrapher, he is an eloquent poet and shares with the people of Homs their famous sense of humor. Among my Turkish teachers there is also Davut Bektash who studied with Hasan Chalabi and he is one of the rare talents in the history of calligraphy. Last and not least comes Ali Alparslan, the professor of Persian literature who was speaking English and French in addition to Persian and Turkish. Speaking English was a great help for me those days before learning Turkish. I went to him by recommendation of Hasan Chalabi to study Talik, but after only two sessions, he passed away, may Allah's mercy be upon him.
Meeting with Ustadh Hasan Chalabi is another story. In 1997 there was an exhibition for calligraphy in Kuwait when I was in the last year of high school. I went the very last day and I met one of Chalabi's female students there. I was so fascinated with her work. Its composition, techniques and colors were so fascinating for me. In her biography she said that she studied with Hasan Chalabi, and I said to myself, "If she writes like this, how beautiful does her teacher write?" Next year, I was expecting the same exhibition to be held in the same gallery and that's what happened. The surprise was that Ustadh Hasan Chalabi himself was there that time. I introduced myself to him and showed him some of my clumsy calligraphy, asking to accept me as a student. During that period, Syria and Turkey were almost going to war; I still remember how the translator made fun of my plans to travel to Istanbul in those circumstances. Thanks to God war did not break out, but I spent two years sending my lessons by mail until I had the chance to visit Istanbul for the first time in September 2000.
In addition to mail correspondence between me and Ustadh Chalabi, two friends and I managed, with the help of Ustadh Chalabi, to host Dawood Bektash in Kuwait for a month in 2002. After that I spent a period of six months in Istanbul for more concentrated classes with all of my teachers there.
We know the study of the arts requires a wealth of patience, was there ever a point that you wanted to quit? What motivated you to keep going?
In Turkish they have a common saying that studying calligraphy is like eating a cookie made of iron, the teacher's task is to make it edible! Indeed it needs a wealth of patience, and it teaches patience as well. Here the role of teacher is essential. But yes, ther was a point when I wanted to quit. I was visiting my best friend Jassim Mirage, who is a talented calligrapher himself, at the studio of Muhammad Ozcay. There was a muraqqa' (few small pages written in Thuluth and naskh) by the last chief calligrapher in the Ottoman court, Ahmed Kamil Akdik. It was so beautiful that I felt that I will never be able to write anything like this. I almost decided to stop wasting my time. It took me some time to realize that it was neither the effort nor the talent of Kamil Akdik, it was Allah's beauty manifested through his blessed pen; therefore, all what I have to do is to keep on going on this path.
What's your favorite script to write?
Each script has its own function and beauty. Thus, I favor all the scripts. But for me, the joy of writing Naskh and Talik scripts is during the process of writing; whereas in Jali Thulth, the joy comes after seeing the last result. For Jali Thuluth consumes a lot of effort to write letters, compose them, and to add all the vowels and decorative signs in perfect balance.
Could you explain to us the "Ijaza" system in calligraphy?
This tradition of teaching calligraphy goes back to ages. Some insist to attribute the lineage to Ali bin Abi Talib himself through Awliya' like Al-Hasan Al-Basri. From a historian point of view, the artistic lineage of today's calligraphers who hold Ijaza can be traced to the 14th century C.E. The term Ijaza in Arabic means literally "license". There was a system for Ijaza in many fields like Islamic studies, Arabic studies medicine, etc. Calligraphy is not an exception. The study of any script starts with a prayer "رب يسر ولا تعسر رب تمم بالخير ". This translates loosely as" My Lord, make things easy, never make them hard, my Lord complement this matter with goodness." The teacher writes this line and the student follows the teacher's sample. When the student reaches an acceptable level he/she moves to the alphabet, then to each of the alphabet combined with all the letters. These are twelve lessons that cover many probabilities in writing letters. Then the student moves to write phrases rather than letters. In this phase, the student is required to write a long poem, mainly Al-Burda or Banat Su'ad in Thuluth/Naskh and Besmeleh by Mulla Jami in Ta'lik. The purpose of this practice is to understand the way words are written in order on one line. After this, the student must write a piece that proves to the teacher that he/she has reached an acceptable level. It is then the time for the student to write the graduation project on which the teacher and two of his colleagues will sign as a diploma. This is what we call Ijaza in the art of Quranic calligraphy. It is only then when the calligrapher has the right to sign his or her work. Beside the right to sign a piece of calligraphy, the Ijaza gives its holder the right to teach calligraphy and give Ijaza to someone else. One should always bear in mind that the Ijaza is just the beginning of the road not the end.
How long did it take you to receive your Ijaza?
I started Thuluth and Naskh in 1998. But since I was sending my lessons by mail it took me two years to write the first lesson. In 2000 I started studying by visiting my teacher and it took me two years to get my Ijaza. It took me some other seven years to get my Ijaza in Ta'lik.
This may sound devastating for beginners, but I was not living with my teachers in the same country. If one studies on a weekly basis, it takes two to three years.
What advice would you give to calligraphers just starting out?
First of all, they must find a good teacher. It's easier to start from scratch rather than to learn the wrong way and then try to fix it.
Second, enjoy it. I still enjoy seeing my teacher marking my work with red. I know many new students feel bad when their teachers point out their mistakes, but isn't it the job of the teacher to make us see our imperfections?!
Third, calligraphy is not a profession, it is a love, "عشق". Practice as a lover, not as a professional.
Samples of Ayman Hassan's calligraphic work can be found on Instagram.
By ImanWire , 15 Oct 2014