„Seeing one another“
Calligraphy as an aesthetic bridge in interreligious dialogue An interreligious art exhibition with calligraphies from the Torah, New Testament and Koran: Sacred Scriptures as a field for perception and spiritual experience.
In the 9th century, important texts of ancient Greek civilization were translated into Arabic at the House of Wisdom (Arabic: Bayt al-Hikma) in the city of Baghdad. These works preserved the scientific achievements of the ancient world for Europe. Later in the city of Toledo, these Arabic versions were translated back into Latin and then into different European languages. This cultural transfer would not have been possible without the significance of writing tradition in the Arabic world.
In the exhibition, the aestheticism of written Arabic is central. Like in the past, the beauty of the Arabic script is meant to bridge knowledge of each other and support a meeting. This leads the way to inter-religious dialogue and inter-cultural understanding. Today, cultural diversity has an important place in Europe, especially in Germany. This, however, does not come without effort as the contemporary political situation demonstrates. One thousand and two hundred years ago, the writings in Arabic had built a bridge for scientific involvement. Today this exhibition shows the written word as an aesthetic bridge to inter-cultural dialogue.
God is beautiful and he loves beauty. This famous line is brought to life in many extraordinary calligraphies. The aesthetic of Arabic writing in the art of calligraphy opens the hearts for the beauty of God. And in this way opens the bridge to support inter-cultural understanding and inter-religious dialogue. Since the summer of 2006, my work has been shown in twenty exhibition at various catholic and evangelical churches, all over Germany. Exhibition of Islamic or Arabic art in churches was not the norm and this step took courage. A look at the ‘other’ is a recognition of one self in that ‘other’ and compels us to glance at the sensitivity of one’s own uniqueness, which turns the sacred place into a Bayt al-Hikma, a House of Wisdom. In 2007 at the opening of the exhibition at St. Peter’s Church in Aachen, it surprised the audience that bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff began his presentation by citing the first Surah al-Faiha. The overwhelming number of visitors at my exhibition is a proof that there are many followers of my approach.
Central to this exhibition are calligraphies of texts from the Torah, Bible and Quran shown on large boards (210cm × 75cm). The beholder is invited to meditate about the similarities and differences between the holy scriptures.
The bronze sculpture of the word “cILM” – knowledge and wisdom – is a novel approach to the art of calligraphy: it opens the possibilities of the third dimension. The writing is detached from its two-dimensional background and stands free in open space. The amalgamation of the three letters „cain-lam-mim“ highlights their unity in transition.
The three meter tall wooden sculpture of the „Alif“ stands central to all other works. This suggests the common ground between all three holy scriptures. The Alif, or Alpha is the first letter of all three alphabets of the three Mediterranean written cultures. In the triptych, the Alif is the central axis, next to the first Surah of Quran (al-Fathia) and the „Abana“, the Lord’s Prayer, as recited by Arabic speaking Christians.
Calligraphies of the works from famous poets and mystics like Goethe, Rilke, Hölderlin, Mansur Hallaj and others – in Arabic translation and in original, build a bridge for the beholder. Likewise, the translations of German and Arabic texts are literally bridges to other shores. Not only is the artistic realisation of the Arabic texts important but their content too is significant. This knowledge shapes our understanding of how these art works attempt to build a bridge between the Orient and the Occident and bring us closer to the vision of Friedrich Rückert, “only world poetry is reconciliation.”
The artist Shahid Alam was born in Lahore (Pakistan) in 1952. Since 1973 he lives in Germany. He has studied pedagogy, art, political- European science and has worked for more than twenty years in education and art. Since 1996 he works as freelance artist near the city of Aachen.