Fuad Honda, the Japanese Muslim reinterpreting Arabic calligraphy

Fuad Honda, the Japanese Muslim reinterpreting Arabic calligraphy
Surah Iuqman, Fond Honda, from Christies 2012. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 30 July 2020

Fuad Honda, the Japanese Muslim reinterpreting Arabic calligraphy

Fuad Honda, the Japanese Muslim reinterpreting Arabic calligraphy
  • Honda has created a ‘Japanese style of expressing Islam’ through his ‘music without sound’

TOKYO: Tokyo-born Fuad Kouichi Honda is widely recognized as one of the world’s top Arabic calligraphers. The native Japanese Muslim, who teaches at Daito Bunka University, has won numerous awards for his work, including at the International Arabic Calligraphy Competition. His most famous pieces use passages from the Qur’an. 

Fuad began learning Arabic decades ago. Reading the Qur’an in Arabic inspired him to try his hand at Arabic calligraphy, which he describes as “music without sound.”

“Later, I embraced Islam in order to better feel the essence of this faith and to feel God,” he says. “My works are a Japanese style of expressing Islam and Islamic culture.”  

His style is also a reflection of landscapes he encountered on his travels through Arab countries. Honda led mineral surveys in the deserts of Saudi Arabia for three years in the 1980s, and he says the beauty of the sand dunes and the calligraphy he saw there combined to ignite his passion for this artform.




Honda began learning Arabic decades ago. (Supplied)

Despite encouragement from his father, Honda was not especially keen on calligraphy as a boy. In fact, he says, he gave up studying it in favor of sports. But when he became an undergraduate in Foreign Studies at Tokyo University in 1965, Honda decided to take Arabic lessons as he was interested in ancient civilizations in the Middle East, particularly Egypt. And it was a choice he initially came to regret.

“I think (Arabic) is the most difficult language in the world,” he says. “I dropped it after two years. The teacher asked me to read a book in Arabic about the legendary Arabic hero, knight and poet Antarah ibn Shaddad. That was seriously difficult literature for me.”

It was topography that brought Honda back to the Arabic language and to calligraphy. After graduating, he joined a Japanese company that was working with the Saudi government to survey and make maps of the Arabian Peninsula.

He traveled to the Kingdom in 1974 as a translator for the company. Several of the maps the company was using bore Arabic calligraphy, and Honda says he fell in love with the art. He started teaching himself to recreate the work he had seen.




Quran Surat Al-Baqarah148. (Supplied)

Honda recalls that one calligrapher he met, whose job was to write the official correspondence of the petroleum ministry, advised him to buy a beautiful book on Arabic calligraphy by Naji Zein, which became a major influence on Honda's own work. 

When he returned to Tokyo, he continued to practice calligraphy and received requests from the Saudi Embassy to create pieces for National Day banners. Other embassies began asking for similar services. And it came to the point where Honda decided he wasn’t content to treat calligraphy simply as a side hobby.

“(When I returned) to Japan in the late Seventies I became an office worker in the company,” he says. “I felt the routine work didn’t fit my life and mind, so I decided to resign and started teaching Arabic.”

He adds that the main motivations for his resignation were a strong desire to “live a free life” and keep learning Arabic calligraphy.




Reading the Qur’an in Arabic inspired Honda to try his hand at Arabic calligraphy. (Supplied)

What Honda did not fully realize at the time was that his way of thinking had undergone a major — albeit subconscious — shift. His time in Saudi Arabia had forged a strong spiritual link for him with the country and culture, but also with Muslims and Islam in general.

He had been interested in Islam since his university days, he says, and that interest deepened as he made Muslim friends in Saudi Arabia, and as he read the Qur’an and other religious books. After returning to his homeland, quitting his job and beginning to explore the language and calligraphy more intensely, Honda decided to convert to Islam.

He declared his conversion at the Islamic Center in Tokyo and adopted the Arabic name Fuad. He says the name, which means “heart,” just came to him. Rather than referring to the organ, he believes it symbolizes his heart’s connection with God.

