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Deen Arts Foundation SA launches Al-Qalam Quran Project

WIDAD SIRKHOTTE shares details about the launch of Deen Arts Foundation South Africa’s (DAFSA) Al-Qalam Quran Project, which aims to teach not only excellent writing skills but also a beautiful way of being.

IN March 2023, the non-profit organisation DAFSA was established in South Africa under the guidance of the internationally renowned Islamic calligrapher, Haji Noor Deen Mi Guang Jiang from China. An international organisation was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue Islamic calligraphic teaching and learning practices. However, the idea for a South African branch arose from the increasing number of dedicated South African students who continue to enrol for various traditional Islamic art courses.

Starting with just three South African students in 2020, the organisation now boasts over 70 students, four of whom achieved their ijaza certifications earlier this year in Cape Town. This marked a historic milestone as the first Islamic calligraphy graduation ceremony in the history of South Africa. DAFSA aims to promote and preserve the noble Quran in its written and visual form by offering a variety of traditional Islamic art courses taught by specialists and qualified teachers. The variety ranges from Ottoman, Maghrebi and Chinese-Arabic calligraphic scripts to tezhip (illumination) and geometric pattern courses.

As Islam spread to different nations and tribes, diverse calligraphic scripts emerged to codify the Arabic language of the Quran in ways that made it accessible to non-Arab Muslim communities. For example, early Quranic manuscripts did not include diacritical markings (codes) such as fatha, kasra, damma, and shadda. Furthermore, there were no dots to distinguish letters like faa, kaf, nun, and ya.

The task of making the Arabic letters in the Quran easy to read owes its merit to those who have devoted their lives to transcribing and writing (copying) the Quran, enabling Muslims to learn, read, and apply its teachings. They have spent years meticulously copying its verses, letter by letter, demonstrating unwavering devotion and love for the Quran. This is indeed an act of worship, seeking the pleasure of Allah as the ultimate reward. In South Africa, numerous Quranic copies have been handwritten from memory by our ancestors from Southeast Asia.

Learned and pious individuals such as the Rajah of Tambora, Tuan Guru, and Imam Rajab van Boughies elaborately penned Quran copies in an East-Arabic script style, incorporating both angular and cursive strokes along with diacritical markings to guide pronunciation and ensure ease of reading. In many South African madressas, ‘toelies’ was once a part of the madressa curriculum for teaching the Quran, but it is no longer a primary focus.

In a recent conversation with Shaikh Achmat Hendricks from the Azzavia Masjid, he explained that he and his late brother Shaikh Siraaj Hendricks had taken classes in the practice of writing (copying) the Quran when they studied in Makkah many years ago. He emphasised that it is indeed a beautiful practice that our community should embrace. Drawing inspiration from this tradition, DAFSA has launched the Al-Qalam Quran Project, through which the noble Quran will be meticulously hand-copied by 38 carefully selected South African students.

The aim is to train these students in an East-Arabic script, ensuring that there are qualified and trained South African Muslims capable of teaching the art of Quran writing (copying). This practice not only imparts beautiful writing skills but also embodies a beautiful way of being, such as adab and akhlaq.

Despite the prevalence of technology and mass printers, this practice is essential in our communities as it helps us connect to Allah and our Muslim identity while nurturing a love for the Quran. The Al-Qalam Quran Programme is fully funded, covering tuition fees, stationery, tools, books, and workshop expenses. Led by Haji Noor Deen and his team of qualified teachers, the classes will be conducted online twice a month over three years, accommodating those with full-time commitments.

Students will be required to submit homework regularly and, as a final assignment, write a juz of the Quran twice in order to obtain their ijaza certification. This work will be meticulously reviewed by Shaikh Ismail Londt and his team as part of the process. This sacred practice of Quran writing (copying) enables us to cultivate scholars and hufaath and to build a community of devout Muslims who honour, read, learn, follow, and write the Quran.

As the Prophet (saw) said, ‘The best among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Quran and teach it to others’ (Sahih Bukhari).

To apply, you must be a South African Muslim aged 18 or older and demonstrate commitment and eagerness to learn. No prior Arabic writing experience is required, as all necessary skills will be taught. The application deadline is December 15, 2023. Applications should be submitted online through the DAFSA website.

For further details, please visit www.deenartsfoundation.org.za.

For more in-depth information about the history of the compilation of the Quran, please visit the Muslim Views website (www.muslimviews.co.za) in which we provide a brief overview of how the Quranic verses were compiled into one book and its dissemination, all whilst ensuring the preservation of the Quran’s original words.

Widad Sirkhotte is an education researcher.

Haji Noor Deen Mi Guang Jiang from China and his wife, Fatima Yiying Cao, at the first Islamic calligraphy graduation ceremony in Cape Town in March 2023. The Deen Arts Foundation South Africa (DAFSA), which was established under the instruction of this internationally renowned Islamic calligrapher, will be launching its Al-Qalam Quran Project early in the new year, insha Allah.