New Delhi, India – Self-taught calligrapher Anil Kumar Chowhan has written Quran verses in Arabic on the walls of more than 200 mosques across India during his 30-year career.
The 50-year-old man living in Hyderabad ignited his passion for calligraphy when he painted signs for a shop near the Urdu city in southern India to make a living.
“I belong to a very poor Hindu family and had to give up my studies to support my family after 10th grade. I am good at drawing, so I thought why not use this skill to pursue a career in sign painting,” he said.
Chowhan said he also painted 30 temples with images of Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as countless dargahs (mausoleums) and monasteries.
“Although there are more than 100 mosques, I got [remuneration], I work for another 100 people for free. I feel that there is a spiritual connection with these places, which prevents me from claiming compensation,” said the artist who earns about $350 a month through freelance work across the country.
Chowhan said that he did not go to any formal or Islamic school to learn Urdu.
“It was in my painting assignments that I learned to read and write Urdu. Soon people began to recognize my talent and gave me the opportunity to use the Quranic scriptures to beautify the landmark buildings around the city,” he Say.
The calligrapher said that 30 years ago in Hyderabad, it was important to write signboards in Urdu, because most of the city’s population and shopkeepers were Muslims. So he has no choice but to become familiar with the language.
But slowly, without understanding Urdu, he said that he fell in love with the script.
“Over time, I began to recognize words and letters, and slowly and organically became interested in them. In my spare time, I began to write Urdu characters, copying words from textbooks, which further Helped my craft,” he said.
Chowhan said that he completed his first major mission in the 1990s, when he was asked to use Quranic verses to beautify the iconic Noor Mosque in Hyderabad.
“I have landed on the moon. Completing that big mission proved that not only my talent was recognized, but I was also recognized by urban elites, which would open the door for me. It did it.”
But life is not without challenges. Some locals oppose Chowhan’s work because he is a Hindu.
However, determined to pursue his career, he received a “fatwa” (decree) from Jamia Nizamia University in Hyderabad to continue as an artist. The university management has been impressed by the artist’s work, and his work “Resistance”-a 6 ft x 4 ft (183 cm x 122 cm) Quran important chapter “Quran” canvas-hung on the main page gallery.
Today, those locals who disputed his work called him a “spiritual soul” and bowed in front of him.
“I believe there is no religious belief in art. God, Allah, Jesus: they are all one. And we are children of God. Today, most of my friends are Muslims. We eat together, hang out together, and participate in mehfils. [gatherings] And enrich each other’s lives,” said Chowhan, who also dabbles in Urdu poetry and is often invited to recite his couplets at city gatherings.
Chowhan also plans to organize an exhibition of his Quran paintings.
Does he encourage his two children-a boy and a girl, both in their 20s-to pursue his profession?
“I’m not the kind of person who imposes my decision on my family. No one forces me to accept this art; it’s an inner call. Likewise, I leave my children’s career choices to them. Both are graduates. They have good jobs in private companies. They are very happy,” he said.
However, Zhou Han was very happy that his younger brother assisted him in his work, and they often did their homework in pairs. They also went to work in the neighboring states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Zhou Han admitted that he was not “rich” but had enough money to take care of the needs of him and his family. Of course, there are exhausted days, and then he works 16 hours a day to meet the deadline.
“During Ramadan, I was the busiest, moving quickly from one mosque to another, conveying God’s peace message through my art. But it doesn’t feel like work. I like to do such tasks.”
Calligraphers believe that art should not be restricted by community or religion.
“I have decorated mosques, temples, and monasteries. All these places convey the same message, that is, love, peace, and the unity of mankind. Religion is a force of unity, not a force of division,” he said.
“If we follow God’s teachings, we can all live in harmony, and the world will become richer.”