A Calligraphist with a Mission

I.Calligraphy donated a beautiful image of the Kaaba to a charity. That was how I discovered Umaar Ejaz´s intricate calligraphy pieces. I wanted to get to know how someone like him came into calligraphy, what inspires him and what is his mission. After interviewing Umaar, I discovered that he regularly donates canvases to various charities each month because and I quote him, ´´observing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine and feeling a sense of heartbreak and hopelessness from such imaginable catastrophes.´´ He wants to make a positive change through calligraphy all the while, striving for strength of his own mind, heart and soul. Here is the eloquent interview I have had with him:

R. You are not only an expert calligraphist, but also were a teacher and run your own Engineer firm? How do you prioritize calligraphy into your schedule?

U. Firstly, thank you for presenting me with an opportunity to speak about I.Calligraphy and the kindness expressed within your opening question. Imam Ghazali said ‘the true greatness of man lies in his capacity for eternal progress.’ I would not classify myself as an expert in any of the mentioned vocations. Regardless of the success and achievements I have accomplished, I am simply a soul who strives daily to better his essence, in all dimensions of his being.

I am everything I am and everything I ever will be because once upon a time someone took the time out of their life to love me. My faith, my family, my friends and everyone in-between these pillars, structurally support my strength. There is no faith with humility; the blessings bestowed upon my existence transcend me as an individual.

To apply some context, my mother taught me calligraphy at a young age and the premise within the calligraphy is rooted through her; my father was a civil engineer and the premise within the engineering is rooted through him. Consequently, from an academic pretext, I studied Engineering for my Undergraduate Degree and a Masters in Education and Philosophy. The premise within my outlook on education is rooted through everyone, who consciously or unconsciously became my teachers and ignited the light to see learning as a lifelong pursuit. I have met numerous people who have been inspired by the commitment I show towards my vocations. The achievements attained through the engineering, teaching and calligraphy. However, with any individual, we often abstract the social mechanisms of nurturing, guidance and support that maintain ones respective growth.

Thus, it would not have been possible to maintain my vocations including the opportunity to prioritize I.Calligraphy these past two years. Without the constant support of every individual within my life, whose time, effort, commitment, critique, inspiration, encouragement and prayers forever provide sustenance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has provided me with a platform to donate canvases every month to the ever-expanding list of charities. As I express my gratitude for the kindness and the deep belief shown, I know I would not be where I am today without the endless reciprocation of faith that so many people have shown in I.Calligraphy.

R. Your calligraphy, mashAllah, is very detailed and has always been auctioned off at excellent prices for many charitable/fundraising causes! What purpose does calligraphy play in your life and what purpose do you hope it play in the viewer´s life?

U. Art through an Islamic conception has always been progressive rather than regressive and built on the strong foundations of our plural heritage. Our ancestors never looked upon a specific period of history with nostalgia. Nor was their aim solely to replicate grandeur; they used the quintessence as a pretext for inspiration and develop their own identity.

The style of inscription that I.Calligraphy rests upon is intended to follow this principle and amalgamate a classical and contemporary edifice. The story behind each design, attempts to entwine the past and present into an or edifice of expression. My aspirations were not to replicate calligraphy that I saw many artists construct, but to convey the depth and structure of my own faith through the work. Each canvas is a personal narrative of universality; it paints a story that is timeless and illustrates our collective humanity. Even though the essence of the calligraphy rests upon my faith, it is not intended to appease a specific demographic but express the ethereal and universal dimensions of Islam.

The story behind each design, attempts to entwine the past and present into an orifice of expression. My aspirations were not to replicate calligraphy that I saw many artists construct, but to convey the depth and structure of my own faith through the work.

Each canvas is a personal narrative of universality; it paints a story that is timeless and illustrates our collective humanity.

Even though the essence of the calligraphy rests upon my faith, it is not intended to appease a specific demographic but express the ethereal and universal dimensions of Islam.

Art has the potential to be a universal language and as a medium of expression, allows us to understand meaning without words.

Through this philology, I.Calligraphy tries to speak of the human condition, as a discourse for existential questions. Regarding ones relationship with their heart, mind, soul, family, community, nationality, that correspond to defining and redefining our understanding of a constructive identity. And inwardly the quintessential meaning within our virtues, mannerisms, behaviour, morals, ethics and humanity, all manifesting within our connection with God.

The calligraphy is a passage to my own respective growth. And through this medium I persevere to evoke that change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Everything I have studied through religion, literature, sciences, art, philosophy, law, social sciences, maths, engineering, and environmentalism, speaks through the calligraphy.

