The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology

The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology
1 / 4
Photo/Supplied
The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology
2 / 4
Dr. Nassar MAnsour, Jordanian Palestinian calligrapher and Professor of Islamic art
The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology
3 / 4
Zeki Al-Hashimi, a Yemeni-Turkish prominent calligrapher
The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology
4 / 4
Siraj Allaf, Saudi calligrapher, and founder of Hrofiat where professional Saudi calligraphers offer a different variety of services.
Short Url
Updated 13 June 2020

The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology

The complex relationship between Arabic calligraphy and technology
  • Being an intrinsic part of Islamic civilization, calligraphy faces challenges due to lack of online representation

JEDDAH/RIYADH: Arabic calligraphy is an intrinsic part of Islamic civilization. The art form is an integral part of almost all aspects of Arab cultural expression.
Despite its significance in Islamic art and culture, however, its popularity seems to be in decline among the masses. A number of reasons could be suggested for why this is the case, perhaps the most plausible of which is the lack of promotion and visual representation of the Arabic language in the tools of modern technology — most importantly, the internet.
Whatever the reason for the diminishing popular appeal and appreciation of the art form in the modern world, it nevertheless somehow continues to survive in its classical form.
The importance of Arabic calligraphy comes from its connection to the Holy Qur’an, according to Dr. Nassar Mansour (@dr.nassarmansour), a Jordanian-Palestinian artist and calligrapher who teaches Islamic calligraphy and Qur’anic manuscripts at the College of Islamic Arts and Architecture at the World Islamic Science and Education University in Amman, Jordan.

The classical school fears, wrongly, that technology will kill its traditions; the basic skill and the principles of its teaching cannot be lost or eliminated.

Siraj Allaf

The divine nature of the Qur’an compelled Arabs to redesign their script and beautify it, he said, which provided the initial impetus for the development of the art form in the 7th century. Modern technology has had little effect on classical forms of Arabic calligraphy which, he believes, will remain relevant because of its strong bond with the sacred text.
“However, calligraphy’s functional aspect has undoubtedly receded” since the advent of the printing press, he added.
The link between Arabic calligraphy and the Qur’an means its practice is primarily a religious experience, for which a set of rules were developed over the centuries regarding patience and self-discipline. These rules are collectively known as “adab” (manners) among calligraphers, and it is mandatory for instructors and students to follow them.
Siraj Allaf (@sirajallaf), a Saudi artist and engineer, studied calligraphy at the Grand Mosque in Makkah under the supervision of renowned calligrapher Ibrahim Al-Arafi. After years of training, he received his “ijazah,” or diploma, in traditional calligraphy. Studying calligraphy in this way is a rich and rewarding educational experience, especially for young people, he said.

FASTFACT

• Whatever the reason for the diminishing popular appeal and appreciation of the art form in the modern world, it nevertheless somehow continues to survive in its classical form.

• Graduates in classical calligraphy sometimes become ‘too modest’ in their approach to life, which means that they miss out on opportunities to grow and fail to receive the public recognition they deserve.

• Hrofiat is the first Saudi platform for calligraphy through which some of the best calligraphers in the country are working together to promote it through workshops, events and online courses.

