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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Libyan couple risks ire of hardliners to promote Islamic calligraphy

Ali al-Boussefi teaches the skill as well as creating artwork

The Arabic and Islamic calligraphy exhibition took place in Libya's Tripoli museum. Reuters
The Arabic and Islamic calligraphy exhibition took place in Libya's Tripoli museum. Reuters

Ali al-Boussefi and his wife Zeinab al-Bashari are on a mission to promote the practice of Islamic calligraphy in Libya, even at the risk of offending hardliners in the country.

"We hardly have academic (professional) Islamic calligraphy in Libya," said Boussefi, a trained accountant who has been practising the art since 2007. "There is no expertise."

Having graduated from a Turkish calligraphy institute, he now works with his wife, a university professor of calligraphy, making a living teaching the art of depicting verses from the Quran in the ancient style.

The tradition developed on the Arabian Peninsula after the arrival of Islam, spreading to much of what is now the Middle East and Turkey. But it is little known in Libya as former leader Muammar Qaddafi discouraged Islamic culture.

Libyan visitors carry Arabic and Islamic calligraphy at the exhibition in Tripoli. Reuters
Libyan visitors carry Arabic and Islamic calligraphy at the exhibition in Tripoli. Reuters

"The circumstances that we have gone through, they truly are fatal conditions but we have a message: that working in the arts is considered peace, because art at times of war is peace," Boussefi said.

Some of Boussefi's work is controversial. In one piece he uses verses from the Quran describing the Prophet's body and manner, something frowned upon by the Salafists who have been on the rise since the toppling of Qaddafi in 2011.

"Some people don't accept this though I took this all from the Quran," Boussefi said.

His current exhibition also gives local residents a rare chance to visit the former palace of King Idris, who was toppled by Qaddafi in 1969.

Used as museum and library during Qaddafi's rule, the royal palace surrounded by a large garden is now only used to hold exhibitions, which are rare in the capital.

Cultural life picked up in Tripoli after 2011 but has slowed again since 2014 due to poor security and threats from hardliners.

A year ago, a Salafist force raided a comic festival in Tripoli for "indecency".

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