037 | Words :: Istanbul, Turkey, 2013

In Islamic culture, the pictorial depiction of creatures with souls has been historically discouraged, which includes God, humans, and sometimes animals. The adoption of aniconism originated as a measure against idolatry per Quran’s instructions, although different schools of thoughts have various interpretations as to the extent of enforcement. As a result, Muslim artists turned their creativity to other ways of representing the universe, which is why we often see beautiful repeating patterns of geometric shapes and lines in Muslim countries.

I saw this tughra at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and thought it was absolutely gorgeous. During the Ottoman Empire, every sultan has his own tughra, a specially designed seal that’s used on all official documents as well as minted coins during his reign. This is the tughra of Sultan Mahmud II, which means Mahmud Khanson of Abdülhamid is forever victorious. If fully written out, it would look like this: محمود خان بن عبدالحميد مظفر دائماً. I have no idea how all that got squeezed into the symbol above. The symbol appears all over the palace (although, to be honest, I can’t quite tell the difference between this one and some of the other sultans). Some are simple like this one, others are adorned with ornate flowers and jewels, marking the sultan’s countless possessions.

For the most part, we don’t get to choose our names, yet it’s the one thing that uniquely identifies us. In time we grow used to them and fond of them, and would find that no other name would suit us so well. As an immigrant, I’m one of those lucky people who got to pick their own name. I remember sitting in front of my desk, writing names in different styles, deciding which one was more “me.” At the end of the day, I chose Julie, for the sole reason that I liked the way I write J in cursive. There was a period in my life I lamented the commonness of my name, but now I can’t quite imagine myself being anyone but Julie.

I guess JZ is an acceptable alternative.



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