By the inkstand and the pen and by that which they write —The Holy Qur’an, 68:2
Islamic calligraphy is one of the most venerated forms of calligraphy and is considered to be the pinnacle of Islamic art. According to Muslims, the Holy Qur’an is the sacred word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammadsa and thus has been one of the major sources of inspiration for Islamic calligraphy since early Islam, as it represents a medium to convey the word of God. One of the most renowned artists of our modern times, Pablo Picasso, was so inspired by Islamic calligraphy that he said, ‘If I had known there was such a thing as Islamic calligraphy, I would never have started to paint. I have strived to reach the highest levels of artistic mastery, but I found that Islamic calligraphy was there ages before I was.’1
Prior to the invention of the printing press, scribes bore the heavy responsibility for reproducing the scripture of the Holy Qur’an. They would often spend decades learning the craft and would spend many years on producing just a single copy of the Holy Qur’an. However, in the age of modern technology, print media rapidly replaced the traditional art forms and gradually the practice of learning this ancient art form also declined. Thus, this was one of the inspirations behind the Al-Qalam Project – to reinvigorate this ancient art form in today’s generation.
The Al-Qalam Project was founded by Razwan Baig and officially launched by the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifah (Caliph), His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba in 2016. Razwan Baig is a British Islamic calligrapher and a collector of Islamic manuscripts and Islamic art. His collections have been shown in over several major museums worldwide and has contributed to more than 20 international exhibitions.
The Al-Qalam Project is the first of its kind in which each participant contributes a single verse and thus the complete text of the Holy Qur’an will be entirely handwritten by members of the public. Since its official launch, the Al-Qalam Project, in collaboration with The Review of Religions, has travelled across the world, most recently to India, Canada and Germany. The unique and historic initiative returned to the UK in July 2017, at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s UK Annual Convention, where the project was first introduced and where it is now in its final phases of completion.
There are over 6000 verses of the Holy Qur’an and almost over 5000 verses have been written across the world by both men and women, young and old. Another unique aspect of this project is that it is open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, since the Holy Qur’an is the word of God and revealed for the whole of mankind and calls for people to respect and love one another regardless of race, colour, religion or creed. The Al-Qalam Project has had a monumental impact and has achieved global recognition. Dr Kaleem Malik from the US took part in th
The Al-Qalam project for the first time this year at the UK annual convention and said,
‘This is a unique distinction that again proves the truth of the living text of the Holy Qur’an, that this is how it was compiled fourteen hundred years ago. And once again, Razwan Baig has now assembled and reproduced this history within the last 3 years and this time it has been blessed by Khalifah-tul-Masihaba [His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad]. So I had an opportunity myself to write a verse of the Holy Qur’an in this project and I think it is now expanding to every country – Muslims, non-Muslims – in every continent of the world there are people who are taking part in this exhibition and putting together the copy of the Holy Qur’an, the first and only of its kind.’
Among the many guests who attended the annual convention was The Rt Hon Earl Howe. Describing this historic project, he said,
‘I think the Qur’an writing project is inspirational, the idea that after all this time we should celebrate the writing of the Qur’an by real people in real handwriting. Some skill that, for natural reasons, disappeared with the advent of printing but I hope and believe that this will inspire a lot of Muslims.’
Among the many participants of the Al-Qalam Project were those who had fled from countries where Ahmadis faced severe persecution and were not allowed to even call themselves Muslims, let alone be able to own and read the Holy Qur’an. However, through this project they were able to write the verse of the Holy Qur’an with their own hands which was a truly emotional experience for them. Abada Barbouche, who is originally from Tunisia, expressed his feelings after completing his verse,
‘As members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community we have felt an electric current going through us while we are writing the words of God with our hands. In this, there is a strong message to those forces who are trying to hold back the progress of the community. With conviction I can say there is no power on earth that can stop the progress of this community. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other countries, they cannot deprive our community from rendering services to the Holy Qur’an. God once again is honouring the community and the world is witnessing this special favour. And God bestows His favours on whom He pleases.’
Serjeel Ahmad, a young Imam who recently graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya, the training seminary for missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, also had the opportunity to take part in the Al-Qalam Project. Sharing his experience, he said,
‘I am a missionary from Canada and you know, going through the seven years [the length of the program at Jamia Ahmadiyya] you really get a good feel of what the Holy Qur’an is, of the translation and of the essence and how beautiful the commentary behind it is.
Especially if you look at the commentary of Hazrat Musleh Maudra [Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmud Ahmad, second worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community between 1914-1965] and you ponder over the Holy Qur’an and it really, really widens your mind. And pondering over the verse that I was writing today it felt as if those words were specifically meant for me and I think that is the beauty of the Holy Qur’an. And I think this project is amazing because Allah the Almighty has promised that He Himself is going to safeguard the Holy Qur’an and Alhamdulillah, we as Ahmadis, today we’re proud to be flag bearers of those who are defending the faith. And so it was a great feeling writing everything down and Alhamdulillah I’m very, very happy being part of this project.’
The Holy Qur’an is the sacred word of God revealed as the final law for all mankind and grants everlasting peace and security to all. The Al-Qalam project has proved to be a truly influential initiative, bringing together people of different countries and faith which in essence is the very purpose of this book. The historic script being compiled does not only demonstrate the great love Ahmadis have for this holy text but is also reintroducing the sacred art and inspiring the next generation of Islamic calligraphers.
About the Author: Shahzad Ahmed is a staff member of The Review of Religions and is editor of the Islam & Contemporary Issues section. He is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and also has a BA (Hons) in English Literature. He is a regular panelist on worldwide television channel MTA International.
1. Jurgen Wasim Fremgen, The Aura of Aliph: The Art of Writing in Islam, (New York: Prestel, 2010).