A CONVERSATION WITH MASTER CALLIGRAPHER YUSHAA ABDULLAH
Yushaa Abdullah is a pioneer arabic calligraphy. He is one of the first master calligraphers from Nigeria who brought the art, and support from Istanbul to the whole of the Black African Region.
In 2018, IRCICA (Research Center for Islamic History and Culture) in Turkey appointed Abdullah hoca as the lead personnel to run an IRCICA regional calligraphy training center in Nigeria — again, the first of its kind in the region. Since its opening, it has produced eleven classically calligraphers who hold Ijazah (diploma) in various Arabic calligraphic scripts. Abdullah hoca tells an inspirational story of dreaming big, which I wanted to share with you, the reader.
I recently reached out to Abdullah hoca for an interview. He shared with us about his unique journey to calligraphy, his work in training the future generations in the Black African region, and his valuable advice for aspiring calligraphers all over the world.
What inspired you to study Islamic Calligraphy?
During my secondary school days, I subscribed to a monthly Magazine called ” Echo of Islam” from Iran that had beautiful calligraphy artworks, so I became passionate about those calligraphy artworks. Eventually, my passion pushed me into trying my hand at imitating those calligraphy artworks using ordinary pencils to draw. The replicated artworks attracted people in my community and they started placing orders — with their patronage, it became a source of income for me.
As a result, I developed a strong interest in the field and it was then I took a pledge to further my academic career in Arabic calligraphy. But, unfortunately, there has never been an institute or learning center that offers training on Arabic calligraphy in the whole Black African region. Upon my graduation from Secondary school in 1987, and as the best chemistry student and winner of a chemistry competition in Bauchi state, I secured an automatic admission to study chemical engineering at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. But I declined the admission in order not be distracted from my attention to calligraphy. I continued as a full-fledged artist offering calligraphy artworks for mosques, schools, homes, and other Islamic buildings.
Over the years I became well-known for mosque decoration in Nigeria and neighboring countries. While doing my mosque decoration business I continued searching for admission overseas to further my education in Arabic calligraphy. After 20 years of struggle, I became successful in December 2007 when I got an invitation from IRCICA to study with Grand Master Hasan Çelebi, allowing me the opportunity to become his first student from the Black African region. And by the virtue of being his first black student, I took it as a goal to take it home and spread it in the Black African region.
What challenges did you face while studying? What sacrifices did you have to make in your life in order to progress in this art?
I sacrificed a chance to become a Ph.D. holder or even a professor in Chemical engineering. But Alhamdulillah, as there are thousands of chemical engineers in the West now, there is only one Hattat.
When I got an invitation to study, I stopped my Mosque Decoration business and used all my savings to take care of my overseas studies.
I had to leave my wife and my 8-month son in Nigeria to come to Istanbul and stay as a student.
I faced the challenges of differences in weather between hot tropical Africa and cold European climates.
After my Ijazah, I sacrificed the comfort of living in one of the world’s beautiful cities (Istanbul) where my original calligraphy artworks could be purchased at a higher price.
Instead, I chose to produce more licensed calligraphers in West Africa.
To prevent my low-income talented students from quitting the program, I had to sacrifice the monthly payment from all students which were used to pay the rent of the building we used.
The most important thing you learned from your masters
Apart from learning the subject I also learned to be generous and have patience with my students. Because during my training my teachers offered me a lot of support-encouraging me with every effort I made towards my creative ability. My teachers also supported me both morally and financially which had a significant influence on the way I interact with my students today.
You opened and successfully run a calligraphy center in Nigeria. Could you please briefly tell us about it and what is your
Ever since the day I got the opportunity to attend the training and have realized I am the first black person ever to come for such a training, I took it as a pledge to take this valuable art to my country in particular and to the whole of the black African region in general. Therefore after my successful graduation in 2013, and upon my return to my country, I organized a 2-day workshop for the general public to create awareness about the art and later opened a training center.
After five consecutive years, three students were able to complete the curriculum and obtained their Ijazah in 2018. I took their ijazah to Istanbul for approval of our Grand Master Hasan Çelebi. The same year, in 2018, the official launch of the center took place in Abuja