In 1988, Honda received his first invitation to display his work overseas. He went to Baghdad — taking three of his works with him — to participate in an international Arabic calligraphy conference along with around 180 other calligraphers. It was there that he met the renowned Turkish calligrapher Hasan Chalabi.

Fuad asked the master calligrapher to teach him more about the art, and Chalabi agreed. It was the start of years of correspondence between the two.




He declared his conversion at the Islamic Center in Tokyo and adopted the Arabic name Fuad. (Supplied)

“He corrected me a lot,” says Honda. “I was surprised and disappointed sometimes.” But those corrections decreased over time. And after about a decade of instruction, Chalabi presented Honda with his certificate — with a caveat.

“At the ceremony in Istanbul, he told me the certificate did not mean I had reached my goal, but that it was a new start (and should inspire me to be) more creative and to work harder,” he says. Crucially, the certificate also meant he could now sign his work.

By that time, Honda was creating his own designs and participating in exhibitions. He had received some awards, but says that imitating old works made him feel “limited by tradition.” 

“One day, when I was reading verses from the Qur’an, vague formations like circles and triangles flashed in my mind,” he recalls. “I felt this was the inspiration to design new (forms of) calligraphy that reflect the meaning of the Qur’an — so I started doing that.”

While Honda stresses that he has great respect for the heritage of Arabic calligraphy (believing it “sits on top of the fine arts of the world in terms of aesthetic value”), he says he felt a desire to create a style that was more personal to him, with a new background style — an original one with “philosophical meaning” that would bring a new aspect to an ancient art.




He became an undergraduate in Foreign Studies at Tokyo University in 1965. (Supplied)

Colors play a vital role in that style, particularly blue and gold — with blue representing sky, water and eternity, and gold reflecting divinity. “Words about water have a very profound meaning,” he explains. “Water is important in the Qur’an as it has different shapes every moment and this is shown in my design.”

He adds depth to his work through gradual coloring, a technique widely used by Japanese painters. One of his favorite pieces depicts a blue desert with verses from the Qur’an on each sand dune. He was inspired to make it after visiting Saudi Arabia’s Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter and noticing how the dunes changed color depending on time and their shifting shape. He felt the dunes were reminiscent of waves and the delicate lines on their surface evoked the calligraphy of the Qur’an.

Like the art form he adopted, Honda’s career has flourished. In addition to teaching Arabic calligraphy to Japanese students for more than two decades, he has published books, given lectures overseas and established the Japan Arabic Calligraphy Association. 

“I believe that all Muslims in the world, regardless of their nationality, (should) take great pride in (Arabic calligraphy), the aesthetic value of which has not been reached by (any other artform),” he says.  

“Calligraphers should fully maintain this heritage by adhering to the rules of calligraphy. (But also) introduce further creativity, so that it becomes even more beautiful.”

 


Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz makes new collection more accessible 

Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz makes new collection more accessible 
Updated 02 March 2021

Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz makes new collection more accessible 

Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz makes new collection more accessible 

DUBAI: Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz has just made his ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2021 collection more accessible to fashion lovers. 

According to WWD, the founder of Maison Rabin Kayrouz, who is based between Paris and Beirut, has expanded his offerings for the upcoming season and is “shifting prices downward some 20 to 30 percent.”

The designer’s new approach will allow women to turn to Kayrouz for day-to-day ensembles. 

Kayrouz’s new offerings are “soft and playful,” according to the brand’s Instagram page. In his campaign video, the designer showcased dresses, skirts, shirts, trousers and coats in a floral-inspired setting, mixing bold color blocking and fresh prints cut in light fabrics. 

Kayrouz, as well as renowned Lebanese label Elie Saab and Dubai-based atelier Kristina Fidelskaya, is set to present his new creations on March 6 at Paris Fashion Week. 


French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai slams Nick Jonas on Twitter

The French-Algerian singer called out Nick Jonas in a series of Tweets. File/Instagram
The French-Algerian singer called out Nick Jonas in a series of Tweets. File/Instagram
Updated 02 March 2021

French-Algerian singer Lolo Zouai slams Nick Jonas on Twitter

The French-Algerian singer called out Nick Jonas in a series of Tweets. File/Instagram

DUBAI: French-Algerian pop singer Lolo Zouai has taken to her official Twitter account to call out Nick Jonas for allegedly copying her song “Jade” in a series of Tweets.

