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American Pens Quran Against Islamophobia

13 August 2012 General 25 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Niamh Fleming-Farrell (Daily Star)

BEIRUT: The world never has to look far to find evidence of U.S. citizens’ negative relationship with Islam.

When a Florida pastor oversees the trial, conviction and incineration of Islam’s holy book, it’s splashed across front pages, or when American soldiers serving in Afghanistan burn the Quran, news stations lead with the story. But pervasive as such headlines are, not all Americans’ interaction with the Quran is focused on its destruction.

Everitte Barbee is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s also a calligraphy artist. About a year and a half ago, the 24-year-old commenced work on a unique project: The Quran for Solidarity is, as far as Barbee is aware, the first Quran to be completely handwritten by a non-Muslim. He also believes it may be the first edition of the book entirely written in figurative calligraphy.

“I don’t know of any other non-Muslims to write the entire Quran by hand,” Barbee, who currently lives in Beirut, told The Daily Star. “I [also] don’t know of another Quran written completely in pictures, in actual figurative designs … Normally it’s just linear text.”

Barbee, who studied international business and Arabic at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, learned his art from master calligrapher Adnan Farid while living in Damascus in the fall of 2009.

The Quran for Solidarity project emerged almost by accident as Barbee sought to improve his skills as a calligrapher. The artist began writing Surahs from the Quran because he didn’t have many reliable sources of Arabic in dual translation and needed text with which to practice his art.

“I wrote one or two Surahs, just short ones here and there – all just geometric designs,” he explains. “But then after I’d done five or six, I thought, you know, why don’t I try to write the whole Quran.”

The extent of such an undertaking quickly became apparent. Barbee realized that handwriting the Quran “would take a few years.” So, in order to sustain his endeavor, the artist decided to find sponsors who would pay a small amount per word and receive the original calligraphic production of the sponsored Surah in return.

At the same time, Barbee was aware of and concerned by the growth of Islamophobia and religious and racial intolerance toward Islam and Arabs in the United States.

“I was reading the news constantly, and they have all this, you know, this constant negative flack about Park 51. And then even in my hometown of Nashville they were trying to build a mosque in Mufreesboro … but even that whole thing was held up because basically the city said they didn’t want a Muslim building in their town,” he says.

Park 51 is a community center incorporating a mosque and Islamic center. Its location in lower Manhattan, mere blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center towers, drew extensive controversy as many objected to the establishment of a mosque so close to the site where some 3,000 people were killed by Islamist militants on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Islamic Center of Mufreesboro received approval to proceed with construction of a new mosque two years ago, but opponents to the project, some of whom said its objective was to infiltrate the local community with Shariah law, launched a lawsuit that succeeded in delaying its opening. Just this week, the ICM received a 30-day temporary occupancy permit for its new site.

However, local opposition to the mosque continues.

“I mean the fact that you can just say churches are allowed here but mosques are not is just absurd,” says Barbee.

“I hate the way Americans look at the Middle East right now, especially mainstream Americans,” he adds.

Barbee’s hope is that his Quran will encourage his compatriots to rethink their position on Islam: “Hopefully, maybe they’ll see that if another American [who isn’t a Muslim] can really appreciate [the Quran] for what it is … maybe that would change the way some people think about it.”

Once his Quran is completed, Barbee intends presenting the first two copies of the book to Park 51 and the ICM.

But completion is still two to three years away. So far, Barbee has finished just 25 of 114 Surahs.

And those 25 are “mostly the shorter ones,” he admits, confessing that his task will become much more difficult as he takes on the longer Surahs.

Drawing each Surah as a picture is relatively easy for the last 70 or 80, but fitting the hundreds of verses that comprise the likes of the second Surah onto a single sheet of paper is a daunting task, Barbee explains.

“How I’ll get that on one picture, I still haven’t quite figured out,” he says. “It may have to be quite large.”

He muses that perhaps the final volume will contain both a print of the whole picture – in which the text will be quite miniscule and unreadable – alongside the picture reprinted across several pages in order to make the words decipherable.

Although still in its early stages, Barbee’s project has so far been well-received. “I haven’t gotten any bad feedback about it,” he says, “and I have gotten quite a few sponsors – sponsors from Pakistan, America, probably about seven states in America now.”

All the sponsors to date have been private individuals, about half of whom are Muslims and half other religions, Barbee says.

When someone sponsors a Surah, Barbee finishes the piece and sends the sponsor the original picture. However, he retains the right to use scans and images of it in his final Quran.

