Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa
by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)
Calligraphy—literally, “writing with beauty”—is an Islamic art from ancient times that remains vital to contemporary devotions. Yelimane Fall is a master calligrapher and arts activist whose goal is to help Senegalese young people suffering from unemployment and lack of purpose (Roberts and Roberts 2003: 164-189). He is motivated by the philosophy of Sheikh Amadou Bamba, and especially this latter’s equation of hard work with blessing and dignity. In 2003-2004, Fall created calligraphic paintings based upon Bamba’s lyrical poem “Jawartu” that protects, and promotes those who read it. Each painting illustrates one of the ode’s twenty-nine verses, but also holds a great many mystical riffs upon letters, words, and numbers. Here the Arabic letter ah is celebrated through the eighth line of “Jawartu”: “May I be the object of no acts of protest or menace! May my life be a celebration until my entrance to Paradise!” Ah completes the holy name of Allah, and embraces like the arch of a home, Fall explains.