Mohamed Zakariya

VCU-Q Calligraphist to Design Gift for Saudi King

Mohamed Zakariya is an Islamic calligrapher, artist, and maker of custom instruments from the history of science. Born in Ventura, California, in 1942, he began his study of Islamic calligraphy in 1961. After continuing his studies with A.S. Ali Nour in Tangier, Morocco, and independently at the British Museum, he was invited in 1984 by the Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA) in Istanbul to study with two celebrated Turkish calligraphers: Hasan Celebi and Ali Alparslan. In 1988, Zakariya received the prized icazet (diploma) in sulus/nesih script from Mr. Celebi in a ceremony in Istanbul, and in 1997, he received the icazet in ta’lik from Dr. Alparslan.

In 2001, Zakariya designed and did the calligraphy for the “Eid Greetings” U.S. Postal stamp, the first to commemmorate a Muslim holiday. He has presented numerous workshops and lectures on Islamic calligraphy, and his calligraphic works have been exhibited widely in this country and abroad. (See Selected Exhibitions and Other Occasions.) He is the author of numerous articles and monographs, including Music for the Eyes, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Museum of Art in conjunction with a 1998-99 exhibit of Ottoman calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci collection. He has also translated from the Turkish the exhibition catalogue, Letters in Gold, by Ugur Derman, as well as Mr. Derman’s Art of Calligraphy in the Islamic Heritage (IRCICA, 1999).

A master woodworker, engraver, and machinist, Zakariya also designs and constructs functioning examples of antique-style horological and scientific instruments, examples of which are in the collections of the Aramco Science Museum in Saudi Arabia, the National Museum of Qatar, the Time Museum in Rockford, Ill., and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Earlier in life, Zakariya performed in England with the stage comedy troupe Bruce Lacey and the Alberts (1964-66) while he was pursuing independent studies at the British Museum and in Fez, Morocco. Following that, he was a consultant to Oscar Meyer Antiques, Los Angeles, in the areas of calligraphy, illumination, antique restoration, and instrument making (1966-71).

Also a member of Virginia Commonwealth University-Qatar (VCUQ) Joint Advisory Board, Mohamed Zakariya was recently commissioned by US President Barack Obama to create a gift of calligraphy for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.

The commissioned gift is a work of Islamic calligraphy in Arabic Sulus script with ink and gold on Ahar paper with Ebru borders and backing for President Obama’s visit to the Middle East.

Taken from the Qur’an (Chapter 49: Verse 13), the English translation of the script reads:

“O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognise one another. The noblest among you in God’s sight is the most conscientious of you. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

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