Razwan Baig, High Wycombe, UK
(The Review of Religions extends a note of thanks to Razwan Baig, one of the foremost private collectors of Islamic art in the UK, a close friend who we have been collaborating with for over five years. Razwan Baig has played a key role in facilitating The Review of Religions with some of our key exhibitions over the years. Here Razwan Baig, Founder of the Al-Qalam Project, tells us about the future of one of the most popular projects to date—Ed)
‘Recite, in the name of your Lord…Who taught by the pen.’The Holy Qur’an, 96:2, 5
God Almighty has once again showered His choicest blessings upon us through the Al-Qalam Project, a life-long vision and passion of mine. The concept, now familiar to many, was to have each of the approximately 6000 verses of the Qur’an to be handwritten by a different individual. Men, women and people from all backgrounds and nationalities would take part. Furthermore, people from any religion, or no religion at all, were invited to participate. This would be the first Qur’an of its type, that we know of, where each verse would be penned by a different person. In the technologically advanced age of the iPad and smartphones, the noble and ancient art of handwriting copies of the Qur’an would be revived.
This concept was formalised five years ago and the aim of it was to unite people through the book of God Almighty, the Holy Qur’an. However, it is imperative for me to mention that this vision was only made possible with the great support and guidance of our beloved Khalifah (Caliph), His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
The well-organised team of The Review of Religionshave been instrumental in setting up the Al-Qalam Project at various venues around the world such as Canada, Germany, India and the UK; and it remains the fundamental collaborator for this project, working tirelessly to manage the Al-Qalam Project globally under the auspices of the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
We read in the beginning of Surah Al-Qalamof the Holy Qur’an:
‘By the inkstand and by the pen and by that which they write’.The Holy Qur’an, 68:2
Keeping the meaning of this verse in mind, the first Qur’an of this project has been completed and has reached the stage of proofing and compilation. A few questions have arisen and so I would like to take this opportunity to address them.
What is the purpose of this Al-Qalam Project?
In reality, the concept was thought of in light of the beautiful metaphor illustrated by the following saying of the Holy Prophet(sa):
‘The first thing God created was the pen. He created the tablet and asked the pen to “write”. And the pen replied, “what shall I write?” He said, “Write My decrees” of My Creation till the Day of Resurrection. Then the pen traced that which has been ordained.’ (Hadith Qudsi, as reported by Tirmidhi)
Hence, the vision behind this project was to give the world the opportunity to hand-write a portion of the Holy Qur’an, the Last Book of God, just as the companions of Prophet Muhammad(sa) did, for the sake of attaining knowledge and in order to preserve and pass this sacred practice to future generations through this art form.
The second objective of this project was to unite people through this Book of God Almighty, because the Qur’an is not only for Muslims, but rather, a guide for all of mankind. This point was explained to us by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba). When the Al-Qalam Project was being held at the Annual Convention [Jalsa Salana] Germany a few years ago, His Holiness said that the Qur’an project should be open for all people, Muslims or non-Muslims, because the Book of God was revealed for all mankind.
What were the key components in compiling this Qur’an?
There were certain stages to the Al-Qalam Project, without which the compilation would not have been possible:
1) The project is open to men, women and children over the age of 14. It is open to people of any background, whether they are Muslims, non-Muslims or people of no faith.
2) The blessed participation of the Khalifa (Caliph), the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba):naturally, this was the single biggest honour for us and a blessing that will never be forgotten. In fact, all the while the Al-Qalam Project was travelling to different venues around the world, we were waiting in great anticipation for His Holiness to take part. Just when the first Qur’an was reaching its last stages, His Holiness wrote Surah Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an, with his blessed hand.
3) Reviewing and checking of each verse by a team of Huffaz[those who have committed the entire Qur’an to memory]: This is being supervised by Hafiz Fazl-e-Rabbi and is currently under way.
4) Compiling the list of participants of the Al-Qalam Project: This part of the project is being conducted by The Review of Religionsteam who have compiled a list of all those who participated in the project. This is to preserve their names in history and for future reference.
5) Tahzeebillumination: Once all necessary corrections have been made, the borders of the manuscript will be beautified and illuminated with gold tahzeebin artistic form.
6) Compilation: Once the manuscript has passed through all these phases, it will be digitised to be made available on the web, including the database of all participants.
What is the future of the Al-Qalam Project?
The success of this project has surpassed all my expectations. After this manuscript had passed through the stage of being written up, Our beloved leader, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba) penned the entire opening chapter of the Holy Qur’an – Surah Al-Fatihah– and thereafter the project moved on to the stage of compilation.
I would now like to mention His Holiness’ vision for this project. When the concept was initially presented to him a few years ago, we were worried as to how we would find people to complete this project. The Caliph said, ‘I will provide you with 30,000 people [to participate]’. At the time I was not sure why His Holiness(aba) had said 30,000 people as I only required approximately 6,200 people to complete this project. I did not fully comprehend why he had stated this figure, but now, having worked on the first Qur’an of this project, I have realised that through His Holiness’(aba) wisdom and love for the Qur’an, the Al-Qalam Project shall, God-Willing, continue flourishing within our Jama’at [community]. People will start writing their own manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an and participate in this Al-Qalam project to unite under one umbrella and thus reap blessings through this Holy Book.
His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba) said:
‘Every moment of your lives should be governed by the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the blessed practice of the Holy Prophet(sa).’
What has been happening under this auspicious project?
Aside from travelling to various Annual Conventions around the world, the Al-Qalam Project went to Jamia Ahmadiyya UK [UK Seminary for the training of missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community] for students to participate in this spiritual project. There were over 130 participants, consisting of students and teachers, who have invested their lives for the service of faith. Therefore, their spiritual relation with the Holy Qur’an can play an important role in the future of our Community.
His Holiness was so pleased with this idea that during a private audience, we proposed to hold the Al-Qalam Project at Jamia Ahmadiyya UK, and His Holiness suggested we use the auditorium hall at the Jamia complex to give our presentation on Islamic calligraphy and host the Al-Qalam Project. Once again, this was arranged by Hafiz Fazl-e-Rabbi, a teacher at Jamia, and set up and run by The Review of Religions team. The Principal of Jamia was also in attendance and penned a verse in the Al-Qalam Project and the students were overwhelmed to be part of this unique project.
Al-Qalam Project at the London Book Fair 2018
The Al-Qalam Project went to the London Book Fair in 2018, where people from all different faiths, cultures, races and religions had the opportunity to become part of this project. This proved to be a means of building bridges and changing the views that non-Muslims held about Islam and the Holy Qur’an. By encouraging them to take part, they realised that true Islam promotes interreligious peace and tolerance and it was through the vision of allowing others to write a verse of the Holy Qur’an that we were able to show the world the true image of Islam.
Inspiring others to pen the whole Qur’an
Another benefit of this project is that others have been inspired to write out the entire script of the Holy Qur’an. This is exactly what an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in India has done, having taken inspiration from the Al-Qalam Project, and sent it to His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba) to be displayed in the exhibition of The Review of Religionsat the following annual convention.
Ibn Arabi believes that the Arabic letters act not only as a vehicle for language but also have a spirit and entity, moving from the sensual to the intellectual, and each has a distinct identity and metaphysical significance.
It is my hope that the Al-Qalam Project can unite all people under the umbrella of the Holy Qur’an, the final Book of God Almighty.