Arabic language

meet the calligrapher behind Dubai’s first street signs

Growing up in Egypt as a child, Abdul Fattah vividly remembers seeing his father write beautiful Arabic calligraphy on a large blackboard that hangs in their home.

At just 8 years old, he picked up his first quill and began to imitate the pen strokes taught by his father. Very quickly, he became familiar with this unique art form.

“Talent is a gift from Allah. I realized early on that he had given me the gift of being able to write calligraphy,” says Fattah. The National.

“Some people are born with 10% talent, others with 100%. I think I had a lot, but I trained a lot too.

At that time, few people could write Arabic calligraphy in Dubai. Next thing I remember they said “get him a visa”

Abdul Fattah

“I did chores and with the money I bought books on calligraphy and I spent hours in front of this blackboard. I perfected my gift and I like to teach it to people.

Now 68, Fattah has been in the United Arab Emirates for more than four decades and it was his love of calligraphy that brought him here.

In 1980, he came across an advertisement in a local newspaper in Egypt stating that the Dubai Municipality was looking for an artist to help write Arabic street signs.

“I applied for the job and some officials went to Egypt and met about 20 calligraphy people, including me,” he says.

“They asked me to write a sentence; it was “Medan al Bustan”, which, if I remember correctly, translated to roundabouts in the Bustan area.

“At that time, few people could write Arabic calligraphy in Dubai; that is why they came to look for people in Egypt.

“The next thing I remember is they said ‘get him a visa’. They picked me for the job and that’s how I got to the UAE.

“I was only 27 and single. Now I’m married with four kids, my life is rich.”

Working in Dubai Municipality’s planning department for several years, Fattah, who recently received a 10-year golden visa, helped write some of the city’s first Arabic street signs.

From Al Maktoum Hospital Road and Salah Al Din Street in Deira, to the greeting signs outside Dubai Municipality and Dubai Executive Council buildings, he says it’s an honor to be part of history of the United Arab Emirates.

He then worked for the public library and as a calligraphy teacher and tour guide at Dubai Culture.

Proudly displaying old photographs from his living room in Sharjah, the father of four says Arabic calligraphy should be an art form celebrated by all cultures around the world.

“We have 12 Arabic calligraphy fonts,” he says.

“The early stages were very simplistic compared to later developments in script shapes and glyph design.

“It became more complex as Islamic civilizations developed. More characters, like dots, were added, and different regions and countries created their own style.

“In fact, you will find that even Arabs have difficulty reading certain forms of calligraphy, despite it being their native language. It has a lot to do with the shapes and directions in which the text is written.

Describing himself as an “Emirati-Egyptian at heart”, Fattah can now be seen in action by visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai over the coming months.

He will write Arabic calligraphy daily at the Sameem open-air pavilion in the sustainability district, starting at 3 p.m.

“I am a nice man. I think as an artist you have to have sensitivity and emotion, and I have that. All I want is to make people smile with my art,” he says.

Updated: December 19, 2021, 11:40 a.m.