Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Lisan al-Dawat Fonts

Lisan al-Dawat is a unique language used by the Dawoodi Bohra community in their day to day affairs. The language is a similar dilect of the Gujarati tongue spoken by a large number of people in the State of Gujarat in India. Someone familiar to Gujarati would notice little difference between LD (short for Lisanud dawat) and his tongue.
The difference is quite much and know to the literate and learned people of Dawat as well as the educated Gujaratis. The community mainly of traders and business men, whose religious linage is traced to the Fatimids in Cairo are well known amoung the Gujaratis by Vohras or Bohras and are the most faithful followers of the vicegerent of the Fatemi Imams (who is in Seclusion), the Dail Mutlaq. The Na'ib and Dai al-Mutlaq today is His Holimess Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (tus) a very well know and high profiled personality of India. He is often reffered to as the Ambasador of Peace.
Well I am not to discuss about the community and its affairs here as my main concern is the LD font and its devolopment. But for those who really want to know more about these people can visit thier official portal , it has been rated so by BBC. I would recommend Jonah Blank's best seller Mullas on the Mainframe and The illustrated Biography for those interested.
Let me be brief about Lisan al-Dawat. It is written in the Arabic script from right to left and is a blend of Mainly Gujarati and Arabic. Further more it also reflects urdu and farsi in its literature and day to day conversations. Mainly it was devoloped by the Dais (Doat Kiram) for easy communication with the local gujaratis when the dawat shifted to india along with maintaining the sweetness and brevity of Arabic and the spiritual and celestial charm of the Quranic language and its all incompassing knowledge.
The LD font was first devoloped in Surat at al-Jamea tus Saifiyah and it did need an Arabic OS to type out the LD in word in addition to a small program that provided the special Ky Hacks for che, gaf, pe and so on (the farsi/urdu alphabets). Lots of content was made digital using this font. This was the initial Burhani font (I guess Murtaza Shk Mohd Shk Tayyebali was the guy behind it and it was the year 1998 maybe.) A few years later a group of students in Mumbai got hold of the Bagdadi Fonts and played with it to get a very innitial version of Taheri. (Someone made to the top of Badri Mahal IT using this font to show the talents).
I got hold of this font in 1422 (until when I was using Burhani Old) when Shz Ammar Bhaisaheb asked to prepare a matrimonial site for him (Though the site never met its pupose for some reason). The Taheri font was used for the first time on the WWW in this project (infact this was the first time any LD font was used on the web). People on had worked hard for getting up the Database driven site for the sole purpose of serving the community and the LD font was used to publish the Shadi Ni Rusumaat book. It has also been translated in English by Muhammad Rangoonwala with the help of Asgar Fakhruddin. The entire translation was checked and edited by me as it was prepared.
Back to the track - Taheri had a serious problem the Jazam and other Aeraab and some of the characters had been changed to fit the LD character set. Though the replaced characters were as important but who cared, lets use what we have now and will think later when we are stuck. So there I was stuck with Taheri, the character coding changed from the Arabic setting to a suit personal interests. Yusuf Goolamabbas and Taher Haveliwala (all team) tried to give me some hints to fix the font as I had talked to them having realised the problem. Hey, I am dumb and need a proper tutor to get everything in place. Sorry guys I have not been able to fix the font yet.
Ah, the story does'nt end here nor does it take turns. The real problem was not the charcter replacement which I have managed to fix and tried to spread the font (I will call it Taheri V2) all over so that people would use it as a platform atleast for the keyboard settings but ego does come in a way always. So what is the problem. YG says the problem is with the double key hacks used for certain characters in LD. He talked to Simon Montagu of Netscape and gave me a kick start to talk with these gurus too but the communication gap kept me back. The problem was obvious if you guessed it, ha, YG's favorite browser Mozilla won't display the Taheri V2 font, the one I had fixed (it didnt before coorection either). We tried on various platforms and using multiple browsers but the font display gave hiccups at times. The unicode settings of Taheri are also not proper, Taher did try to fix it. The unicode was in place but the keyboard setting was disturbed. So we are back on the same track.
Then there was a lets say higher version of (Burhani Old) called Saifee was devoloped on the same keyboard mappings as old Taheri. The font is the same as Traditional Arabic.
The Mohalla Burhaniya guys from Karachi renamed the Saifee to Burhani (lets call B2) to boast they had hit a jackpot and spread it all over via a quiz program they ran during Ramadan.
Fatemi, the font Jamea Saifiyah Boasts to be perfectly in place (for thier own use, why bother about the future or the community). I have seen and used all versions of Fatemi but I am sad to say they could have done it better for the community sake. The script of Fatemi is indeed wonderful and beautiful non can match it, I must say. But the creator of the font didnt take care and look at the essentials of a font. Nor did they look for backward compatibility. What about the work that has been done by people all over the globe in LD in the past years. Hundreds if not thousands of pages typed out. How are we ever going to use that material if suppose we loose the fonts used in the past.
Let me not forget Shk Khuzaima Rangwalla who was moallim in Hong Kong and managed to digitize his handwritting named as Mohammedi (3 styles are there). YG helped him out but the work was simply a trace ot Taheri2 and did not help much. Much of Rangwalla's personnal and valuable work in LD was done using this font. He made his way to the Attalim office in Karachi as a result of his talent.
My obsevations about Taheri V2
It works fine for typing on all Arabic enabled platforms of windows (Win2K gives some hiccups at times) and renders well in IE as well as Firefox 1.0. Here I need to add that I have checked LD on my blog and it works fine with blogger as well as the display in Win 98 Arabic, Win XP and Win2K in IE and Firefox 1.0 . My blog template is pure HTML.
Second observation is that it does not render at all on any of the above browsers and OS on the page. The same content and the same tool (blogger). The template is based on PHP. Does that cause any problems with the rendering? Dont know.
Another observation is that mails are properly recieved and sent in LD using Taheri V2 if the platform is Arabic enabled. Yahoo mail displays proper LD messages and sends as well. Gmail does not.
This is all I remember about my experiance with Lisan al-Dawat font devolopment.
Ah, one thing I was able to do some research into this by the Dua of Syedna (tus). May Allah grant him a long life.