Hilye panel by Mehmet Sadi Effendi; Ottoman Turkey
There is no Muslim artist who has not inherited from his predecessors. If he should disregard the models that tradition offers him, he would ipso facto prove his ignorance of their intrinsic meaning and spiritual worth; being ignorant of that, he could not put his heart into those forms. Instead of tradition, there would only be sterile repetition.
This beautiful reproduction is of a rustic leaf from an Ottoman Arabic manuscript that contains the hilye; a description of Prophet Muhmmad ﷺ. The hilye was composed by master calligrapher, Mehmet Sadi Efendi, who was given ijaza at the Dar al-Ma’arif, founded by the Valide Sultan, the mother of Sultan Abdülmecid I, in 1850. The hilye was most likely composed before her death in 1853. It follows the standard hilye layout as popularized by Hafiz Osman.
One feature that makes this hilye stand out is the very clear visual stress on the symbolic number 4 which contains a profound meaning according to the Islamic tradition. Schimmel says:
The ascent to the Divine can be divided into 4 steps: the shari'a, or divinely inspired law; the tariqa, or narrow mystical path; haqiqa, truth, and finally ma'rifa, divinely inspired intuitive knowledge. One travels as it were from nasut (humanity), through malakut (the angelic world) and jabarut (the stage of divine power), to lahut (divinity).
Divided into four sections by a black line, gilded in gold, the top section contains the opening formula of the Basmillah which translates to 'In the Name of God, the Infinitely Good, the All-Merciful'. The second section contains a central cartouche with a description of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ surrounded by 4 roundels naming the 4 rightly guided caliphs; Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, and Ali.
The script in the main cartouche translates to:
Transmitted from Ali [son-in-law of the Prophet], may God be pleased with him, who, when asked to describe the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say: The Prophet was neither excessively tall nor extremely short. He was of medium height. His hair was neither curly nor wavy. It was not too curly nor was it straight. It was both curly and wavy. His face was not swollen or meaty. It was fairly round. His mouth was white. He had black eyes that were large with long lashes. His joints were rather large. He had little hairs that stood up, extending from his chest down to his navel, but the rest of his body was almost hairless. He had thick palms and thick fingers and toes. When walking, he lifted his feet off the ground as if he were walking in muddy water. When he turned, he turned completely. The Seal of Prophethood was between his shoulders. That was the sign of the fact that he was the last Prophet. Prophet Muhammad was known as the most generous, the most righteous, and the friendliest of all people, and one with a mild nature. Those who saw him were taken aback by his grandeur, however, those who knew his high virtues would love Him more than anything else while conversing with him. A person who tried to depict Muhammad’s superiority and beauty would state their inability and incapability to represent him correctly, saying “I have never even seen a person like him. May the grace and peace of Allah be upon him!
The third section contains the Quranic verse from the chapter al-Anbiya [21:107]: