Funky cabinet

A visitor to Omniglot recently bought an antique cabinet with some writing on it and would like to know what it means. Here’s a photo of the writing:

Mysterious writing on funky cabinet

The script is Arabic but I don’t know what it says. Can any of you help?

This entry was posted in Puzzles, Writing.

11 Responses to Funky cabinet

  1. Mohsen says:

    I can recognize “bism illaah irrahmaan irraheem” (بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم) which of course means “in the name of God the compassionate the merciful”. Aolmost all the Surahs of the Quran begin with this sentence and Muslims use it in the beginning of many things they write or do.
    On the top, however, there is a word that is unfamiliar for me.

  2. Christopher Miller says:

    The last word on the top is a bit of a mystery, as it looks like a word ending in -atii, which in Arabic would be ‘my’ plus a feminine noun. The problem lies in identifying what the first two (or perhaps three) letters are. I have marked up the illustration, outlining the words in different colours to clarify what belongs with what, but since I can’t post that here I have mailed the marked up picture with my explanations to Simon in hopes he can post that here. I don’t have the answer, just suggestions for different possibilities that someone might be able to follow up on.

    Here are those explanations:

    Funky cabinet

    The first word بسم ‘bism’ (in name) is outlined in red; the second word الله Allaahi (of-God) in green; الرحمن ‘r-raħmaani ([of] the compassionate) in purple; الرحیم ‘r-raħiim ([of] the merciful) in orange; and the fifth, mystery word, in blue.

    The four glyphs that look like cursive ‘w’ are ّ shadda, a diacritic that means a consonant is doubled (the ‘l’ in Allaah — you can see the shadda above the two laam letters in الله, the Arabic version of ‘Allaah’ — and the r in ‘r-raħmaani ‘r-raħiim.) (since the shaddas are sprinkled all over the place for calligraphic reasons, I had to pair them a bit arbitrarily with the third and fourth words. Only the ones in green and blue clearly belong with the associated words here.

    The last word (actually most likely two: و ‘wa’ [and] + the mystery word) is unclear partly because of the placement of the consonant dots and the fact that the triple dot combined with the loop it sits above is not an Arabic letter as such. There are two possibilities:

    (1) The first is that triple dot actually belongs to the upward curl on the right, at the beginning of the word, a variant of the kind of downward curl at the beginning bism, and the dot sits under the loop to its left — as in the old Maghribi underdotted version of ف faa’ (ڢ) — and the word is ثڢّتے (a variant shape of the more standard ثفّتي ) th(V)qqatii, where the ے is a variant of the word final shape of ی yaa’; the word may also perhaps actually include the و waaw and be وثفّتي w(V)th(V)ffatii. (By the way, the ے on its own *without* two underdots represents final ai/e in Urdu and Punjabi, but here with the underdots it is probably just a variant shape of final yaa’. )

    (2) The second possibility is that the triple dot belongs over the loop and the dot under the initial curl, giving بڤّتي (or if the last word begins with the waaw) وبڤّتي, which would not be an Arabic word. Depending on what language this is, the ڤ character could stand for v or g, depending on the language.

    A final thought about the vertical strokes on the left (sinfgle, double and single): they don’t appear to be letters or diacritics and I suspect they are just calligraphic fillers to occupy the open space left by the shapes of the letter strokes on the left side of the plaque, balancing the vertical letter strokes on the right hand side.

    Hopefully there is someone out there who knows enough of Arabic and/or other Arabic-script languages who could go farther with these clues…

  3. Eva Zhekova says:

    “Тheq bеllah” – “trust God”?

  4. prase says:

    If the inscription is indeed basmala, as Christopher Miller explained, I can’t see the letter m (م) in raħmaan.

  5. jdotjdot89 says:

    I would say that it is almost definitely “بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم”. “bism illaah irrahmaan irraheem”

    The big question is the word at the top, which I also am unfamliar with–particularly what appears to be a letter “va” that does not exist in Arabic.

