A beautiful text: How Arabic calligraphy illustrates faith

“I think if we’re not doing things with our hands, we are not really living to our fullest capability.” Trained in Arabic and Western calligraphy, Salman Khattak says writing is a spiritual practice.

A beautiful text: How Arabic calligraphy illustrates faith

5 years ago
Duration 2:12
Salman Khattak explains how writing is one of the most spiritually connected things we can practice.

Growing up in Pakistan, Salman Khattak was the kind of kid who needed to keep his hands busy. He loved to draw and paint, to take things apart and figure out how to put them back to together — and he could fix just about anything, including rebuilding a 1949 motorcycle with parts he fashioned himself.

Years later, when living and working in Dubai as an electrical engineer, his wife signed him up for a workshop on Arabic calligraphy. Salman was hooked.

(Salman Khattak)

It's highly detailed work, requiring years to learn. The time it takes to prepare the tools used in Arabic calligraphy is equally time consuming.

Every part of the process is carefully crafted - from dying the handmade paper with tea, to making a certain type of ink that will last centuries, and carving a pen from wood that is made for your specific grip. 

Salman Khattak on his Matchless G3L motorcycle, in Peshawar, Pakistan circa 1990. Parts for this 1940’s vehicle were no longer available, so he restored it by hand, fashioning the pieces he needed himself. (Salman Khattak)

Arabic calligraphy was developed as a way to give reverence to religious texts. And Khattak says he can see the importance of writing expressed directly in the Qur'an.

"The first revelation to Asma-e-Muhammad, our prophet, peace be upon him … The angel came to him and the first word that the angel said to him was 'Iqra' … 'Iqra' means read." said Khattak. 

"There is no other revelation. No one has had a chance to write anything, so what is he reading? Something must have been written ahead of time. But if this angel is revealing it to the prophet for the first time, who wrote it? That, is just to me, it's mind-blowing. The importance of writing."

"That has to make writing one of the most important things that we can practice - it's a direct connection to God. He wrote things first and then told the prophet to read. So for me, that realization kind of made sense of why is it that I enjoy writing so much. And actually everybody does."

Salman Khattak teaches a calligraphy workshop. (Salman Khattak)

Khattak also says that Arabic calligraphers start each session by writing a specific prayer.

"'O my Lord, ease my task for me, and do not make it difficult.' So you start with that, knowing that you have asked for help from the highest source and it just puts you in the right frame of mind."

Khattak was also mentored by the Australian calligrapher Geoff Ford and has continued to practice and teach both western and Arabic calligraphy since the mid 2000's.

He also hand carves wooden pen holders and provides custom work on fountain pens for the Toronto Pen Company.

Calligraphy pens made by Salman Khattak : Dragon Tail Curve with Acrylic accents (Salman Khattak)