Arabic calligraphy joins UNESCO´s List of Intangible Heritage

On Tuesday, UNESCO inscribed in its intangible heritage the Arabic calligraphy, which constitutes a basic cultural symbol in the Arab and Islamic world despite the decline in the number of calligraphers, in a classification that allows the preservation of a heritage that is often threatened.

UNESCO defines intangible cultural heritage or “living heritage” as “the practices, traditions, knowledge and skills – and associated instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces – that communities, groups, and sometimes individuals consider part of their cultural heritage”.

Among the most prominent types of “this intangible cultural heritage passed down from generation to generation” are oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive occasions.

The United Nations organization described Arabic calligraphy, which 16 Muslim countries or the majority of the population of which are Muslims, led by Saudi Arabia, sought to choose it as “the art of writing in Arabic in a smooth way, an expression of consistency (…) and beauty.”

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said in a statement carried by the state news agency that "the inclusion of Arabic calligraphy in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO contributes effectively to the promotion of intangible cultural heritage, especially calligraphy arts in local communities."

Before announcing the selection of the art of Arabic calligraphy, the Executive Director of the Saudi Society for the Preservation of Heritage, a non-governmental body participating in the project, Abdul Majeed Mahboub, told AFP that "Arabic calligraphy has been a symbol of the Arab-Islamic world since antiquity."

But he noted that "many people no longer write by hand due to the development of technology," while there was a significant decline in the number of specialized calligraphers.

Mahboub believed that the inclusion of Arabic calligraphy on the UNESCO list of intangible heritage contributes to “educating” Arabs about this problem and will have a “definitely positive impact” on efforts to preserve this art.

Since the signing of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, nearly 500 traditions have been inscribed on the United Nations List. The most famous are Mexican mariachi music, Finnish sauna, Naples pizza art or even Thai massage.

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