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The Dancing Pen
Mar 1, 2009

No one knows dancing like him. Swirl, lift, dip. The routine continues. Swirl, lift, dip.

This is what Osman Sahin does to relax. Dance. But he is no choreographer, he is a calligrapher-one who has mastered the art of Classical Turkish-Islamic calligraphy for over twenty-five years. He calls his calligraphy style “the dancing of the pen.”

His eyes, eagerly glued to the paper, anticipate his next move. His hands lift with each pen stroke, gliding to the rhythm of his breath, rising with every new thought and slowing to the pace of his heartbeat.

To many of us, calligraphy is merely fancy handwriting used to record information, but to a Turk calligraphy is much more. It is an art-a grand form of art-with its origins dating back many centuries. The Turks refer to calligraphy as Hat (pronounced like “hut”). In its literal sense, Hat means beautiful writing practiced and perfected throughout time as a way to combine spiritual and functional writing with the medium of art.

It is however the spiritual element of Hat that is most striking to viewers. Because the drawing of human figures is not favored in Islam, Muslim artists throughout time have channeled their talents toward the art of calligraphy.

“Hat is all about symmetry, harmony and measurements,” explains Osman Sahin. “It is the dance of the pen and paper. It’s music to the eyes. Hat is like composed music that soothes and refreshes the spirit and brings peace and harmony to the soul. It enables the person to reach inner tranquility.”

The origins of Hat date back to the early Islamic era when manuscripts of the Qur’an were being recorded and handwritten. However, at that time there was little emphasis on the style of writing but greater emphasis on the message being revealed. It was centuries later, during the Ottoman Era, that Turks focused on the style of writing.

It is a common saying among Muslims that “the Qur’an was revealed in Mecca, recited in Egypt and written in Istanbul.” The Ottoman Turks produced and perfected various styles of script that were passed on throughout the Muslim world.

They loved and respected the art of Hat as it flourished in the great city of Istanbul, which was at the time the focal point of the Ottoman State, and it was there that history’s finest works were produced.

Hat has been used throughout Turkey in enchanting ways to decorate palaces, mosques, museums and fountains for many centuries. The renowned Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, referring to the art produced by Muslim calligraphers during the Andalusian period, said, “Muslim calligraphers five hundred years ago reached where I want to reach today.” In present-day Turkey, there are over twenty million artwork treasures that bear witness to this history.

The beauty present in Islamic-Turkish calligraphy is said to be a direct reflection of the inner soul of the calligrapher. As Osman Sahin himself says, “Whenever I am stressed, I pick up my pen and draw. This is because the art of Hat has a therapeutic aspect to it. During the Ottoman era, some of the sick were treated by using fine arts like Hat together with soothing Sufi music and the art of Ebru (water marbling) drawing.”

This extraordinary art form can only be executed with the use of pens made of bamboo cuttings, preferably Balinese bamboo. “The bamboo is cut at a thirty-degree angle and split in half from top to bottom,” demonstrates Osman Sahin. “Even with the technology present today, it is not possible to write better or more beautifully using anything other than bamboo. The squeaking sound you hear when using the bamboo pen is said to be the weeping of the pen. It is said that the pen weeps so as to not fall into the hands of the ignorant.”

It is no surprise that there is wonder and magic in Turkish-Islamic calligraphy. It is almost as if the art moves and comes alive. Sweet appearance follows a slow, inner flow. There is silence, yet harmonious and metaphysical music echoes. However, this music cannot be heard by the ears but must be heard within.

He breathed in and leaned back comfortably in his chair, looking deep into his finished calligraphy as it stared back at him. The dance was over, the rhythm ceased, and the music was muffled. The bamboo pen lay there on the table, weeping with heartache, unaware of when the next dance will be.