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Arabic calligraphy added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list

December 16, 2021 at 1:07 pm

A Saudi worker sews Arabic calligraphy in gold thread on a drape to cover the Kaaba at the Kiswa factory in the holy city of Makkah on 8 November 2010 [MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images]

UNESCO has included Arabic calligraphy in its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list on Tuesday.

The recognition followed a Saudi-led nomination which included 16 Arabic-speaking countries. The kingdom had declared the years of 2020 and 2021 as the “Years of Arabic Calligraphy”, part of which was the call for the art form to be included in the UNESCO list.

Reacting to the announcement, Saudi’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr Bin Abdullah Bin Farhan said: “We welcome the inscription of Arabic calligraphy, which is the result of the Kingdom championing this treasured aspect of authentic Arabic culture.”

According to a statement by the UN body, Arabic calligraphy is “the artistic practice of handwriting Arabic script in a fluid manner to convey harmony, grace and beauty.”

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The UNESCO website defines Intangible cultural heritage as “an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization.” Its importance “is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.”

“The fluidity of Arabic script offers infinite possibilities, even within a single word, as letters can be stretched and transformed in numerous ways to create different motifs.”

According to a website specialising in the art form, Arabic calligraphy started with the first written version of the Quran by Zaid Ibn Thabit during the caliphate of Othman Ibn Affan (644-656 CE). This version was written using the Jazm script, an early predecessor of the Kufic script.

The early development of Arabic script continued during the Umayyad dynasty based in Damascus with the iconic architecture and calligraphy on the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem.

Arabic calligraphy is among 35 new entries on the list, which also included: Palestinian embroidery and the 4,000-year old tradition of falconry which is still practised in various parts of the world, especially the Gulf countries.

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