  6. Christopher Miller says:

    I have the impression that the person who tooled the inscription might not have been a native user of any Arabic script and certainly not schooled in the conventions of Arabic calligraphy. Not only — as jdotjdot89 points out — is the miim (م) missing from raħmaan, but the siin in the first word has only two “teeth”, not three as is normal, and there is no separate bump to bear the double dot of the yaa’ in raħiim (رحیم) — though I wishfully reconstructed it when I outlined the word in orange… Along with the missing medial miim and yaa’ shapes, there are two other strange letter forms:

    (1) The way the final haa’ in Allaah is open at the top is bizarre since if not completely closed, it would be attached at the top and closed at the bottom. Here it looks like the letter daal, and

    (2) The variant initial loop curving up and then back down in the mystery word at the top is out of place. Normally it should only be used instead of the standard down to the left loop as in baa’ in bism if it connects with miim (like the loop connecting from siin to miim at the end of bism) or one of the jiim-ħaa’-xaa’ trio which share the same letter shape apart from their dots.

    And the artisan has taken far more licence than I am used to seeing with the placement both of the shaddas (the trident/cursive w symbols) so it’s hard to tell which belongs with which word, but more seriously has sprinkled the dots that belong to various letters in places so far away that you have to look to find them. Normally, if they are not written right above or below their carrier shape in calligraphy, they will at least be aligned. Here, the dot of the baa’ (first letter in bism) is under the siin, rather than the baa’ curve itself, the dot belonging to the nuun at the end of raħmaan is written off to the character’s left rather than over the bowl where it belongs; the dot that ambiguously belongs to one or the other of the first two letters of the final mystery word at the top is hidden far below the two candidate letter shapes and so close to the ħaa’ of raħiim that the whole looks like the similar letter xaa’/khaa’, which has an overdot. The only reason that can’t be the case is that this is clearly a case of the Islamic Basmala and the letter cannot be anything else but ħaa’. Although not quite as serious as the misplacement of the single dots, all the double dots are aligned to the left of the inscription, and to the left of where they should normally have been placed, under their bearers.

    Given all these unusual features, it would not surprise me enormously if the triple dot in the mystery word should have been a double dot, and the second letter a qaaf. But I still cannot find a word that would fit in the context…

  7. Karen Rubinoff says:

    I am the visitor to Omniglot who purchased this cabinet & I want to thank Simon for posting my picture and each of you for your wonderful response. I am overwhelmed and grateful for all of the detail you have provided. The antique dealer from whom I purchased this cabinet indicated that it had come from Burma/Indonesia. I don’t know if this helps? It is an “armoire” type cabinet with 8 matching panels on the front – each panel has the same design/writing. Knowing what the words mean will help me to perhaps identify what the cabinet may have been used for. Thank you most sincerely!

  8. Christopher Miller says:

    Hello Karen,

    Given your extra bit of info about where this came from, I realise there is a possibility that hadn’t sprung to mind before. The mystery word might well be Malay written in Jawi (the Malay adaptation of Arabic script). In that case, the loop plus triple dot would be the Jawi letter corresponding to P. Still, the extra shadda on this word, which means a consonant is pronounced as doubled, is strange for Malay, which doesn’t use doubled consonants except in borrowed Arabic words (and perhaps a few borrowings from other languages)…

  9. TJ says:

    The first word is definitely not Arabic and the “shadda” is for ornamentational purposes only. The circular shape with 3 dots denote it is used for “V.” Thus you have quite a range in Asia, from Jawi to Urdo and such. The style of the font though somehow looks like some Jawi I saw some where… but I’m not sure they use such “V.”

    If there is any other guess that I would make for the word it would be “wa thiqati” وثقتي although it is not likely so because of the “shadda” here… if the word is Arabic one would be reluctant to use such ornamentation with caligraphy. Adding this word makes the meaning as: and my trust is in Bismillah… etc. Which is also possible because it is used in some rituals and prayers for protection and such.

  10. TJ says:

    We have here another tiny situation as well with this:

    could be something engraved with a dialect of Arabic and not completely in classical or the standard Arabic.

  11. Karen Rubinoff says:

    Again – my sincere thanks to all of you learned individuals! I have printed off all of your responses and will keep them with this cabinet for the future.

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