I feel this is a principled responsibility, as there is so much negativity perceived by the general populace through the false prism of the mainstream media and particular political demagogues. A deceitful and myopic story of Islam and Muslims has been created through artificial sensationalism and hollow propaganda. Consequently, the daily endeavours of contributing and law abiding Muslim citizens in everyday civic life is abstracted and deducted from all our depth. The multi dimensional stories of our mothers, fathers, students, teachers, careers, nurses, doctors, designers, engineers, scientist, artists, writers, activist, humanitarians and innumerable individuals are intentionally silenced. Our strategy should be not only to confront the injustices of this narrow-minded populist dogma, but also to lay siege to it. To deprive it of breath, to shame the falsehood within it, to become the voice of the voiceless. With our vocation, our skill, our harmony, our persistence, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we are being brainwashed to believe.

R. You said you learned calligraphy from your mother. How did this interest arise, where did it all begin?

U. My mother taught me calligraphy at a young age and in essence she instilled a deeper sense of culture within me. To cultivate and understand the rich depth of our heritage through faith, history, philosophy, literature, poetry and music. These kernels of creativity have become deeply rooted within my notion of identity. And yet she always guided me to retain intellectual modesty in my own growth and reflect maturity, through the core framework of self-awareness, knowledge and understanding. I firmly believe that the spirit of the calligraphy I create is a means to bring myself closer to God and convey the beauty of Islam. Morally, ethically and spiritually speaking, the story behind I.Calligraphy resides in reflecting my own akhlaq (practice of virtue, morality and manners in Islamic theology and philosophy) in meaning.

Calligraphy has always been a hobby that I practised within my spare time and before I began I.Calligraphy, I would always make canvases similar to my current work, as gifts for my family and closest friends. Two years ago, the catalyst behind I.Calligraphy was observing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine and feeling a sense of heartbreak and hopelessness from such imaginable catastrophes. And yearning to make a difference, regardless of how significant or insignificant it may be. And from this intention, I have seen I.Calligraphy flourish from strength to strength. Being able to donate work regularly and work with countless individuals, organisations and charities. All of whom that have attained and retained the pivotal role of making I.Calligraphy what it has become today.

On a monthly basis, donations are made without any cost incurred to the organisation or charity. The intention and focus behind this action is not the self. It is the momentarily disregard of my personal concerns, the absence of self centred thought, which constitute the art of giving wholeheartedly. Contextually, charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. And I know at the end of my life, I will not be judged on how many degrees I have received, how much money I have accumulated, how much individual material affluence I have achieved. Rather, I will be judged by how I helped others, as God always helped me.

R. What are the three most important pieces of advice you can give to an aspiring calligraphist?

U. From my own experience, I have discovered that my intentions and faith have always been the core of my personal success and the collective accomplishments attained through my vocations. The calligraphy has provided me with the opportunity to travel extensively and I.Calligraphy has been exhibited in galleries, magazines and purchased by thousands of individuals on an international scale. This may be encouraging and humbling, but it has no deeper significance. I feel this way because neither material nor immaterial notions of success drive my ambition. I am compelled by the inclination to better myself as a person, through serving my family in faith and humanity.

I would also advocate that being and remaining an active part of your community and contributing to charity projects is a necessity. Regardless of religious affiliation, always remain committed with your time, effort and energy as these qualities shape your character. Never see charity as a passive, temporary part of your life, but always see compassion in everything you do. Whether that is to give pleasure to a single heart, by a single act of kindness or to give pleasure to a thousand hearts by a thousand acts of kindness, both essentially stem from the same eternal seed.

Plato understood ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. The notion meant to question every ideal until it holds firm roots in every facet of one´s life. This is because we, as people, so often become passive and comfortable towards a mediocre existence. I have been very fortunate to be given the chance to reflect and change my own path. Success is psychological and it is a paradox, you have to live the dream, to realise it is not necessarily your dream. I always ask the question ‘You work to make a living, but what do you do to keep alive?’

I personally believe that our faith has to become embodied into every aspect of our life. Faith like knowledge is not linear, but circular. It will always be an on going cycle. It is dynamic and constantly in-need of vision and revision. That is why I firmly believe there is no faith without humility. To constantly pray, read, travel, give, grow through experiences and express my faith as a verb. I strive daily to reflect, understand and become consciously, sub-consciously aware of my strengths and weaknesses so that I may better my heart, mind and soul.

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Rumki Chowdhury
Rumki Chowdhury

Published Author and Journalist. Born in Bangladesh, raised in USA, lived in UK and now in Sweden. Married and mother of two daughters, Alhumduililah.

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