A single moment of understanding can flood a whole life with meaning [Archives:2006/1008/Culture]

December 18 2006
Proudly he went through his work. With experience Al-Rabahis handwriting became smaller and more artistic.
Proudly he went through his work. With experience Al-Rabahis handwriting became smaller and more artistic.
Nisreen Shadad
Ahmed Al-Robahi studied the Qur'an in order to enlighten his mind and purify his soul. “We need only concentration and meditation to feel that the one speaking to us is the Creator of the whole universe. We need to ponder more about the meaning of the verses in order to cultivate ourselves,” Al-Robahi states.

He has illustrated whole passages of the Qur'an in picture form in an effort to melt the barriers between people and make it easier for them to attach their feelings to Islam. “I hope such new art of illustrating the Qur'an in pictures will cause all people – no matter who are they or in which religion they believe – to delve deeper into its meaning,” he adds.

Although Al-Robahi has no background in art or its various movements, he has created something innovative in the art world, particularly in Qur'anic art. With many types of Arabic handwriting, since the beginning of Islamic history, people have used their knowledge, art and elegance to write the Qur'an and create numerous valuable artistic and scientific masterpieces, many of which were kept to display in the world's creditable museums while others are on public display in different exhibitions around the world.

Al-Robahi's pictures are written in tiny handwriting that combines in unique harmony with winding lines blending together to form a particular shape. Not using any particular handwriting, he depended on his normal, simple handwriting, even omitting the dots of the letters to make his handwriting smaller. The smaller his handwriting, the fewer pictures required to write all of the suras of the Qur'an. He wrote Qur'an in its heavenly descending order fifteen times so far with very unique quality in 119 artistic plates in the measurements A3,A4 and A5.

Most of Al-Robahi's works illustrate the pureness of heaven, as well as the luster of the stars and the radiance of the planets. While he wrote with normal colored pens to depict his understanding of the Qur'an and its beauty, he states that his aim in doing such pictures was to memorize the Qur'an.

He recalls, “When people saw my pictures, they encouraged me because I had done something unique. I then presented them to the Ministry of Endowment and Guidance to document as a copy of the Qur'an. They first reviewed it and since there was no difference between the Qur'an written in my pictures and the original one, they admitted and appreciated it.

“They then nominated me to contribute to the 14th Qur'an exhibition in Tehran. Those attending the fair were amazed at such new works. [Iranian] President [Mahmoud] Ahmedinejad also attended and appreciated my contribution,” Al-Robahi added.

At the Qur'an exhibition that took place during the month of Ramadan, 20 Qur'anic researchers and artists from 17 Islamic countries were invited to enrich the exhibition with their presence, as well as prove the cultural variety of the developed Islamic world extending from Southeast Asia to northwest Africa and the heart of Europe. Such variety is bringing Muslims delicate art and rich culture, as well as seeking thought and transforming them into active and effective partners in civilization.

Why did you write the Qur'an in such an unreadable manner when you aimed to memorize it?

I saw the letters clearly while writing; however, when I finished the entire picture, I couldn't read them. The reason for writing first in order to memorize was due to my understanding of the first sura sent to the prophet, which is named Al-Alaq. It begins, “Read! In the name of your Lord, Who created – created man out of a clot of congealed blood. Read! And your Lord is Most Generous, He who taught (the use of) the pen, taught man that which he knew not.” Therefore, I used the pen to learn the Qur'an.

Your pictures are full of stars and usually contain the colors of heaven. What's the reason for that?

When I look at heaven, especially at 2 a.m., I'm inspired by the amazing multi-colored heaven. The stars burning like a fire fill me with comfort and satisfaction. It empowers me and gives me a step forward. Even when I worked as a tour guide, I usually took tourists to Old Sana'a to see the unforgettable nighttime view of heaven.

How much time do you spend on each picture?

Between three to seven months, depending on the size of the line. The smaller the line, the more time it takes.

Which type of handwriting do you use?

I don't know the various handwriting methods, so I use my normal handwriting. More importantly, I make neither dots nor tashkeela, the marks clarifying the letters' sounds.

What are your future plans?

It's a surprise, but I promise the Yemen Times will be the first to know when I complete it! My second project is to teach children reading and writing.

What's the relationship between your second project and your art?

There's an immense relationship between my art and all of my projects in general. Since the first command sent to the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was “Read,” I believe the key that can open all boundaries before us is reading. Besides, Yemeni students have weak education in Arabic language; therefore, I hope to enhance students' abilities in reading and writing.

How do you design your pictures?

First, I make a simple design of the whole picture – once writing in the shape of the crescent and another time in the shape of the Kaaba – and then I draw. Sometimes while I'm writing, several designs and shapes appear, so I change it, but other times I keep the design I made.

What message do you intend your pictures to convey?

People began to ignore the Qur'an; they recited it, but they didn't understand it. I hope I can represent such a great book in a picture that's available to all people – no matter who they are or which religion they believe in – so they can feel it. I want it to reside in every home, as well as in every soul. If one ponders the Qur'anic verses I present in pictures, he or she can be cultivated and purified from within.

What's your educational and working background?

I studied pharmacology in Germany, but I didn't complete it, so I then returned to Yemen to study political science. For many years, I worked as a tour guide and established a company for that purpose; however, after Sept. 11, 2001, tourism in Yemen began to disappear, so I stopped working in that field. I'm now studying the Qur'an, which gives me a feeling of comfort and stability.