Sword of Ali

5star's picture

I'm just finishing up an awesome tattoo design for a Lebanese client who is of Muslim faith. I used the sword of Ali as an integral part of the composition and now that the design has passed the initial approval stage I need to recreate the 'letter shapes' to finalize the design.

Here's an example of the sword of Ali sourced from Google ...

And a larger image of the words(?)

What is written on the sword? And could you please suggest a font that I could use.

Thanks in advance!


hrant's picture

That's the classic line that can be seen about a quarter of the way down here:
Except when I try to read it I don't see that much text... I'm reading "laa fata illa 'ali wa laa seyf illa thoo alfiqaar" (where that "th" is pronounced as in "that"). My command of Arabic has always been relatively weak so I don't know what the second word ("fata"*) means, but it says something like "There is no «fata» except 'Ali and there is no sword except Zulfiqar**". I guess "fata" means "brave youth".

* It could be "fatee" with the dots omitted.

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zulfiqar

Font?! You can't use a font, dude. You need to get this done by a calligrapher.

BTW, if the guy is a Shee'a from Lebanon, he might be a Hezbolla member, or at least a supporter. I personally respect Hezbolla as much as I could respect any such organization (their dedication and magnanimity* is inspiring) but from what you've written on Typophile you might not. Just sayin'.

* Although not concerning their arch-enemies...


Khaled Hosny's picture

فتى means young adult, and in this context it refers physical features usually associated with youth and being youthful.

And indeed, you need a calligrapher to do the text (you could use something like Kelk, but without strong experience with Arabic calligraphy the result can be very poor).

(The bi forked shape of the sword is an urban myth, it was named Zulfiqar, which mean “has/with spines”, because its back had spine-like indentation.)

5star's picture

Thanks for your posts lads, really helpful.

And I have to tell ya hrant (and whom eva) I have never been creeped out by a graphic design until this one. It's for a yout who seems to me to be just like another yout working in a pizza shop. So I couldn't say what his beliefs are or not. All I wanted to do was tap into the rich history of the Lebanese people so I came up with this...

>>> Sorry ...I pulled the design.

...and he loved it!! He and everyone else working in the pie place wanted one immediately.

Falconry has a long history in those lands and research showed me that they're lots of birds of prey that can be found in Lebanon. Birds are free, they're free to fly. And as I understand that that sword is pretty much at the epicenter of Lebanese belief too.

But is my design all that militant? Or is it more historical in nature? Is it all that ... worrisome. I kinda think it is ...but then again I don't. I understand it's symbolism but to say that it will embolden some sort of action, or even reenforce some sort of dissonance just creeps me out.

Perhaps I'll just pull the plug on this one. What do you think?


quadibloc's picture

Web searching has led me to believe that the inscription on the sword is the relatively inoccuous: "There is no youth like Ali, and no sword like Zuliqfar" - with the name of the sword meaning "The back-breaker".

joeclark's picture
  1. Tattoos are un-Islamic.
  2. I don’t think you should be working for Muslims who are inspired by swords. (I'm trying to stick to the facts you have presented.)* Don’t gussy it up as “the rich history of the Lebanese people.” (How about Christians, Bahá’ís, and atheists in Lebanon? What’s their history like? Just as “rich”?)
  3. You will not find a “font” that duplicates this style of Arabic script (note the variation in baseline and writing direction and the stacked characters). You would never be using a “font” for tattoos anyway.

* {Discriminatory comment moderated by Admin}

hrant's picture

Neil, I just had a major civil war flashback! Your design {now pulled} looks like something a Shee'a splinter group would have had as a logo. But if the client likes it... Maybe you should talk to him and see if his views are so discordant with yours that you'd lose too much* sleep over doing the job.

* Losing some sleep always comes with the territory.

BTW falconry is big in some Arab countries, but not so much in Lebanon. It's like how flamenco is not big in Catalonia.

