From Rockstar to Islamic Designer: Ian Whiteman

From Rockstar to Islamic Designer: Ian Whiteman on


Occasionally, one is blessed by Providence to be able to benefit from some sage words of a master of arts.  That blessing is multiplied when the master is one of both the artistic and spiritual realms.  Ian Whiteman, affectionately known as Abdallateef, is an accomplished artist, whose career has taken him from the rock scene of the revolutionary 1960s; to his groundbreaking work with Al-Habibbiya, whose music was inspired in part by a transformational trip to Morocco; to singing with the likes of Yusuf Islam and Burhan Saban.  Additionally, Abdallateef is a talented typographer and Islamic designer, having designed for Zaytuna College and Al Madina Institute, to name just a few.


Al-Madina: What do you prefer to go by, Ian or Abdal Latif?

Ian Whiteman: Depends who I'm talking to. People like me live a kind of hyphenated existence. Abdul Latif or Abdallateef or however you want to spell it, is a bit of a mouthful for some people. I can usually tell who. To the immigration and the Guardia Civil I'm definitely Ian Whiteman. There's actually no need to change names. I prefer the sound of Abdallateef. The name Ian sounds like a kind of whine. 

Can you tell us about your early years?

In two lines, impossible. Maybe in three. Read the book if it's ever published for the gory details. Born the second jumu'a after the Second World War. Protected Quaker upbringing near Cambridge UK. My family was educated, artistic, musical and funny. Went to London 1963. Studied  architecture for 5 years on and off while playing music professionally right up to 1971. Then Islam came knocking at the door....end of one story,..beginning of another.

What was your first love, typography and design or music?

I love a lot of things. Design is the best and most enjoyable way to earn a living. Music is for when I need it. Music and money don't really mix so I do it out of love and because it's a language I understand and which opens doors of trancendant inspiration. They are two complementary activities. Music and singing particularly, is about breath and life and of course musical harmony. Typography, calligraphy and design requires hand eye coordination and a kind of exacting meditative stillness. Write it and sing it is what I advocate. It's what puts people at ease and inspires as well. It's all different aspects of beauty.

Would you share with us how you came to Islam?

It was the end of the 1960s and people needed more to life than drugs, and rock 'n roll. I was with musicians who read books on Eastern religions and metaphysics....infectious stuff.

You have a depth of musical talent.  Can you discuss your musical influences?

That is a huge subject. There's references to it on my website under musical history. I had a very wide musical experience from a young age which was valuable when I first heard singing from Morocco in 1971. It enabled me to understand the reality behind it as I didn't understand much else.

Your musical journey included successes with The Action, Mighty Baby, and The Habibiyya.  How would you describe your music to have evolved over the course of your career?

Sort of successful (definitely no rock star) -  not commercially successful but there are other better kinds of success. It was a quite exhilarating and bizarre journey with many unexpected twist and turns. It was an adventure that took me (us) to sometimes strange places.

Your work as a designer and typographer has been featured on the works of many well known Islamic organizations such as Zaytuna and Al-Madina Institute.  Do you have a process behind the creation of such visually stunning work and is there a work that you like the most, and if so, why?

I always like beautiful things and the work I get given these days still draws on my first love of calligraphy and lettering in both Arabic and Roman styles. It's the source of all I do and it goes back to two men I studied with. Mohamed Zakariya, master American khattat, and a classic English typographer, Brian Keeble, both who opened many doors for me. These are fundamental skills without which any designer is handicapped and limited. Steve Jobs pretty much said the same thing.

We heard you were recently shooting a film in Morocco.  Can you tell us about the film?

The blog explains that...Mending Fences and Chasing Demons. I was just interviewed both in Spain where I live and in Meknes, Morocco which was the scene of some early experiences post Islam. I'm sure it will end up on YouTube.

What makes good typography and what is your favorite font?

Good typography is really invisible so the meaning of the text is conveyed but that is helped by being elegant and following certain rules so that it doesn't get in the way, I like the classic text faces like Bembo, Jenson and Baskerville but also some modern faces for certain applications like the DIN faces which were designed by a German committee. I actually use very few faces partly because they often need editing for transliterations but also because there are just too many faces to choose from. That also because I do a lot of textbooks and translations and I have a conservative outlook on such productions. Fancy computers doesn't translate into fancy typesetting necessarily. Good designers really love what they do and that always shows. A bit of love goes a long way. 

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with our readers?

Remember everything is just a means to an end. Don't get stuck on the bridge fussing about non-essentials. Life is too short.

Abdallateef’s website is .  His blog is .  The Al-Habibiyya page on Amazon Music is .  

By ImanWire , 14 Apr 2014

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