KARACHI: For the last five years, Shahid Rassam has worked on his “dream project,” preparing a copy of the Quran that the Pakistani-Canadian artist says is the world’s largest version of the holy book and one in which — for the first time in over 1,400 years of Islamic history — the script is crafted out of aluminum and plated in gold.
Now, the Karachi-based artist will be displaying the first of its kind project at the Dubai Expo 2020, scheduled to be held next month. His ultimate wish: that the work is acquired by a Muslim country, preferably Saudi Arabia.
“Calligraphers have created great copies of the holy Quran but no one has casted the holy book in [aluminum in] the last fourteen centuries,” Rassam told Arab News at his home in the port city of Karachi, where he is the principal since 2018 of the Arts Council Institute of Arts and Crafts.
Indeed, several large versions of the holy book have been created in the past, using conventional materials such as paper, cloth and animal skin. These include a 4.9 X 6.6 feet copy kept at the Kul Sharif mosque in the Russian city of Kazan, that was awarded a Guinness World Records certificate for being the world’s largest Quran, and the world’s only wood-carved version, measuring 5.8 X 4.6 feet, that is displayed in Palembang, Indonesia.
But Rassam, 49, whose name means “the artist” in Arabic and was given him by the legendary poet Jaun Elia, said his version of the holy book, measuring 8.5 X 6.5 feet, was the largest ever created and would be registered with the Guinness World Records once completed.
Rassam began the project by casting letters in clay as part of the “script-making” process for the Quran, which has 550 pages and more than 80,000 words.
“The clay was plastered and eventually converted into fiber before being cast in aluminum, followed by the gold plating,” he explained. “I created my own design with acrylic colors ... And the technique is also very important. I used Italian glazing technique to develop the design.”
Rassam has previously rendered the Asma Ul Husna, or the 99 names of Allah in Islam, in a similar format after being inspired by the work of Sadequain, a world-renowned Pakistani calligrapher and painter. His training in Turkish, Arabic and Persian motifs and designs had helped in the process, Rassam said.
Besides his work as a painter and sculptor, Rassam also teaches at renowned institutes in the United States, Pakistan, India and the Middle East, including at the Al-Ain University UAE, the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, Boston University, JNUT Delhi, University of Toronto, J J School of Art in Mumbai, and Shanti Nikaytan in Kolkota.
Rassam has produced commissioned portraits of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the sitting Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai. His work has been exhibited around the world, including in the UK, the US, Canada, France, Italy, the UAE, India, and Pakistan.
Now, Rassam’s next goal is to find patrons in Muslim countries for his copy of the Quran, saying he would be the “happiest man in the world” if Saudi Arabia acquired the project.
“The last largest Quran was acquired by a [Russian] museum,” he said. “I wish a Muslim country would come forward and acquire this great piece of the Holy Quran.”