Arabic calligraphy

UNESCO adds Arabic calligraphy to cultural heritage list

UNESCO on Tuesday recognized Arabic calligraphy, the artistic practice of handwriting based on the Arabic alphabet, as intangible cultural heritage.

A total of 16 Muslim-majority countries, led by Saudi Arabia, submitted the bid to UNESCO, which announced the list on Twitter.

Workers sew Islamic Arabic calligraphy in gold thread onto a drape to cover the Kaaba at the Kiswa factory in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 29, 2008. (AFP)

“Arabic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting in Arabic in a fluid manner to convey harmony, grace and beauty,” UNESCO said on its website.

“The fluidity of Arabic writing offers endless possibilities, even within a single word, as the letters can be stretched and transformed in many ways to create different patterns.”

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud welcomed the move and said it would “contribute to the development of this cultural heritage”, in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

A woman walks past the Arabic calligraphy that reads

A woman walks past an Arabic calligraphy reading “Allah” at the Old Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, on March 8, 2020. (AFP)

Abdelmajid Mahboub of the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, which participated in the proposal, said the calligraphy “has always served as a symbol of the Arab-Muslim world”.

But he lamented that “many people no longer write by hand due to advances in technology”, adding that the number of specialist Arabic calligraphers has dropped sharply.

Arabic calligraphy installation outside the Museum of the Future on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2021. (AFP)

Arabic calligraphy installation outside the Museum of the Future on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2021. (AFP)

The UNESCO listing “will certainly have a positive impact” on the preservation of the tradition, he added.

According to the UNESCO website, intangible cultural heritage “is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of increasing globalization”. Its importance “is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that are transmitted there from one generation to the next”.

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