Joe is right about the complex richness and even deep contradictions in Lebanon*, and I also share his unease with depicting "anti-personnel" weapons**, but his expressions of religious discrimination make me cringe. You'd think he's from Texarkana, not the UN's "most multicultural city"... Unlike Joe, I was there, and speaking as an Armenian -the first nation to adopt Christianity- I would say that -lacking more insight into the particular person- you should have no qualms about working for a Muslim, especially ones from Lebanon. They tend to be some of the most tolerant people you'll ever meet.*** During those 17 years we Armenians always had the biggest problems with Christians: we refused to take sides so they tried to dominate us, coming in to San'a and Bourj Hammoud, killing a large number of our people. In contrast, except for a couple of weeks during which a Muslim splinter group started murdering prominent Armenians (they were shut down pronto by fellow Muslims) we were always treated with the highest respect by Muslims. Something else worth remembering is that the Jewish people had their Golden Age during Spain's Muslim era. Joe's stance is as jingoistic as an extremist Muslim calling for Christians to be avoided.

* Like how many Lebanese Christians actually want to believe they're French. :-/

** Hunting is OK in my book, as long as you use the results.

*** Except for the sad, long-standing Shee'a versus Sunni animosity.

BTW, I also don't buy that tattoos are un-Islamic. As with any other aspect of any religion, it's always open to individual interpretation. That's what makes us human.

One other thing Neil: you know you can't mirror something with writing on it, don't you? :-)

You would never be using a “font” for tattoos anyway.

I think in some cases it makes perfect sense. And aesthetically it can make for a nice contrast with supple skin.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Tatoos are not suicide bombers, lets be rational here. As far as I remember a lot of people died for your customers right to get tattooed any way he wanted. I think there was some legal document written about this, something about amendments or something.

quadibloc's picture

As far as I am aware, the OP need have no grounds for concern that he is going to be inadvertently helping to recruit terrorists or something like that.

However, the First Amendment protects the right of people to use their own voice to speak as they like; that right would be taken away if other people had the right to borrow your voice to speak their words. Therefore, in my opinion, the complaint that "freedom of the press" is only for people who own printing presses, or the view that the First Amendment implies that there have to be things like public access channels on cable TV, are misguided.

So the First Amendment can't be used as an argument to push someone into doing a tattoo he doesn't feel right about.

5star's picture

Thanks for all your insightful words! I have decided that I'm done with this client, I'm not going to do the work.

I love the First Amendment, but it seems to me that there is a limit.


hrant's picture

Well, maybe he'd refuse to serve you pizza if he learned more about you. :-)

I personally don't mind that sort of thing - and it has nothing to do with US laws, it's more a matter of realizing that "the customer is always right" is for peons. In fact so is Capitalism as a political system.


quadibloc's picture

I don't want to put too much politics into this forum, but sometimes I feel that some things need a reply.

Untrammeled free enterprise can indeed have bad results; we've seen that in the Industrial Revolution and to a lesser extent in the Great Depression.

But in the period from 1948 to 1968 or so, the Western world made capitalism work, as even the United States was not afraid to participate in the economy with tax money to moderate the problems unfettered capitalism can lead to.

On the other hand, the countries calling themselves "socialist", however much they were pledged to high ideals, were, in practice brutal totalitarian regimes not much different from Nazi Germany.

The fact that people are able to keep what they earn from working, and they can save some of it and put it to productive use - earning money from use or rental of tools or housing they own - is not a bad thing. For the government to be the only employer and the only landlord is what is bad, because while the ballot box is the basis of freedom, it's a slender reed for keeping governments honest - politicians don't always keep their campaign promises in democracies, and there can be particularly egregious cases of that. So there need to be other centers of power in a society - religion is one of them, and private wealth another.

We don't live in a perfect world, so we can't get along without governments, but we also can't rely on having enough control over the government to let it take care of everything.

hrant's picture

I do think that materialism is a natural human need. But when money becomes the system that runs a society, it might last a few decades, but then the rotten core destroys it. US laws are no longer made by the people - they are made by corrupt politicians in the pockets of special interests whose only goal is to keep going in this sordid direction. Third world countries tend to have a problem with bribery, but at least people know that's bad; in the West bribery also exists, it's just popularly and officially sanctioned, which makes it much harder to correct.

No matter where you live, the people with real power make everybody else live like de facto slaves. Some people[s] simply know they're being usurped.


AzizMostafa's picture

@ Joeclark
1. I don’t think you should be working for those who are inspired by swords.

And , I don’t think you should be working for those who are inspired by bombers, neither?!
We should be working for those who are inspired by Flowers, regardless of their color, race and faith?!

