Arabic calligraphy to be registered on Unesco's Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage

The artistic practice has had a profound place in Arab culture since the 10th century

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - April 8: Khaled Al-Saai’i, Arabic calligrapher and painter, giving a calligraphy demonstration in the Calligraphers’ Studio at the Sharjah Museum for the Art of Arabic Calligraphy, in Sharjah on April 8, 2008. (Randi Sokoloff / The National)
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Arabic calligraphy is to be registered on Unesco's Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The artistic practice has had a profound place in Arab culture since the 10th century, but has only now been considered for the list, which was established in 2008.

There are already a number of calligraphic practices on the Unesco list. Chinese calligraphy was registered on the list in 2009 and Mongolian calligraphy was inscribed in 2013, while Armenian letter art made it on the list last year.

There are a number of styles associated with khat, as the practice is known in the Arab world, from the Kufic calligraphy that was used to copy the Holy Quran between the 8th and 10th century, to the more legible Naskh, the extravagant Thuluth and more contemporary variations of the practice.

Why is the practice being considered for the Unesco list now?

We can thank a joint Arab cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia for that. So far, Saudi Arabia has succeeded in registering seven items on Unesco's Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage. These include falconry, the majlis, coffee, the Najdi ardah dance, the Almezmar stick song-dance, the Al-Qatt Al-Asiri art style and the palm tree. Now it is its goal to include Arabic calligraphy on the list as well.

The Saudi Ministry of Culture is hosting a five-day workshop and meeting, which began on Sunday, February 2, aimed at having the practice inscribed on the list. Sixteen Arab countries are participating in the meeting, held in partnership with Alesco (Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation). The Arabic calligraphy nomination will be presented to Unesco in March.

Hattan bin Mounir bin Samman, the secretary-general of the Saudi National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, said Arabic calligraphy is one of the richest aspects of Arab and Islamic cultural identity.

“Arabic calligraphy has been — and will continue to be — the focus and passion of experts, stakeholders and those involved in cultural affairs, education and science, who are interested in both human and cultural heritage,” he said in a statement. The move will strengthen the presence of Arabic calligraphy in international forums and conferences.

Abdulrahman Al-Eidan, the director-general of Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, said: “We start a story of joint Arab cooperation through the Arabic calligraphy file, with the participation of 16 Arab countries, after we celebrated registering the palm tree as a common Arab file two months ago in Bogota, Colombia.” He said that the art of Arabic calligraphy was an important knowledge vessel that contained Arab culture and contributed to passing it from one generation to the next.