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On a mission to revive Arabic calligraphy in India
Wednesday June 19, 2013 2:54 PM, Mohammed Shafeeq, IANS

As beautiful as pearls, his calligraphic pieces adorn mosques in different parts of the world, international exhibitions, drawing rooms and even private jets.

Muqtar Ahmed, an Arabic calligrapher, has achieved what many only aspire for and he is now on a mission to revive the dying art of calligraphy in the country.

The 45-year-old recently became the only Indian to obtain an 'Ijazah' (Masters diploma) from Istanbul-based Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

This degree may fetch him a good job in the Arab world, where Islamic art is greatly valued. But his dream is to revive the art in India, where it once enjoyed the royal patronage.

For this calligrapher from Andhra Pradesh settled in Bangalore for over two decades, Arabic calligraphy is worship.

"Writing Koranic verses and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) is worship. These works are sawab-e-jaria (continuous reward)," Muqtar told IANS in an interview.

"The aesthetics and refinement are the specialities of the Islamic art. There is no beautiful script in the world other than Koran," said the son of a farmer, who now teaches at the Institute of Indo-Islamic Art and Culture in Bangalore.

Muqtar has participated in calligraphy exhibitions and conferences in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Madina, Malaysia and Algeria. "The Arabic calligraphy with all its delicacy is at its peak in the Islamic world."

One of his works was purchased by then governor of Madina in 2011 when he participated in the international exhibition in the holy city in Saudi Arabia.

His international works in collaboration with Mamoun Luthfi Sakkal of the US include calligraphic pieces for a private jet and a mosque in Canada.

Son of a farmer hailing from Ranjhol in Medak district, about 100 km from here, he was interested in calligraphy from his school days. He started working for Urdu daily 'Salar' in Bangalore. Always keen to learn new things, he looked for continuous improvement.

Rendered jobless after the newspaper replaced calligraphy with computers in the early 1990s, Muqtar started writing wedding cards to make a living. But that was not his goal.

He got in touch with Sakkal, who guided him in classical international Arabic calligraphy. He also learnt from other renowned calligraphers including Mohammed Zakariya of the US through correspondence.

Muqtar then sent his works to IRCICA. After the selection, he visited Turkey in 2008 to personally learn the nuances of the art from arguably the world's best calligraphers - Hassan Chalabi and Dawood Biktash.

He spent all his savings to meet the huge expenses. He again visited Turkey in 2011 and for the third time in April this year to receive the degree.

Muqtar, who uses hand-made and special pens for his writings, said he achieved precision with perseverance. "Even a small piece of calligraphy takes several hours. You have to write a letter hundreds of times to achieve the accuracy," he said.

Muqtar's mission is now to teach the art to as many people as possible. He believes the art can be revived in India as many youngsters are taking interest. "There is a need to bridge the gap as no attention was given to basics for over 300 years."

In the past the rulers in India used to promote calligraphy and take pride in owning the masterpieces. Only a few of those works remain in museums and numents.

Muqtar believes if companies owned by Muslims and the educational institutions come forward they can make for a change.

The institute in Bangalore was set up by Bearys Group of Companies. Muqtar, with the group's support, plans exhibitions in all major cities in India, workshops to teach the basics to those interested and invite top calligraphers from abroad.

He also plans to publish books and do research on the calligraphy inscribed on monuments.

(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at m.shafeeq@ians.in)

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