Zouai posted a comparison of the first few seconds of Jonas’s newest single “Spaceman” and her song “Jade,” featuring Blood Orange, to hint at the supposed similarities.

Both songs feature warped keys in the beginning. 

“Remember when u flew me out to LA to sign me then ghosted me (sic)” the artist wrote, alongside three cry-laughing emojis. 

Based on the 25-year-old’s tweet, fans were able to deduce that her hit single that catapulted her into fame “High Highs to Low Lows” was partly inspired by Jonas.

“Is that what ‘High Highs to Low Lows’ was written about!?” asked one user, prompting her to respond: “It’s a part of it yes.”

Another fan responded to her Tweet: “Not High Highs to Low Lows being about Nick Jonas I-” 

“Not fully,” replied Zouai. “Don’t give him that much credit! Trust me there r many shady people out here (sic).”

In the song lyrics for “High Highs to Low Lows,” Zouai croons: “Ooh, you wanna help me/Ooh, you wanna fly me out to LA/Dreams you wanna sell me I took a bite/ that’s a gold plate, a gold plate/Timing, he said it’s just bad timing/Lying, all I got from you was silence.”

She also posted a screenshot of a blank iMessage text conversation directed towards the former Jonas Brothers star. “Should I do it?” she asked her 27.6 followers. 

It’s uncertain if she ever did.


Model Imaan Hammam celebrates iconic singer Umm Kulthum in new interview

Imaan Hammam is currently one of the most in-demand models on the scene. File/AFP
Imaan Hammam is currently one of the most in-demand models on the scene. File/AFP
Updated 02 March 2021

Model Imaan Hammam celebrates iconic singer Umm Kulthum in new interview

Imaan Hammam is currently one of the most in-demand models on the scene. File/AFP

DUBAI: Morrocan-Egyptian-Dutch model Imaan Hammam was recently interviewed by award-winning actress Tracee Ellis Ross for i-D Magazine’s latest “Dystopia Issue,” of which Hammam is the cover star. 

During the candid interview, Hammam spoke on everything from her charitable work with non-profit organization She’s the First to her first-ever magazine cover.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

Ross also quizzed Hammam about who some of the women that inspire her are, and the model’s answer may come as a surprise to some.

The 24-year-old revealed that one of her inspirations is iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, who died in Cairo in 1975.

“I don’t know if you know her. But she was an Arabic singer in the 60s,” she explains to Ross. “Her story is incredible. At that time, as a woman, to be a singer was really difficult. And you know all about that. So definitely Umm Kulthum,” she said.

Indeed, Umm Kulthum is considered one of the Arab world’s greatest singers to ever live.

The legendary Egyptian musician known as the “Star of the Orient” and the “Grand dame of Arab singing,” was revered globally for her unique vocals and popular hits like “Al-Atlal,” “Qadheet Hayati,”  and “Alf Leila w Leila,” among others.

Global music sensation Beyonce even paid homage to the late singer during her “On the Run” tour, where she sampled Umm Kulthum’s “Enta Omri” in the opening of a performance.

In addition to the iconic singer, Hammam also shared that her mother is also a huge source of inspiration to her, in addition to fellow supermodels Iman Abdulmajid and Naomi Campbell. 

“My mom has been a big inspiration for me as well, because she came to Holland as an immigrant and really took care of us,” noted the catwalk star. “I mean, I don’t really come from a wealthy family and you know, we’ve had our struggles but she was inspirational.”

She added: “Someone I really appreciate is Iman, the other Iman. Iman and Naomi Campbell, they’re the ones that opened the doors for us. Bethann Hardison, too, she’s the queen. She’s the best. Yeah, so I think those are the people I really aspire to.”


Netflix’s new show ‘The Big Day’ is far from reality

‘The Big Day’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
‘The Big Day’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
Updated 02 March 2021

Netflix’s new show ‘The Big Day’ is far from reality

‘The Big Day’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied

BANGALORE: Think “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Bling Empire,” “Indian Matchmaking,” and now, “The Big Day.” It would seem that Netflix wants viewers to know that the rich Asian is here to stay, with its new production about India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry.