“I have learned endless life lessons from my master,” Allaf said. “I always say that I have learned everything from him, and calligraphy comes last on the list.”
Graduates in classical calligraphy sometimes become “too modest” in their approach to life, he added, which means that they miss out on opportunities to grow and fail to receive the public recognition they deserve.
“Their great emotional attachment to their art does not allow them to invest in their talent, because they refrain from using it to make money,” he explained. “If we look at other art forms, such as photography, we find that artists have actually chosen that path to make money in the first place.”
To help raise the profile of the art form, Allaf founded Hrofiat, the first Saudi platform for calligraphy, through which some of the best calligraphers in the country are working together to promote it through workshops, events, online courses, the creation of original and digital works, and the provision of artistic consultancy services.
He said that assembling an elite group of calligraphers was a challenge because some were wary about the idea of making money from their art. Most calligraphers, he believes, adopt a conservative approach to commerce and the adoption of modern techniques; they avoid the use of technology fearing they fear they might lose the “spirit” of their art, which they consider sacred.
Many experts, including Allaf, believe the roots of this reluctance to embrace modern innovations can be traced back to the days of Ottoman rule, during which there was a delay in adopting printing technology as a result of religious and scribal resistance.
As the Ottoman Empire consolidated power from its capital, Constantinople, it acquired print technology, which was common across Europe, as early as 1453. The Ottomans did not, however, officially begin printing until 1726, when Ibrahim Muteferrika opened a printing shop with the blessings of Sultan Ahmed III and the religious authorities.
Therefore, printing did not begin to gain a foothold in the Arab, Ottoman and Islamic worlds until the 18th century, nearly 400 years after its rapid spread across Europe. That had the long-term effect of delaying the adaptation of the ever-evolving technology to meet the specific aesthetic requirements of Arabic calligraphy.
When the use of new printing technology did finally begin to spread, traditional calligraphers began to lose their jobs in newspapers, magazines and other forms of publishing. Many had neither the alternative skills nor tools to adapt and channel their experience in new directions.
As a result, the unparalleled beauty of Arabic calligraphy became mostly banished to art galleries and museums around the world.
Dr. Abdullah Futiny, chairman of Saudi Scholarly Association of Arabic Calligraphy, believes another factor in the declining appreciation for Arabic calligraphy, particularly among the younger generation, is the increasing popularity of computer-generated fonts now used by most people.
This disconnect between the modern masses and the classical form of the art has also discouraged Arabic calligraphers from experimenting with digital tools, he added, in the belief that their traditional approach to the art form is the most pure expression of the Islamic spirit.
Allaf agreed with this analysis, saying: “The classical school fears, wrongly, that technology will kill its traditions; the basic skill and the principles of its teaching cannot be lost or eliminated.
“Some are afraid to accept the fact that many of the techniques they have been practicing for years can now be done with a push of a button.”
Classically trained Yemeni-Turkish calligrapher Zeki Al-Hashimi (@hattatzeki), who studied for the traditional diploma in Turkey, believes the classical school must change and adapt to the demands of the modern world, and embrace the use of new technology. After all, he pointed out, even traditional calligraphy tools evolved over time.
“Some aspects have been less influenced by the passage of time, such as the formal expression of each letter and glyph,” he said. “Therefore, the golden ratio and geometry of the general form of Arabic script is the only traditional factors that we should worry about preserving.”
Allaf and Al-Hashimi agree that modern technology does not pose any threat to the traditions of classical calligraphy.
“Technology is simply a means to further develop the art and promote the culture, not an end in itself,” said Al-Hashimi.
Allaf said calligraphers must work with designers and developers to improve the technical tools that are available, and that such cooperation is required because “individual efforts are no longer efficient.”
Mansour, was also open to the use of new technology but stressed that any integration of Arabic script with modern technology must be carried out by professionals who understand the art and its value, and respect its spiritual and aesthetic aspects.
It is an irony that while there has long been a reluctance to embrace the use of modern technology in Arabic calligraphy, social media might, to some extent, be helping to revive the classical art form and increase its popularity among young people. Mansour and Allaf said that social media, and the other modern tools at their disposal, allow them to teach students in other countries and spread knowledge and appreciation of the art form to a wide audience to an extent that was unimaginable before the digital revolution.
Yet it is the core spiritual values of Arabic calligraphy, through its connection with sacred texts, that continue to encourage young people to explore its mysteries, as a result of their personal experiences.
Al-Hashimi also uses social media to share calligraphy lessons and discuss the art form with followers.
“Though I understand that not all people see the script like professionals do, I try to offer diverse content to suit all segments of society,” he said.
Mansour said that the blame for the decline in awareness and popularity of calligraphy is shared by many, including official institutions, educators and a general failure to promote cultural awareness of the art form.
“Calligraphers are also responsible for this ignorance about the art form and its aesthetic value,” he added.
There is general agreement that the only way to restore the social and cultural status and value of Arabic calligraphy is through long-term institutional projects, with governmental support. An important step, therefore, was the announcement in January by Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah that 2020 is the “Year of Arabic Calligraphy.” Another remarkable step taken by the Kingdom is the recent establishment of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Global Center for Arabic Calligraphy in Madinah, which will include a museum, an exhibition hall, and an institute dedicated to the art form.
“Any creative person, be it a scientist or an artist, regardless of their field, needs a sovereign, empowering decision to have a voice and obtain their right of popular attention,” said Allaf.