2. What is wrong with a script that is characterized by the variation in baseline, the direction of writing and stacked characters?!

russellm's picture

... working for those who are inspired by swords.

... Or crosses? Gruesome devices for torture and public execution that they are.


AzizMostafa's picture

Swords or Crosses are just Devices: They are Constructive in the hands of the Good but Destructive in the hands of their Enemies (the Crooks).

Just read the Book that was revealed by God to His Apostle Mohammed (peace be upon him):

Indeed the requital of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle,
and try to cause corruption on the earth, is that they shall be slain or crucified,
or have their hands and feet cut off from opposite sides or be banished from the land.
That is a disgrace for them in this world,
and in the Hereafter there is a great punishment for them, (5:33)

There is life for you in retribution, O you who possess intellects!
Maybe you will be God wary! (2:179)

froo's picture

Anyway, swords and crosses don't need letters to work, in contrast to books.
So if there is something interesting in history of Lebanon (and in the present - something promising future), it is certainly not the swords, but the invention of the alphabet. And contemporary typedesign.

quadibloc's picture

And, incidentally, one has to follow the link Hrant gave to get the answer to the original poster's question:

There is no brave youth except Ali, and there is no sword which renders service except Zulfiqar.

I suspect, though, that in Arabic, this type of construction has an idiomatic meaning not found in English; that what is really meant would be conveyed by the paraphrase:

There is no brave youth like Ali, and there is no sword which renders service like Zulfiqar.

... in order to convey the meaning that Ali is the bravest of youths without the flat statement that absolutely no other brave youths exist.

The Wikipedia article also notes that Ali was the first male follower of Muhammad, and even exhibits an ambigram in which the two names transform into one another by being turned upside down.

This explains Muhammad Ali.

The article also supplies information pertinent to the original query, although the answer appears to me to finally end up as ambiguous. While it's a motto that a jihadist might well revere, it's also one that apparently resonates pretty broadly through the mainstream Muslim world in legitimate contexts as well.

hrant's picture

This might be a good opportunity to bring up how translation ambiguity can be used as a political weapon: "laa ilaaha illa'llaah" is translated by anti-Muslims as "there is no god except Allah" to project intolerance, but a better translation is "there are no gods except Allah", that being an opposition to "local" polytheism (big in those days) not the other monotheistic religions. In fact Islam says that any peoples that follow a holy book must be respected (something the other major religions don't AFAIK).


quadibloc's picture

Believing that there is no God but Allah is only "intolerant" in the same way as Christians and Jews are, who believe there is no God but Y-h-v-h.

Christians acknowledge Jews as "people of the book" in somewhat the same way that Muslims acknowledge Christians and Jews, as Islam teaches that Jesus and Moses and Abraham and others were actual prophets sent by God.

The historical decision by the Mughals and associated regimes to extend eligibility for "dhimmi" status to Hindus is not necessarily in line with the main stream of Islamic jurisprudence; I believe, based on my limited understanding of the matter, that those in the Middle East who subscribe to a conservative interpretation of Shari'a would hold that Hindus should properly have been given the choice of conversion or death (or at least slavery) like other pagans (i.e. sub-Saharan Africans).

Given the conditions of life as a "protected person" under Muslim rule, as experienced in the present day by Coptic Christians in Egypt, for example, or by members of religious minorities in Pakistan, Islam doesn't seem particularly tolerant if you judge it by the standards of modern industrial societies. Like the U. S. with its First Amendment, and founded by people fleeing religious intolerance in Britain.

Compare what we are now to the Muslim world, after we've been shocked to the core by the Holocaust into a thorough rejection of inequality in all its forms, and they come off badly.

Compare Europe in the Middle Ages to the Muslim world in the Middle Ages, though, and the Muslim world denied Jews full equality - treating them a lot like blacks under segregation - while the Christian world massacred them with regularity.

From some Muslim perspectives, even in the modern era the Islamic world comes off favorably - since the Holocaust happened in the West, and what do you mean it doesn't count? But given the effort and sacrifices made by the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand in fighting the Axis in World War II, and what France, Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, and others suffered under Nazi occupation, what do you mean the misdeeds of the Nazis are our fault?

I think the moral argument is a futile one here; both sides can make a case, and all that is generated is hot air.