Sponsors may also have some input into the figurative calligraphic design of their chosen Surah.

For instance, in Surah Ar-Rahman one particular verse says the trees will prostrate before Allah. So at the request of the sponsor, Barbee manipulated the words of the Surah into an image of a tree bowing down.

The use of words to create portraits of animals and people is a regular feature of much of Barbee’s other calligraphic work, however, when writing the Quran he says he’s more comfortable working with abstract and geometric patterns.

“I’m still not sure how I feel about drawing animals in the Quran,” he says. He admits that he has drawn an elephant for the Surah Al-Fil, but says “I might have to redo that one.”

In addressing such matters, one enters a complex debate.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of Muslims about it,” Barbee says, “but as far as actually going to an imam or sheikh about it … no, I haven’t actually. [That] might be a good thing to do.”

“But … do I go to a Shiite imam or do I go to a Sunni imam?” he asks.

Ideally, Barbee would also like to have his Quran appropriately blessed, but he’s happy to address such matters at a later stage. “I’ll cross those bridges when I come to them,” he says.

For now, he continues work on the Surahs, each of which he must handwrite three separate times to produce the final picture.

“It’s a slow process,” he says, as he motions toward his current Surah in progress: “This one I’ve been working on for about two weeks now and it’s still [only] about halfway done.”

“But,” he adds, “it’s fun. It’s very relaxing and I enjoy it.”

The artist also articulates a deep aesthetic appreciation of the Quran: “It’s a very beautifully written book … the language is amazing, the poetry in it is phenomenal, but the rhythm of the actual strokes, the way it’s drawn, is actually pretty amazing.

Surah Rahman:












Surah Hujurat:












Original post: American pens Quran against Islamophobia


  1. “I mean the fact that you can just say churches are allowed here but mosques are not is just absurd”

    Or mosques are allowed here but churches are not – I assume muslims around the world are united in the fight against the policies of saudi arabia, the maldives etc.

  2. I don’t know why muslims say the koran is beautifully written and it is poetic. My major in college is writing with an emphasis on poetry, and I find the koran a horrible peace of work. It’s a hodge-podge of words that don’t flow from sura to sura. It appears to be a book written by illiterate people. That’s a fact and those who say differnt are trying to convince well spoken educated people of a lie. I can’t be convinced that God would write in one language (arabic) knowing it would be hard to translate to 99.99% of the people in the world. Now that alone says it’s not written by God. If you answer back, don’t use the old fairy tale that the bible is corrupt. I don’t care if it is or not, that doesn’t make the koran any better. You must back up your words with facts, not simply speaking/writing words.

  3. In my experience, I’d say Muslims are about as united on such issues as Christians are. If you’re claiming that all Christians, or even all American Christians, are unanimous in their opposition to this kind of bigotry, you’re only fooling yourself.

  4. Wouldn’t surprise me if this fellow was killed by one of the local enthusiasts for purity.

  5. “In my experience, I’d say Muslims are about as united on such issues as Christians are”

    We are constantly told that a non muslim burning a koran “offends all muslims” – so if they can all unite on something minor like that why can’t they all unite against freedom of religion being illegal in some currently muslim countries?

  6. Some parts are good but some parts are too violent and bigoted.

  7. if you think they r bigoted Rudolph, then you don’t know the background of the Quran. Which you need to know to understand.

  8. Rudolphe may be you didn’t read bible and torah. there are alot of violent parts in both of them and many texts calling for killing even much more than Qur’an does
    But anyways for humanity sake let’s be good people and respect eachother and forget about the differences and the hate

  9. The Qur’an is not meant to be skimmed through or read shallowly but studied thoroughly. The scholars (mainly 4 schools of thought/ jurisprudence) of Islam spent years doing just that along with the Prophetic traditions/ ahadith. So for someone who has not done that and who judges Islam blindly, has in fact no credible opinion. To be fair, many Muslims themselves are not fully knowledgable of their own faith.

  10. I read The Holy Qur’an in 2005 as a personal response to Islamophobia. I am so happy when I read things like this as it makes me realize I am not alone. I would like the real statistics of how many Americans have read The Holy Qur’an in the last ten years.

  11. I read The Holy Qur’an in 2005 as a personal response to Islamophobia. I am so happy when I read things like this as it makes me realize I am not alone. I would like the real statistics of how many Americans have read The Holy Qur’an in the last ten years.

  12. Because, in case you haven’t noticed, not all Muslim countries are Saudia Arabia. Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, etc have all allowed the construction of Churches. Anyone who tries to portray over a billion people as some sort of hive mind obviously doesn’t know very much about humans.

