Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Ibrahim Chaudhry | Response Paper 2

Interacting With Calligraphy

Primarily, through calligraphy I saw an intriguing romance amongst the alphabets. Each alphabet reflects a certain individuality for instance the letter “Alif” acts like a man standing upright.[1]This individuality of the alphabets when culminated in a sentence depicts another story alongside the originally intended poetry or music it was to deliver. This duality adds another strata of complexity to an already beautiful design.

Moreover, another particularly fascinating aspect of this is that writing is such a common phenomenon and one that is all around us in the books we read, the records we maintain and in this very paper as well. However, after an interaction with calligraphy it gradually became apparent to me that this common concept, writing, too is an art within itself. This allowed me to notice the immense extent to which art surrounds us and defines so much of our lives. 

Consequently, it allowed me to understand Annemarie Schimmel’s claim that calligraphy is a reflection of an individual’s inner sentiments.[2]The different fonts that came into being depending on my temperament in the moment reflected a great deal as to what I was feeling or experiencing in the moment I produced calligraphy. Effectively, calligraphy, as I see it, becomes a form of expressing the inner condition  of one’s soul.

The Shahnameh Coffee Shop Performance

Several distinct notions are represented in the performance through the acting, music and the engagement with the audience. In assessing the acting we mustn’t overlook the fact that a single actor taking up several roles makes the performance one that engages the audience and their focus in a more extensive manner than a standard play with numerous characters would. Consequently, the level of drama on stage pushes the audience to observe diligently in order keep up with the swift changes occurring on stage.

Similarly, the music too is unique in terms of the rapid tonal variations taking place whilst the lyrics are narrated. Rather than have repetitive melodies, this intense variation makes use of the audience’s sense of hearing in order to make the performance compelling. It additionally makes the performance an increasingly hard feat to pull off owing to the intricate deviations involved and how performers must work for extensive periods to not only master said deviations but to also synchronize them with the intense movement alluded to earlier. 

Thus, meshing together the variations in movements and the tonal changes in recitation makes the viewing, from the perspective of the audience, an extremely sensual one. Subsequently, the experience becomes more than simply the narration of extraordinary historical events rather it is an experience that is deeply felt through the combination of factors European plays rarely dare to combine. 

Moreover, it would be an unjust to attempt a proper analysis if we disregarded the setting of the “coffeeshop.” The fact that such a culturally and literarily epic is performed for social gatherings reflects how deeply entrenched in Persian culture poetry is. It opens up the perspective that the tales and morals of Ferdowsi are essential pieces of the puzzle that in its entirety is the Persian social structure.

Conclusively, the coffeeshop performance of the Shahnameh acts as the perfect specimen to derive ideas of the nuances involved in Persian performing arts. Additionally, the performance of this epic, which is often regarded as the Persian equivalent of Homer’s Odyssey, depicts how the strata of Persian sociability are associated so strongly to the verses of Ferdowsi.  

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others,
You are unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.


The poem indicates several defining factors about the human condition and the interaction amongst individuals. Firstly, it is pivotal to tackle the crux of Saadi’s view which is the inherent human position. Modern thinkers such as William Connolly, through concepts such as the “The Desire to Punish”, have illustrated humans as naturally cynical when it comes to a fellow being to the point that we wish to doll out unjust punishment on others.[3]Saadi, however,  takes up a contrasting approach, depicting an inherent goodness underlying all human action. Consequently, humans are presented as empathetic creatures who care for one another. Hence, any belief contrary to that of society being based on friendship is a false one, according to our poet. 

An interesting observation is to be made in light of these two contrasting views. Despite having produced these verses centuries ago they are seemingly truer than the former view depicting negativity regarding the inherent human condition. This may be ascertained through the growth of the field of “Friendship Studies.” It portrays that great modern day academics, too, have begun seeing the rationality in Saadi’s perspective and thus have delved further into it.[4]  

Moreover, if we broaden our vision and utilize Saadi’s view in terms of global politics certain insights become apparent. Firstly, we note that this particular idea of harmony and consideration amongst individuals forms the basis of the predominant modern day political theory of globalization. This owes to how Saadi beautifully encapsulate the idea of commonality exceeding any differences of race, gender and ethnicity. Subsequently, these verses preach unison in empathy for mutual betterment which is the foundation of globalization and organizations which are manifestations of it such as the United Nations which may well be reason these very lines are inscribed at the entrance of the UN and were quoted by President Obama.[5]

Resultantly, Saadi’s brilliance is brought to light through these words considering his ability to outdo even modern day thinkers as well as his relevance even today regardingpolitical theory and general human affairs. 

[1]Sulzberg, Jean. The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, 78-79. Morning Light Press.


[3]Connolly, William E. 1995. “Ethos of Pluralization”, 41-42. University of Minnesota Press.

[4]Mohammad Jafar Mahalitti, Sep 16th, 2019.

[5]Bani Adam. Wikipedia. 1st October 2019).

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