I see this issue in coldly practical terms instead. The United States has an immense industrial base and advanced military technologies. It got away with Negro slavery precisely because nobody in Africa had the Bomb in the 1776-1865 period.

After September 11, 2001, everything happening in the Islamic world is under intense scrutiny. The wisest policy for any regime wishing to continue in existence at this time is to distance itself as much as possible from terrorism - and doing so basically includes stuff like full legal equality for non-Muslims, non-belligerency towards Israel, total cooperation with the United States in its global hunt for terrorists.

This has nothing to do with what's fair. Those who have the power to act in order to protect themselves and their loved ones from deadly violence will do so. Those who do not must simply politely ask, and count on our innate sense of fairness and benevolence to produce a positive response, that the U.S. watch where it is having its drones fire their weapons.

On the other hand, watching Barack Obama withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan, maybe I'm being too (optimistic/pessimistic) in thinking that there is no way that the U.S. will ever stop stomping on the whole Islamic world until the last violent extremist there is wiped out.

I put "optimistic/pessimistic" in brackets there because I both do want a decisive victory over terrorism, and no harm to come to the blameless people who make up the overwhelming majority of the world's Muslims. I think both goals can be achieved if more cooperation is forthcoming.

hrant's picture

We worship what we are told to worship. On the one hand we expunge Sterling for a misguided private conversation, on the other hand we smile away homophobic lyrics in semi-public spaces.


hrant's picture

A timely instance of politicized translation:


quadibloc's picture

I was just reading that article, and it was interesting to learn that the "Boko" in Boko Haram wasn't a borrowing of 'book', but was instead a word meaning 'fake', in the sense that Western education was claimed to be phony education.

But I came to that article in reading about a non-political case of very bad 'translation', if it can even be called that:


In brief, "No trucks allowed" becomes translated to "Sorry, I'm not in at the moment. Please drop off anything you want translated" or something like that.

And, of course, the UK is the country that gave us


and so life imitates art in this case.

AzizMostafa's picture

Quadibloc > After September 11, 2001, everything happening in the Islamic world is under intense scrutiny. The wisest policy for any regime wishing to continue in existence at this time is to distance itself as much as possible from terrorism - and doing so basically includes stuff like full legal equality for non-Muslims, non-belligerency towards Israel, total cooperation with the United States in its global hunt for terrorists.

@ More precisely:
After September 11, 2001, everything happening in the world is under intense scrutiny. The wisest policy for any body wishing to continue in existence at this time is to distance itself as much as possible from logic - and doing so basically includes stuff like full legal equality for terrorists, non-belligerency towards Zionists, total cooperation with the United States in its global hatch of terrorists.

In short: If you take up any god other than U$, surely you will be sent to Hell?!

quadibloc's picture

The United States is only the creation of men, it is certainly no God.

Religious leaders in the Western industrialized world often lament that Christians there may come to their churches on Sundays, they treat them like social clubs, and live their lives as though they don't really believe that there is either a God or an afterlife.

The Islamic world doesn't seem to have this problem. While that no doubt has many good results, one of its bad results is that those whose misinterpretation of Islam has led them into an involvement with terrorism... have indulged in the imprudence of terrorist acts aimed at large and powerful countries in the belief that as God is with them, of course they can win.

They are foolish. There is no reason for others to share in that foolishness. But it's never easy for anyone to look at their own conduct and recognize their own failings. Therefore, the strong, who have the luxury of acting as they will, may neglect this. But the weak cannot afford to do likewise.

AzizMostafa's picture

> The United States is only the creation of men, it is certainly no God.

What matters is not truth, Henry Kissinger once said, but “but what is perceived to be true.”
A popular truism is that “the world changed” following 9/11. But what has changed? According to the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a silent coup has taken place in Washington and rampant militarism now rules. The Pentagon currently runs “special operations” – secret wars – in 124 countries. At home, rising poverty and hemorrhaging liberty are the historic corollary of a perpetual war state. Add the risk of nuclear war, and the question begs: why do we tolerate this?

hrant's picture

We tolerate it because we stupidly believe that voting makes a difference.


AzizMostafa's picture

> We tolerate it because we stupidly believe that voting makes a difference.

@ That's DemocraZy ?!

Syndicate content Syndicate content