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Malaysia has a thriving marketplace for the sale and purchase of Islamic calligraphic works but irresponsible entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the situation by retailing substandard products that are tarnishing the sanctity of Islam, as exposed in this first of a two-part article on this issue.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – It is a highly lucrative industry. Their prices ranging from as low as RM10 to over hundreds of thousands of ringgit each, Quranic calligraphic artworks are much sought-after in the Muslim community.
Besides serving as decorative objects that brighten up one’s home or workplace, as well as the mosque or surau, these aesthetic works of art featuring verses from the Al-Quran executed in calligraphy also evoke a sense of peace and calm in the beholders.
Not surprisingly, the good demand for such products has made them widely available in the market, even on social media platforms and popular e-commerce sites such as Shopee.
According to renowned calligraphy experts interviewed by Bernama, the Al-Quran calligraphy industry is one of the most lucrative branches of the economy that’s worth millions of ringgit and promises bright prospects for those who venture into it.
However, the experts are disconcerted by the goings-on in an industry which revolves around the use of verses from the Al-Quran – apparently, certain irresponsible businesses and retailers are exploiting the lucrative demand and showing disrespect to the revelations of Allah by prioritising profits over quality.
Not many may be aware of this but lately, various mistakes have been spotted in many Arabic calligraphic works featuring verses from the Al-Quran that are widely sold in the market.
Even mosque and surau managements have fallen victim to the bogus sellers as spelling and other errors have been found in the calligraphic carvings hanging on their walls.
The existence of substandard calligraphic works was confirmed by Zulhazmi Zakaria, a notable calligrapher and member of Lajnah Tashih Al-Quran, the committee at the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN) tasked with checking and assessing Al-Quran texts.
Zulhazmi has been involved in Islamic calligraphy for 17 years and is the go-to person for enforcement teams conducting raids on Arabic calligraphic works that do not meet the guidelines set by KDN.
He said it is a known fact that Arabic calligraphic works with incorrect spelling and markings are widely available in public retail areas such as the bazaar at Nilai 3 in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, as well as at home interior décor outlets and on e-commerce platforms.
“We found that most of these products come from abroad such as China and Pakistan where substandard materials are being used to produce such works. We noted many sentences with spelling mistakes; not only that, the script tends to fade fast due to the use of inferior quality materials,” he told Bernama when contacted recently.
He is also disturbed that Al-Quran verses executed in calligraphy are being displayed on products deemed as inappropriate such as prayer rugs, shoe soles and even foot mats, adding that such merchandise is widely available in the market.
The high demand for decorative calligraphic works is driving sales of such products. Unfortunately, not many of the buyers have knowledge of the art, making it easier for them to be exploited by ruthless entrepreneurs.
With inferior quality calligraphic works flooding the market, the consumers are the ones who are on the losing end, pointed out Zulhazmi who added that these products, especially those that are imported, don’t come cheap and can cost hundreds or even thousands of ringgit each.
NOT EASY TO CONTROL
The existence of mistake-ridden Islamic calligraphic works can be attributed to, among others, the difficulty in controlling their sales, particularly those sold via online platforms, said Persatuan Seni Khat Kebangsaan (PSKK) president Dr Abd Rahman Hamzah.
Online vendors are often hard to trace, with many of them possibly being non-Muslims who are just out to make a fast buck, he said, adding that it is, however, really frustrating when Muslims themselves are involved in such an activity.
“As Muslims, they have the responsibility to safeguard the sanctity of the Al-Quran… remember, Allah will not put to waste the efforts of those who preserve (the sanctity) of the Al-Quran. Beware the consequences of selling (calligraphic) works with errors that can distort the meaning of the verses to the extent of causing confusion among the people,” he added.
The situation is exacerbated when some vendors, in order to save costs, copy calligraphic designs of Al-Quran verses from random websites instead of seeking the services of a qualified calligrapher.
PSKK secretary-general Abdul Wahab Khalid said this is a cause for concern because the authenticity of the copied designs may be questionable.
“I found there are people in this industry who are not full-time calligraphers… then, there are those who have not studied calligraphy intensively, instead they just search for (calligraphy) designs using Google and copy them completely.
“These people are resorting to this as they have seen the potential of this industry. Some are willing to collaborate with their friends who have the skills in producing graphics, designs (to make a profit),” he said.
Meanwhile, similar errors are also being made by contractors who are entrusted with the task of making calligraphic carvings of Al-Quran verses that are displayed on the walls of buildings such as mosques and surau.
Abdul Wahab said his association has received many complaints from the public with regard to this matter which, he pointed out, is happening due to the lack of monitoring by the authorities concerned, especially the department in charge of Islamic affairs in the various states.
Citing the case of a mosque in Terengganu, Abdul Wahab said spelling mistakes were spotted in the calligraphic carving displayed on a wall in the mosque’s prayer hall.
“We visited the mosque concerned and found some major errors in the carving of a verse from the Al-Quran’s Surah Al-Fatihah – extra letters which shouldn’t be there were added to the verse. There were also mistakes on other panels in the same hall… dots were missing and additional letters were inserted.
“We found similar mistakes in (the carvings of) other mosques that were done by the same contractor. We were able to confirm this (identity of the contractor) through the tauqi’ (signature) of the calligrapher at the end of the verse where the errors were spotted,” said Abdul Wahab.
Convinced that other mosques elsewhere may also be using the mistake-ridden carvings of the same verse, he said upon questioning the management of the Terengganu mosque, they found that the blame lay with the contractor as the latter did not clarify who was responsible for producing the carving of the Al-Quran verse concerned.
Abdul Wahab added that his association received another report recently pointing to mistakes in the kalimah syahadah, executed in kufi murabba calligraphy, displayed on the front wall of the surau in a hospital in Selangor.
“These mistakes should not occur in the first place as they change the meaning of the verse,” he said, urging contractors tasked with installing decorative calligraphic verses in mosques and surau to view the matter seriously.
Meanwhile, a mosque official in Senai, Johor, who only wanted to be identified as Ustaz Ezad, said his mosque had to spend over RM10,000 to rectify the errors in the calligraphic carving of an Al-Quran verse installed under its dome.
“We were forced to recall the original carver to make the necessary corrections,” he said, adding that the mistakes were brought to the attention of the mosque management by the Johore Mufti Department.
“Initially, while the carving was being done, the mosque management was not on duty so it was difficult to monitor the carving process. In order to rectify the mistakes, the carver had to replace the entire carving with a new one. This problem could have been avoided if there was an authority to oversee such work.”
CREATE SPECIAL DIVISION
Abd Rahman suggested that the state Islamic authorities establish a special division to check the accuracy and authenticity of Al-Quran calligraphic works, particularly those displayed on the walls of buildings.
“This special division can also hopefully help the state religious authorities to monitor the calligraphic carvings for mosques,” he said.
He also advised those involved in retailing Islamic calligraphic works to procure their products only from trusted sources to retain the glory and supremacy of the Al-Quran’s holy verses.
This is because the beauty of any calligraphic work is rendered meaningless if it contains even a single error such as a missing letter or dot as it can change the meaning of the verse and tarnish the image of the calligraphy industry.
“Each work of calligraphy has a spirit of its own because we feel a sense of calmness when we look at it. But how can we be at peace when there is a mistake in the work?”
“This is why we are proposing that calligraphers put their signature on every piece of work they produce so that we will know who to look for in case there is a mistake in their work,” he added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
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