The Conde Nast India reality series follows couples as they embark on over-the-top marriage events orchestrated by luxury wedding planners for a rich Indian clientele.

Three 40-minute episodes – each featuring two couples – focuses on the themes of connecting with roots, questioning age-old rituals, and love triumphing over all.

The premise of the show is the rise of an Indian millennial generation that is going against the grain – be it in the choice of a partner, opting for a sustainable wedding, or having a priestess officiate the marriage ceremony.

And it is not only limited to the festivities of the big day; this generation is ready to explore who they are and what they need out of relationships.

Three 40-minute episodes focuses on the themes of connecting with roots, questioning age-old rituals and love triumphing over all. Supplied

Equality in marriage is a common theme through the series – a concept that a patriarchal society such as India still grapples with. Only recently, regional film “The Great Indian Kitchen” was lauded for shining light on gender inequality in Indian marriages.

The redeeming moments in the show come by way of baby boomer parents admitting that commitment is far above rituals and societal pressures that Indian society is so entangled in, even in this day and age.

There are couples who challenge the power dynamics of the great Indian wedding: Why should the groom’s family have absolute power and say, and why is being a headstrong woman with a take-charge attitude considered a bad thing? The couples question age-old rituals and beliefs and retain whatever makes sense to them.

Unfortunately, the modern messages are drowned out by the ostentatious and blatant display of wealth, complete with life-size Faberge eggs and Victorian-themed parties.

It is a glaring privilege that lets the nouveau-riche choose a wedding venue or a partner – a vast majority of the subcontinent does not have that simple privilege. And it is this sad reality that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.      


Egyptian singer Fatma Said nominated for BBC Music Magazine award

 Egyptian singer Fatma Said nominated for BBC Music Magazine award
Updated 02 March 2021

Egyptian singer Fatma Said nominated for BBC Music Magazine award

 Egyptian singer Fatma Said nominated for BBC Music Magazine award

DUBAI: Egyptian singer Fatma Said has been nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s 2021 Vocal Award for her debut album “El-Nour,” the music sensation announced on Instagram this week.

“I am excited and honored to learn that I am nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s 2021 Vocal Award alongside wonderful artists that I admire and look up to,” she wrote captioning the announcement picture released by the BBC. 

She is competing against Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski’s album “Mahler,” as well as French pianist Alexandre Tharaud and operatic soprano Sabine Devieilhe for their album “Chanson d’Amour.”

In “El-Nour,” which she released in June 2020, she sings some of the most famous Arabic songs like “Sahar El-Layali” by renowned Lebanese singer Fairouz and “Yamama Beida,” an Egyptian folk song composed by Dawoud Hosny in the late 19th century. 

In a post she shared on Instagram upon the release of her album, the musician said: “My debut album ‘El-Nour,’ (the light) in Arabic, has been years in the making. With it, I want to explore how music that has been interpreted many times can be presented in different ways, in a different light.”

It connects three cultures and languages – Arabic, French, and Spanish – and shows how much, despite cultural, geographical, and historical differences, they have in common musically,” she added.⠀ 

Over her career, Said has shared the stage with renowned musicians such as Leo Nucci from Italy, Rolando Villazón from Mexico, Juan Diego Florez from Peru, Michael Schade from Canada and Jose Cura from Argentina. 

She also performed recitals with German clarinetist Sabine Meyer and British pianists such as Malcom Martineau, Roger Vignoles, Joseph Middleton.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in music from Berlin’s Hanns Eisler School of Music in 2013, Said was awarded a scholarship to study at the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala in Milan, becoming the first Egyptian soprano to perform on that iconic stage. 

In the past years she has won several major singing competitions including the 8th Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition in Dublin, the 7th Leyla Gencer International Opera Competition in Istanbul, the second prize at the 16th International Robert Schumann Lied Competition in Zwickau and the Grand Prix at the 1st Giulio Perotti International Opera Competition in Germany.