The art of calligraphy or in Arabic “the art of the hat” is one of Morocco’s richest cultural artifacts.
Over time, passionate calligraphers have worked tirelessly to save the tradition from extinction, and that effort has doubled since December last year, when UNESCO added Arabic calligraphy to its list of intangible cultural heritage. .
Since the Islamic conquest, Moroccan calligraphers have pursued their craft relentlessly, despite the scarcity of schools to teach the craft and the lack of raw materials.
Moroccan calligrapher Mohamed Serghini works daily in his office, using various materials to create inscriptions. His work may consist of a Quranic verse, or famous sayings or lessons.
The type of calligraphy created by Serghini appeared in the country in the first Hijri century, when it was used by Berbers both to memorize the Holy Quran and as a means of communication. Serghini says there are now several types of Moroccan calligraphy.
“There is the Maghrebian Mashreqi script, which is called the Moroccan Thuluth script, and there is the Moroccan Mabsut script, in which the Korans are written. Then there is another Moroccan script called the Mujawher is the script in which we write manuscripts and letters, and the royal divans also specialized in it, ”he explains.
Moroccan calligraphy and Arabic Kufic script
Moroccan calligraphy is derived from the ancient Arabic Kufic script. It then evolved into what is known as the Kufic script of Kairouan, which appeared during the Islamic conquests in the 7th century AD.
The Andalusian Mabsut script in the 8th century AD followed, and then after that the Moroccan Mabsut script appeared, according to scholars in this field. Through effort and innovation, Moroccan calligraphy continues to develop. Rather than having calligraphy schools, most learn through practices passed down from generation to generation.
Serghini started learning calligraphy as a child. But he was not going to school and lacked the necessary materials, such as pens and papers.
“Each calligraphy has its own pen tip. This information was missing and not provided. Then there was a shortage of paper. Now we have a very large quantity and variety of paper. The paper that the calligraphers use is not ordinary paper, it is so-called pressed paper because of the stages it goes through, it is special writing paper, and it is suitable for writing and erasing, and he makes work easier. All that was rare,” says Serghini.
Moroccan and Arabic calligraphy is prolific
“Maghrebi Mashreqi writing, or Moroccan Thuluth writing, wrote with a pointed tool, which is the compass. It drew in wood, zellij, marble, and it was also drawn in manuscripts, then it was filled and a margin was put in for that, and now he’s writing with a very ordinary Arabic calligraphy pen. So that’s a development,” says Serghini.
In the city of Fez, in northern Morocco, a small workshop has been formed to teach Moroccan and Arabic calligraphy to children and young people. The establishment of such schools is seen as an important initiative to preserve this heritage.
There have been attempts to revive this art in Morocco through the creation of two educational institutions in Casablanca and Fez.
Inclusive practice in Morocco
Fatima Azzahra Sennaa is a Moroccan calligraphy student at the Sarhrij calligraphy school in Fez. She has loved calligraphy since childhood and was inspired by her father, who is also a calligrapher and teaches at the same school. Azzahra’s father encourages her passion and gives her advice.
“Since I was a child, I always saw my father write and paint. That’s what attracted me to this calligraphy. I also liked to learn calligraphy. That’s why I always sat near him and I learned gradually. I started with drawing and then after this calligraphy” says Fatima.
Azzahra uses both modern and traditional methods, metal and wooden pens. She uses pressed paper, which is thick. Calligraphy is considered a particularly inclusive practice in Morocco, and in recent years it has become increasingly popular with women.