There is nothing in the art of Islamic calligraphy quite as illuminating as a hilya.
It is a challenging and daunting undertaking due to the composition’s complex structure
The word ‘hilya’ has several meanings, including physiognomy, natural disposition,
likeness, depiction, characterisation, and description. These dictionary definitions
only begin to convey the real meaning of the hilye, which embodies the Prophet’s
moral, behavioural, and spiritual qualities, as well as physical appearance. Like
most Arabic words, hilya carries multiple overtones, making it difficult to translate.
It has connotations of ornament, beauty, finery, and embellishment.
It became widespread in Ottoman Turkey. There the calligraphers developed a particular
style of writing it during the sixteenth century, which was perfected by Hafiz Osman,
the master calligrapher of the late seventeenth century. These hilya, often imitated,
are round, and beneath the circular frame that contains the description of the Prophet
ﷺ, the line "Mercy for the Worlds" is written in large letters.
Perhaps the secret of the Hilya lays with the narration of the noble grandson of
the Prophet ﷺ, Imam al-Hasan (Allah is pleased with him), who states: “I asked my
uncle Hind, son of Abu Hala, about the description (hilya) of the Prophet of Allah so that I might
hold fast to it”.
The Arabic text in the Hilya is translated as followed:
"When asked to describe the Prophet ﷺ, Sayyiduna Ali (Allah is pleased with him),
the noble son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ, would say:
“He ﷺ was neither too tall, nor too short, and he ﷺ was of medium build (amongst
people). His ﷺ hair was neither too curly, nor too straight, rather it was somewhere
in between. He ﷺ did not have a big body, and his ﷺ face was neither narrow, nor
was it fully round, but there was some roundness to it.
His ﷺ complexion was white, with an element of redness. The pupils of his ﷺ eyes
were extremely black. He ﷺ had long smooth eyelashes. His ﷺ bone structure was large,
and he ﷺ had broad shoulders. He ﷺ had no body-hair, except for a thin line of hair
from his ﷺ chest to his ﷺ navel. He ﷺ had large hands and feet.
When he ﷺ walked, he ﷺ walked at an incline, as if descending a slope. When he ﷺ
addressed someone, he ﷺ would turn his ﷺ full body in their direction. Between his
ﷺ shoulders was the seal of Prophethood; he ﷺ is the last of all the Prophets. He
ﷺ is the most generous-hearted of men, the most truthful of them in speech, the
most mild-tempered of them, and the noblest of them in lineage.
Whoever glanced upon him ﷺ would immediately be in awe of him ﷺ. Whoever came in
close proximity to him ﷺ, would be smitten with the love of his ﷺ most excellent
attributes. Anyone who would describe him ﷺ would say, ‘I never saw, neither before
him, nor after him, the like of him’."