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Expo 2020 Dubai: Meet the man behind world’s largest Quran

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The award-winning artist considers the UAE a second home and very close to his heart

In less than a month, visitors will be able to view a part of the world’s largest Holy Quran at the Expo 2020 Dubai, courtesy Pakistani artist and former UAE resident Shahid Rassam.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times on Saturday, the celebrity international artist said the six-month-long mega event is the ideal place to showcase the first-of-its-kind project which is being cast on high-quality canvas with aluminium and gold-plated words for the first time in Islamic history.

“The UAE is an incredible place to live, work and build the future,” he said. “It shows the world how people with different faiths, religions, and dialects can reside together peacefully and contribute their share to the country’s progress.”

Rassam, who spent 11 years in the UAE and has garnered international acclaim, called the UAE a second home — one that is very close to his heart.

“I spent the best part of my life in the UAE and appreciate its visionary leadership for developing the country into a modern and progressive nation. I was honoured to portray some of the royal family members as well, including His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai,” he said.

The Dubai Ruler’s portrait is still a part of Dubai Museum, said Rassam — something he considers a “great honour and matter of pride”.

“I have created a portrait of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and CEO of Emirates Group. I also did the artwork for members of the Abu Dhabi royal family during my time in the UAE,” said Rassam, who is now principal of the Arts Council Institute of Arts and Crafts in Karachi.

Lifetime project

Talking about the project, Rassam said the Holy Quran project he is working on will be long-lasting — compared to earlier work done on paper, cloth, and animal skins.

“Quranic calligraphy has been written by many calligraphers in the last 1,400 years — but no one has cast it to date. I was looking at the mural of Sadequain — the great artist behind so many wonderful calligraphic murals — and his calligraphy of Allah’s 99 names when I derived the idea of casting them.

Rassam shared the idea with close friend and philanthropist Rashid Abdullah, who encouraged him to take on the challenging task. “I cast the names of Allah in aluminium and gold-plated them. Abdullah acknowledged my efforts and acquired the whole project,” he elaborated.

The artist then decided to go for an even bigger challenge. “I chalked out a plan and initiated this great project five years ago to cast the largest Quran-e-Kareem of the world,” he said.

Rassam said the life of this state-of-the-art piece is very important for him and that’s why he chose a canvas to cast the words with aluminium.

“No one has done anything on canvas yet as it is not an easy process for such a novel idea and high-scale project. My work is a combination of canvas, metals, and colours and it will surprise everyone once the project is finished,” he said.

Developing the design

Excluding the frame, Rassam said the size of the Holy Quran is 8.5-ft tall and 6.5-ft wide.

“It will have approximately 150 words on each page. The total number of pages will be 550 and it may take another four to five years to complete the project,” he said.

The artist said he studied different patterns in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, among others.

“I have developed a very unique design for the project and am using a miniature and Italian glazing technique to design the pages,” he said. “I also studied different calligraphy styles — such as Riqa, Kofik, Nasq, etc — before finally settling on Nastaleeq because of its beauty and simplicity.”

It was a close friend and leading corporate personality Irfan Mustafa who suggested he exhibt at Expo 2020.

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“He convinced me to share a part of my work at the Expo so that my efforts could be acknowledged by the 200-plus exhibition participants as well as visitors from all over the world,” Rassam said.

“Irfan gave me all kinds of support to realise this challenging task. He voluntarily joined the project only for the love of Quran, art and me,” he added.

muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com

author

Muzaffar Rizvi

Business Editor/News Editor of Khaleej Times is a well-connected journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the mainstream journalism since 1997, covering the UAE’s economy and key sectors. He holds a post-graduate degree in Economics and has won many awards for authentic and insightful reports on global and regional businesses and economic trends.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WC Times staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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