Giant pages from Quran set to be displayed at Expo 2020 Dubai

Artist Shahid Rassam is making a holy book measuring more than 5 square metres, a potential world record

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An important passage from what could be the world's largest Quran is set to go on display at Expo 2020 Dubai, cast in gold-plated aluminium and set on canvas.

The project is the creation of Pakistani-Canadian artist and sculptor Shahid Rassam, who has already spent five years crafting several pages by hand in Karachi.

The former UAE resident now has a team of 200 specially trained painters and calligraphers, and hopes to complete the 5-square-metre Quran by 2026.

I wanted to take up the challenge of doing something different, and without even calculating the hardship and difficulties I just started working on it
Shahid Rassam, artist and sculptor

The pages measure 2.6 metres by 1.98 metres, and when completed the holy book will have 550 folios, and be bigger than the current largest Quran which measures 2 metres in height and 1.52 metres in width, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Mr Rassam said he is not particularly religious, but was driven by his desire to challenge preconceptions, and confront taboos.

"The holy book has so far been written in the conventional methods of paper, cloth and animal skin. I wanted to take up the challenge of doing something different, and without even calculating the hardship and difficulties I just started working on it," said Mr Rassam, who was born in Hyderabad in 1971 and grew up in Karachi.

The first surahs

Surah Al-Fatiha, the first verses of the Quran, inscribed by Pakistani artist Shahid Rassam, at the Pakistani Association in Dubai.  Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Two pages were displayed as an introduction on Sunday at the Pakistan Association Dubai. The large canvasses were delicately painted in vibrant patterns, inspired by Turkish, Persian and Arabic art, and "the colours of nature" said Mr Rassam, who is also principal at the Arts Council Institute of Arts and Craft in Karachi.

Verses from the Quran were arranged on top in gold-plated calligraphy, and spelled out Surah Fatiha – the first chapter from the holy book, and the first four verses of Surah Al Baqarah, the second and longest chapter of the Quran.

The lettering is created first in clay, then plaster of paris, before being cast in aluminium and plated in gold.

Ultimately, more than 2,000 kilograms of aluminium and 200kg of gold will be used to complete the project, which is designed to last thousands of years.

"This work will be the first of its kind, a piece apart. I am very much hopeful and confident that people will enjoy it, both Muslim and non-Muslim. And when they see it, they will think about what is written and what it means, and they will reflect on it," said Mr Rassam.

"I am not daunted by the task, I am very confident we will see it completed. Half of the journey is done, and every day that is passing by, it gives me a new energy. And if you think, what is 10 years of work for 1,000 years."

The search for a global audience

Irfan Mustafa is a Dubai businessman from Pakistan who is supporting Shahid Rassan's project to create the world's largest Quran. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Mr Rassam hopes to display the Surah Ar-Rahman section from his Quran at Expo 2020 Dubai, and is working with Dubai-based businessmen and the Pakistan Association Dubai to find a place for it in an appropriate pavilion.

Surah Ar-Rahman, meaning "The Most Beneficent", will cover five pages and cost Dh80,000 to make. The artists and calligraphers in Karachi expect to complete it in 20 days.

Several pavilions have already shown an interest in displaying the pages, but the artist and his supporters hope the Pakistan pavilion will sign up first.

Irfan Mustafa, an entrepreneur in Dubai, said the moment he saw Mr Rassam's work he knew it deserved global attention.

"I have known Shahid for 20 years, and I'm proud to showcase this unique project. The first time I saw this masterpiece, it had a tremendous impact on me," said Mr Mustafa, who is from Pakistan.

So far the project has been funded by community organisations and private donations, but Mr Rassan's benefactors hope to attract government support.

"These mega-projects are normally supported by governments, but our philosophy is not to worry about how to raise the money. When a big idea is going to make a difference you should go ahead and do it with noble intentions, and the universe will conspire to make your vision a reality," said Mr Mustafa.

Updated: September 27, 2021, 12:32 PM