The art of calligraphy or in Arabic “art of the hat” is one of the richest cultural artifacts of Morocco.
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 Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Since the Islamic conquest, Moroccan calligraphers have relentlessly pursued their craft, despite a dearth of schools to teach the skill and a 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 Qur’anic verse, or famous sayings or lessons.
The type of calligraphy created by Serghini appeared in the country in the first century of the Hegira, when it was used by the Berbers both for memorizing the Holy Quran and as a means of communication. Serghini says there are now different types of Moroccan calligraphy.
“There is the Maghrebized Mashreqi script, which is called the Moroccan Thuluth script, and there is the Moroccan Mabsut script, in which the Qurans are written. Then there is another Moroccan script called the Mujawher script. which manuscripts and letters are written, and even royal sofas specialize in them,” he explains.
Moroccan calligraphy and Arabic Kufic script
Moroccan calligraphy comes from the ancient Arabic Kufic script. It then evolved into what is known as the Kairouan Kufic script, which appeared during the Islamic conquests in the 7th century AD
The Andalusian Mabsut script followed in the 8th century AD, then, according to researchers in this field, the Moroccan Mabsut script appeared. Through efforts and innovation, Moroccan calligraphy is still developing. Rather than having calligraphy schools, most learn through practices passed down through generations.
Serghini started learning calligraphy in his childhood. But he did not attend school and lacked the necessary materials, such as pens and paper.
“Every handwriting has its pen tip. This information was missing and was not provided. Then there was a shortage of paper. Now we have a great quantity and variety of paper. The paper that calligraphers use is not ordinary paper , it is paper called pressed paper for the stages it goes through, it is a special paper for writing, and it is suitable for writing and erasing, and it makes work easier. All of this was rare.” Serghini says.
Moroccan and Arabic calligraphy is prolific
“The Maghrebized Mashreqi script, or the Moroccan Thuluth script, wrote with a pointed instrument, which is the compass. It drew in wood, zellij, marble, and it was also drawn in manuscripts, then it was filled in and a margin was put in for it, and now he’s writing with a very normal Arabic calligraphy pen. So, this is a development.” Serghini says.
In the city of Fez, in northern Morocco, a small workshop has been set up to teach Moroccan and Arabic calligraphy to children and teenagers. The creation of such schools is considered an important initiative to preserve this heritage.
There have been attempts to revive this art in Morocco through the establishment 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 my childhood, I always saw my father writing and painting. That’s what attracted me to this calligraphy. I also liked learning calligraphy. That’s why I always sat next to him and learned gradually. I started with the drawing and then after that calligraphy” says Fatima.
Azzahra uses both modern and traditional methods, metal and wooden pens. Use pressed paper, which is thick. Calligraphy is considered a particularly inclusive practice in Morocco and has become increasingly popular among women in recent years.