Weinberg second-year Lucas Kritz practices writing an “alif” and even spacing in Kresge 2435 during MENA Student Association’s Calligraphy Workshop event for Arab Heritage month. Photo by Angelica Lanuza / North by Northwestern

It can take nearly a decade for an Arabic calligraphy student to receive an ijazah, a diploma signifying mastery in the art form. The work required to become a master in calligraphy consists of copying the same lines of a work assigned to the student by their teacher over and over again until it is replicated to perfection.

Zeeshan Farooq, a professional calligrapher, has been passionate about Arabic calligraphy since fifth grade. Though he didn’t visit Northwestern with the hopes of creating a master in an hour, he was able to share a few of the basics during the MENA Student Association’s Calligraphy Workshop event on April 17.

The style he taught that night is called Riq’a. He described it as a simple style similar to Arabic handwriting. After demonstrating how to write an “alif,” one of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, students immediately got to work on their own attempts using the bamboo pens he supplied for the event. The pens squeaked as they were pressed hard against the paper and attendees quickly learned how much work goes into making even a single proper stroke. Grip, pressure, speed and direction are all important.

There are several different styles of Arabic calligraphy. Many of the other calligraphy styles are more ornate and difficult to read, but beautiful for decoration. Farooq explained that there is heavy restriction on art in the Islamic faith. Therefore, a lot of artistic energy went into creating the wide variety of scripts over the centuries. For example, the kufic script, which dates back as early as the 8th century, is used a lot for architectural decoration.

“Zero readability, but beautification is almost 100,” Farooq said about the kufic script.

Faris Eltayib, a Weinberg first-year, said this was his second time being taught by Farooq at NU. He said the part he struggled with the most was his grip, though it was much easier the second time trying and he enjoys watching the beautification of Arabic writing.

For Arab students, the prominence of calligraphy in their culture is a well-known fact, but Weinberg second-year and MENA Student Association co-president Lucas Kritz feels that others outside the culture don’t grasp its significance.

“A huge part of Arabic culture is writing. Arabic is a very beautiful language both to speak and to write,” Kritz said. “All kinds of art in Arabic, whether it be literature or any religious calligraphy, has a big presence.”

All events hosted by MENA on campus are open to anyone regardless of their backgrounds.

Though the workshop was on writing in Arabic, it was a great opportunity for non-Arab students to learn a lot of the historical and cultural significance behind the practice.

“It’s very beautiful, we’re very proud of it and so we think it’s really great that we have the opportunity to have someone that will come and teach people,” Kritz said. “The writing and the language are so ingrained in the culture. If you take an Arabic class here, you’ll know that because it’s not just a language class, it’s also a culture class.”

Farooq has visited NU multiple times to lead calligraphy workshops. MENA Student Association hosted him last year as well to commemorate Arab Heritage Month. He’s also been invited in the past by other student organizations, such as the NU Muslim-cultural Students Association. He said he hopes to return again soon to keep sharing the passion he has for calligraphy.