Palestinian calligrapher captures sovereignty through Quran

Friday 25/03/2016
Palestinian calligrapher Saher al-Kabi working on his handwritten Quran.

Ramallah - When the United Na­tions voted the Pal­estinian territories to a non-member observer state sta­tus in 2012, Palestinians felt sover­eignty was attainable. The desire to capture the symbolic independ­ence dominated the thoughts of calligrapher Saher al-Kabi.
Born in the refugee camp of Bal­ata near the West Bank’s northern city of Nablus, one of Kabi’s early ambitions was to handwrite Is­lam’s holy scripture, the Quran.
“Initially, it was only about a masterpiece that will bear my name but it later became about Palestine and the need to preserve its name,” Kabi said.
For Palestinians, who are pre­dominantly Muslim, the Quran is the most sacred text. It is the primary source of every Muslim’s faith and deals with subjects such as wisdom, doctrine, worship, transactions, law and the relation­ship between God and humans.
From an artistic point of view, the Quran presents a great chal­lenge for calligraphers and artists as it is an opportunity to display fine talent through handwriting what is regarded as the most im­portant work in the Arabic lan­guage.
“To write a single page, I some­times work up to 14 hours and to apply tashkil, or Arabic diacritics, it takes more than 5 minutes per word. This is not an easy task and the text is extremely complex,” explained Kabi, who said he pro­posed his idea to Palestinian Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas in 2014.
Abbas commissioned Kabi to work on the first Palestinian copy of the Quran, which will bear the name of the al-Aqsa mosque, Is­lam’s third holiest shrine, in Jeru­salem.
“I knew the president would sup­port me,” Kabi said, “but I didn’t imagine his extreme enthusiasm and immediate endorsement.”
The relatively unknown calligra­pher, who has a master’s degree in economics but taught calligraphy at a local university, said he real­ised the significance of the task, not only because his name would be tied to it but because would be an unprecedented Palestinian achievement.
After being commissioned for the job, Kabi needed eight months to prepare, including calculating the diameters of the final manu­script, the type of paper, the pens and the ink.
“The material used in the pro­duction of the manuscript was mainly imported from abroad, in­cluding the traditional Japanese ink, which has been produced the same way for 300 years, and the chemical-free German paper that is made of egg whites and corn­starch,” Kabi said.
The chosen style for manuscript is known as Naskh, a simple and clear writing used to guarantee readability and clarity.
Kabi said he expects to deliver a completed manuscript around the end of the year. The final product is to be put on display in the soon-to-be-inaugurated Palestinian Mu­seum.
Although the project is seen as a symbolic achievement for Pales­tinians, it is also a dream that Kabi is proud to have been able to bring to life.
“The art of calligraphy has fas­cinated me since I was a young boy,” he said. “I used to examine the work of a local calligrapher in hopes that I will grow to become a renowned calligrapher myself.”
Kabi studied calligraphy on his own as a teenager and then trav­elled to Iraq to master the art. Al­though the state of affairs in Iraq prevented him from enrolling at the University of Babylon, he joined the Iraqi Calligraphers’ As­sociation and practiced the craft with Iraqi experts, gaining the ex­perience and skill needed to carry out the Quran project.
The Palestinian Authority ob­tained official approval from Al- Azhar Al-Sharif, Egypt’s renowned Islamic institution that plays a key role in teaching Islam and preserv­ing Islamic culture and heritage, which will ultimately give the manuscript its credibility.
“We work hand in hand with Al- Azhar Al-Sharif. I finish five parts and send them to be proofread. While the experts do their part, I start working on the next five chapters,” Kabi said.
After being proofread by a spe­cial committee at Al-Azhar, the next phase will be adding a dis­tinctive style of illumination using liquid gold to complete the manu­script, which is expected to weigh 35 kilograms upon completion.
Mahmoud al-Habash, the presi­dent’s adviser for religious affairs and head of the committee super­vising the project, said the Pal­estinian Authority is planning to print about 1 million copies in vari­ous sizes to be distributed in Arab and Muslim countries.
“By doing so, we aim to make sure that everyone remembers al- Aqsa mosque and their responsi­bility towards the holy city when they hold al-Aqsa mosque printed manuscript to read,” he said.