Al-Hashimi added: “These giant projects remain important initiatives that not only benefit the country and its people but also serve the wider Arab and Islamic world.”
Futiny called upon people with a talent for calligraphy, in its classical and modern forms, to make good use of their skills and work hard to hone them.
“There are many tasks Arabic calligraphers and Arabic software programmers should carry out to improve the format and shape of Arabic letters for computer users,” he said.
He also highlighted the importance of introducing new, well-designed calligraphy lessons in schools to develop pupils’ handwriting and encourage them to explore and realize their full potential.


Saudi Arabia must ‘confront power with power’ in Yemen, says expert

Saudi Arabia must ‘confront power with power’ in Yemen, says expert
Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi Arabia must ‘confront power with power’ in Yemen, says expert

Saudi Arabia must ‘confront power with power’ in Yemen, says expert
  • The Arab coalition destroyed five ballistic missiles and four explosive-laden drones launched by the Houthis toward Jazan on Thursday.

JEDDAH: The international community bears responsibility for prolonging the crisis in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia should not simply wait for the Iran-backed Houthis to cause a disaster, according to a Saudi expert in international relations.

Political analyst Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri said on Thursday that although a number of proposals had been put forward to put an end to Yemen’s ongoing conflict, there had been a lack of will from the international community to implement those initiatives.

“If the international community was honest, it would have (acted on) UNSC Resolution 2216, demanding the Houthis relinquish the arms they seized from military and security institutions and cease all violence. The international community is delaying taking action against the Houthis for its own interests,” Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“The international community’s regional interests are its top priority, not Yemen or the Yemenis,” he added.

Al-Shehri believes that, in the face of continued silence from the international community, Saudi Arabia should ‘confront power with power’ when dealing with Houthi attacks.

“We should not wait until the Houthis (cause) a disaster. We count on the Arab coalition and the Yemeni army, especially after the UN’s leniency with regard to putting pressure on the Houthis to accept diplomatic solutions,” Al-Shehri said.

He added that if attacks on the Kingdom continue, then Saudi Arabia should take military action. “The Houthis are using power and this power should be confronted with power. We have tried the international community for seven years, but unfortunately (nothing has been done).”

The Arab coalition destroyed five ballistic missiles and four explosive-laden drones launched by the Houthis toward Jazan, Al-Ekhbariya reported on Thursday.

Those attacks were the latest in a long line of hostile actions against the Kingdom by the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Jazan University was one of the targets, as well as other civilian sites protected under international humanitarian law, coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency, adding that such actions amount to war crimes. He also said that the attacks originated from Yemen’s Saadah governorate and were a “continuation of the Houthis’ systematic and intentional hostile attempts to target civilians.”

The Houthis, who took over the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2014, have been widely condemned for their actions against the Kingdom.


62 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches

62 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches
Updated 16 April 2021

62 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches

62 Jeddah outlets shut for COVID-19 breaches

JEDDAH: Authorities in Jeddah have shut down 62 commercial outlets for breaching coronavirus disease (COVID-19) protocols.
Municipalities in the Kingdom have stepped up their efforts to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety measures designed to protect public health.
The municipality of Jeddah governorate carried out 4,219 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities and identified 166 violations for issues related to overcrowding and the failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app.
Officials urged people to report any suspected breaches of COVID-19 regulations to the 940 call-center number.


