Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

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Turquoise Mountain hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute. (AFP)
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Master miniature artist Abdull Sabur Omari shows a handmade Qur’an made with silk fabric at the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Mourad Khani, in the old city section of Kabul. (AFP)
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Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2018

Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

  • Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish
  • Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy

KABUL: One of the only Qur’ans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.
Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish.
Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6 kilograms, the Qur’an was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.
“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, said in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-paneled complex.
With the Qur’an considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.
“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Qur’an) ... and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.
Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Qur’anic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.
They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.
The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.
A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.

“All the colors we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colors used in the Qur’an, said.
Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305 meters (1,000 feet) of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.
Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.
It hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.
“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Qur’an,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organization’s Afghan director.
For now, it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.
There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.
“The copying of the Qur’an onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe said.
He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work.”
“If a book collector in London... was interested in it, we would be thinking in the $100,000 to $200,000 (price) range,” he added.


Estonian tourist stranded in Manila airport for 110 days due to COVID-19 goes home

Updated 07 July 2020

Estonian tourist stranded in Manila airport for 110 days due to COVID-19 goes home

  • Was stranded in an experience reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ character in the 2004 film “The Terminal”

LONDON: An Estonian tourist who spent more than 100 days living in an airport in the Philippines due to coronavirus travel restrictions is finally returning home, he said on Tuesday.

Roman Trofimov has been living in the departures lounge of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport since March 20, after immigration authorities stopped issuing visas for entry into the country.

He was then stranded in the airport for a total of 110 days until July 7.

In an experience reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ character in the 2004 film “The Terminal,” Trofimov said he was sleeping on the airport floor, eating in its restaurants and washing in public bathrooms before the Estonian consulate arranged for his transfer to a passenger lounge on April 1.

On Tuesday, Trofimov said he was returning to Estonia on a plane landing in Tallinn on July 8.

Trofimov said he was on a “dream trip” traveling around Southeast Asia when coronavirus lockdowns began across the continent. He said his passport was taken by AirAsia staff before going through immigration in Manila on March 20.

He was booked to take an onward flight to Cebu province on the same day, with a return trip to Bangkok booked for April 2. Both flights were canceled as COVID-19 decimated international travel.

Due to entry visas not being issued by Philippine immigration authorities he was denied entry into the country, but the airline he flew in was unable to return him to Thailand as flights were being grounded.

According to Estonian media, Trofimov was traveling on what is known as a “grey passport” for people of “unclear citizenship” — issued to people with residency rights in Estonia who cannot get another passport.

In a statement, the Estonian foreign ministry said: “It is important to note that he flew to the Philippines during a time when countries had announced emergency situations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had given a travel warning.”

Estonian officials told broadcaster ERR they had tried to help Trofimov organize a flight home, but according to reports he initially declined a repatriation flight due to the cost.

Speaking earlier this week, Trofimov said: “I've been stuck here for more than 100 days. I need help getting out.”

He added: “The airline said I need to wait for an ‘Enhanced Community Quarantine’ to be over before I am allowed to fly. I’ve been waiting here ever since.”

The Philippines has almost 48,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,300 people have died from the virus.