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.


Plague to protein: Israeli firm seeks to put locusts on the menu

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Updated 36 min 21 sec ago

Plague to protein: Israeli firm seeks to put locusts on the menu

  • Some goods produced in the Golan Heights face export restrictions, including strict labeling requirements, because most of the international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the area

GOLAN HEIGHTS: From biblical plague to modern-day protein, one Israeli firm wants to make locusts a sustainable food choice in the Holy Land and beyond.
As for whether or not the insects are kosher, the answer is not so simple.
At Hargol Foodtech’s farm in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a rectangular enclosure that once served as a chicken coop is filled with thousands of locusts, a grasshopper species that has a highly destructive swarming phase.
Contained in a series of meticulously stacked, climate-controlled mesh cages, the insects are served wheatgrass through their three-month life-cycle, before being cooled, killed and baked.
Hargol’s chief executive Dror Tamir said that he grew up hearing stories of how locusts destroyed the fields of his kibbutz in the 1950s.
Yet the Yemenite Jews in the area did not view locusts as crop-ruining pests, but as an edible source of nutrients, Tamir recalled.
As an adult, Tamir became a food and nutrition entrepreneur increasingly concerned about the environmental cost of providing the world’s growing population with enough animal protein.
Tamir said he founded Hargol — Hebrew for grasshopper — 6.5 years ago after realizing the insects were the solution.
The company’s goal is to be “the first in the world to grow grasshoppers on a commercial scale, and provide the world with a healthier and more sustainable source of protein.”
Ram Reifen, a professor of human nutrition at Hebrew University, agreed that the planet is facing growing food supply challenges.
With Earth’s population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, raising livestock to feed the planet will become increasingly unsustainable, given the massive water and land resources required.
“The fear is there will be a scarcity of protein,” Reifen said. Tamir said that unprocessed locusts consist of more than 70 percent protein and contain all amino acids, along with other nutrients.

HIGHLIGHT

At Hargol Foodtech’s farm in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a rectangular enclosure that once served as a chicken coop is filled with thousands of locusts, a grasshopper species that has a highly destructive swarming phase.

“What they do lack is saturated fat and cholesterol,” he said. “They have the good stuff. They don’t have the bad stuff.”
According to his own estimate, around 2.5 billion people — mainly in developing nations — consume insects as part of their regular diet.
And, the “most widely eaten insects in the world are grasshoppers,” Tamir said.
But, he added, “when trying to target North American and European customers, it’s really hard to overcome the ‘yuck’ factor.”
To make their product more palatable to Westerners, Hargol turns locusts into powder, which can be mixed into various foods.
Tamir said they were about to launch sales of locust-enhanced pancake mix and smoothie powders worldwide.
Some goods produced in the Golan Heights face export restrictions, including strict labeling requirements, because most of the international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the area.