Ever since the Prophet (peace be upon him) had his famous seal ring made of silver, carved with the words “Muhammad rasul Allah”, seals have been used by Muslim leaders as symbols of authority. It is no surprise therefore that Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam used a seal, especially since he held the prominent title of Sheikh Ul Islam of the British Isles.
This article is about how I discovered and recreated Quilliam’s lost seal after 130 years and combined Islamic artistic traditions with contemporary technological design techniques. The task takes me to Turkey and presents some challenges but it was very worthwhile to reveal a hidden gem which at the same time would have held immense significance in its time but also shows Quilliam’s appreciation of beauty.
The distinguished Quilliam scholar, Yahya Birt, chanced upon a historical document displaying Sheikh Quilliam’s seal in use (a letter from Liverpool in Arabic asking the Ottoman Sheikh-ul-Islam for advice regarding criticisms made of the Sheikh Quilliam’s fatwa on the British invasion of Sudan and what ought to be the Muslim response to it). This arouses speculation that it may have been produced when he was acting as an Emissary of the Ottoman Caliph Sultan Abdul Hamid II. As you can see the seal is faded and is hard to read so I set myself the worthy challenge try to reconstruct the seal in all its glory for posterity.
Enhancing the original
The first task was to make the seal more legible and easier to read. I applied specialist Photoshop techniques, to change the contrast, exposure, curves and level settings to achieve more definition of the writing to enable us to decipher what was written.
Recreating the seal in Calligraphy
Having identified that the seal read “Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam” in Arabic, I travelled to Istanbul to seek out the expertise of an Arabic calligraphy artist trained in the Ottoman style which the seal resembled.
Calligraphy is the highest Islamic art form owing to the special role of the Arabic script in conveying the word of Allah in the Qur’an. The beauty and skill of the calligraphy on an Islamic seal determine their artistic merit.
It wasn’t easy to find someone and while I was there, thoughts came to my mind of how Sheikh Quilliam would have been sojourning with Caliph Sultan Hameed II in this very city. When I did find someone, I was very happy with the way the calligrapher recreated the seal, although he did use a certain degree of poetic licence to embellish the original which is not what I was after.
Revamping the Seal into the modern age
In order to recreate a seal as close to the original as possible, the embellishments were edited out. Then the document was scanned into a digital format. This created many distortions, extra marks and unnecessary pixels which needed touching up.
Unveiling Quilliam’s seal
The final stage in the process involved converting the bitmap image into a vector using Adobe Illustrator. This meant that the Arabic text could now be easily coloured and adding an exterior orb throws the writing into relief, making it more distinctive.
Web and graphic designer. Owner of Net Ummah and Kad Design.