Saudi students win four awards in European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

Saudi students win four awards in European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad
Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi students win four awards in European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

Saudi students win four awards in European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia ranked 16th of 55 countries in the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad (EGMO), which ended on Thursday, rising 10 places from last year and winning four medals.
Each country involved in the competition is represented by a team of four female mathematicians of school age, This year’s EGMO was hosted by Georgia, but held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia was represented by four students who have all been members of programs run by the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) and have received thousands of training hours and attended several training camps.
In the past, Saudi teams have won 20 medals at the EGMO. This year, Rafaa Qanash from Jeddah won a silver medal, while Lara Munqal from Jeddah, Joud Bahwini from Yanbu, and Fatima Al-Ghanam from Al-Ahsa all won bronze medals.
All four students have been members of Mawhiba’s Program for International Olympiads and have received thousands of training hours and attended several training camps.
Mawhiba works in partnership with the Ministry of Education to qualify Saudis to compete in scientific Olympiads. Over 1,300 hours of training are provided annually to prepare students to participate.
The EGMO — launched by the UK in 2012, when 19 countries participated — seeks to encourage female students to compete in mathematics tournaments and to increase female representation in international Olympiads. Currently, only 10 percent of participants in math-based Olympiads are female.


Want to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah? Here are the procedures you need to know about

Want to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah? Here are the procedures you need to know about
Updated 16 April 2021

Want to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah? Here are the procedures you need to know about

Want to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah? Here are the procedures you need to know about
  • Saudi Arabia reported 10 more COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced the procedures for pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom to follow to perform the rituals.
Pilgrims need to go to a care center in Makkah six hours before performing Umrah to check the inoculation status according to the type of approved vaccines.
They will be handed their bracelet, which they must put on at the center. They will then be directed to the Al-Shubaikha gathering center. There, the pilgrims must present their bracelet to verify their data and their permit.
The ministry noted the need for the pilgrims to abide by the Umrah date and time period allocated to them.
The Kingdom began receiving pilgrims from abroad in mid-March, in accordance with requirements and controls set by the Ministry of Health as part of the precautionary measures set to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had previously confirmed the launch of the two updated versions of the apps “Eatmarna” and “Tawakkalna,” in cooperation with the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence.
Through these apps, Saudis and expats can reserve Umrah and visit and prayer permits inside the Grand Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, with permits being displayed only on the Tawakkalna app.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah emphasized the need to adhere to the precautionary and preventive measures, and to reserve permits through the approved official platforms.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported 10 more COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday. The death toll now stands at 6,791.
The Ministry of Health reported 985 new cases, meaning that 402,142 people have now contracted the disease, of which 9,249 remain active.
It said 463 of the new cases were in Riyadh, 164 in Makkah, 140 in the Eastern Province and 30 in Madinah. In addition, 661 patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 386,102 recoveries.
Saudi Arabia has so far conducted more than 16 million PCR tests, with 45,843 carried out in the past 24 hours.
Saudi health clinics set up by the ministry as testing hubs or treatment centers have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the Kingdom since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among those testing hubs are Taakad (make sure) centers and Tetamman (rest assured) clinics.
Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while the Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms, such as fever, loss of taste and smell and breathing difficulties.
Appointments to either services can also be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.
Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their jabs of the coronavirus vaccine, with 6,607,384 people having been inoculated so far.


Saudi ambassador to Indonesia launches iftar program

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia launches iftar program
Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia launches iftar program

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia launches iftar program

Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi on Thursday launched a massive iftar program and started distributing King Salman’s gift of dates for the year under the supervision of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance.
The program includes the distribution of 3,000 food baskets and 10,000 iftar meals to hospitals, orphanages and others in Indonesia. Al-Thaqafi oversees the project in cooperation and coordination with the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, along with other prominent Islamic societies and centers.
The initiative was launched at the religious attache’s office for the Kingdom’s Embassy in Jakarta. Representatives from the Minister of Religious Affairs of Indonesia and the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta also attended the launch ceremony.