Islamic Calligraphy speaks its own language. The tradition is the result of hundreds of years worth of innovation and few have been on the kind of journey, or reach the level of mastery that Mohammed Zakariya has reached. He dropped out of high school and converted to Islam at the age of 19 after traveling the Middle East. Over half a century on and Zakariya is now the preeminent American master of Islamic calligraphy.
After leaving high school, Zakariya taught himself Arabic through years of self-study and spent time honing his craft by working under multiple calligraphic experts. It took four years of working for others for Zakariya to eventually earn his diploma- qualifying him as a calligrapher in his own right.
Two trips to Morocco in the early 1960s had introduced him first-hand to a religion that, he says, attracted him “like a magnet.” Hardly the average tourist, Zakariya spent most of his time in mosques. During his second visit, while examining a copy of the Qur’an in a small bookstore, he met an Egyptian calligrapher, Abdussalam Ali-Nour, who was to become his first teacher. This was the beginning of an intriguing path that, years later, led him to Istanbul and master calligrapher Hasan Çelebi.
His innate curiosity led Zakariya on an extended two-year journey throughout Europe during the mid-1960s. By this time he had truly mastered his craft, through study and dedication and is now considered a master calligrapher, his works were even featured in the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” (2002), produced by Unity Productions Foundation.
What’s refreshing is that throughout his work you’ll see that he keeps a traditional influence, but upholds that his style is also western. “I don’t like the contrast between western and Islamic art. To me, I’m a western person and my take on calligraphy probably is a very western take.”
When viewing his working you’re not just witnessing art, you’re looking at years of patience, soul searching, and commitment to his faith.