    So far as the literary merit of the Qur’an, have you actually read it in the original Arabic? Translated it sounds silly, just like the Iliad, Aeneid, Mahabharata, etc all sound jumbled when you read them. Scholars on Arab poetry and literature all agree that the Qur’an is a literary masterpiece, and began a new birth of Arabic poetry. They have taken higher education courses in the subject, so I think it is their opinion I will trust.

  13. Maybe. But I don’t think it’s acceptable whatever the background is. And coming with justifications for it is immoral to. For instance why are there verses supporting ‘persecution of apostates ?’ What about the misogynistic verses ? Many islamic countries use this as a justification to persecute (kill) those who leave islam. How can this ever be humanely justified ?

  14. classic. lmfaoa…..

    jane didn’t you know that the koran is only holy in arabic. it makes people cry when they hear it in arabic. so have you read it in arabic. jane you ignorant slut. don’t you know that only those who know arabic are privy to “the truth”?

    who ever said the iliad sounds silly. it may no longer have its dactylic hexameter flow when translated. but the meaning isn’t lost. are you saying that the koran has no meaning in anything but arabic? well you better reel in your western “reverts”. they make take the verse of “cut of their heads” literaly. perhaps that explains the “white” muslims zeal.

  15. All the blood spilled, the breast-beating, the bigotry, the persecution, the fear and loathing over two mythical figures who never even existed-Jesus and Mohammed.

  16. @ Maria
    The hodgepodge is in your mind not in the Quran. Ironically, you would celebrate a western narrative or text for its hodgepodge as if a ‘post-modern streak’. Unless you do not have skills in Arabic you cannot enjoy Koran’s inner beauty and poetry.

    You say it is written by ‘ illiterate people’ perhaps here begins your ignorance not knowing that it not written by people. You approach Quran with embedded prejudices therefore you end-up as mirror-image of your personal mental incapacity. A true Muslim cannot say that Bible is a ‘fairy tale’ though it is a fact of the history that the original Bible was in Aramaic Hebrew and Conic Greek? The many bibles around (thanks to the many denominations which has put it in this extensive mess) us are not in these languages? Muslims can and do learn Quran by rote. That is the power of Arabic language. Reason: the Quran exits in its original form. How many Christians know Bible in Aramaic Hebrew or Conic Greek?
    Simply having a major in poetry does not qualify you to appreciate the ‘inner poetry’ of Quran.

    Just read one Sura ‘Sura-al Asar’ in isolation. (in Arabic)

  17. just as thought, you have not read the quran Rudolph. can you please site the verses where it says to kill the apostates? cause i have read the quran many times and never came across any.

  18. Regardless of what is said here, looking at the pictures shown here I would have to agree that this is a work or art by a hard working artist. I would say this young man does not give up easily.

  19. This man may be killed for fooling around with the Koran, being kuffar, making an image…I can see how this would offend some purists.

  20. “So far as the literary merit of the Qur’an, have you actually read it in the original Arabic? Translated it sounds silly”

    Most muslims don’t read arabic either, presumably they aren’t real muslims.

  21. Riz,

    is that you? you’re not rizwan shiek of st. pete?

    “begins your ignorance not knowing that it not written by people.” well it was recited, but someone wrote it down at some point, right? i’m not sure how you even know it is the right koran. didn’t ali write a koran?

    “You approach Quran with embedded prejudices therefore you end-up as mirror-image of your personal mental incapacity.” can’t the same be said for you? so you find beauty in torture? the text may sing in arabic, may be people to tears. but the meaning is what is important. who know’s it might sound great in spanish but that doesn’t change the fact of it’s obvious flaws.

  22. I have 3 humble requests/points to all:
    1. All forms of arts should be respected and protected by our species, unless we believe we are inferior to other species on Earth. Art is practiced by others also. Like plants making flowers, Some birds making those amazing hanging nests,etc.
    I agree that Fundamentalists may kill Barbee. All other Muslims should love him & try to protect him.

    2. There are now scientific evidence that we damage our prefrontal cortex through negative thoughts and acts. Positive thoughts and acts does the opposite. In fact all parts of brain keep growing if we use it correctly and vice-versa.
    My personal opinion is this that when a believer thinks that our creator created different religions, they insult & underestimate the creator. Poet Tagore wrote that the center of creation is LOVE. Creator created the universe out of his love. We are part of his love. And we are all so interconnected that we are like parts of one orchestra. Tagore calls it HARMONY. The music is destroyed if any one player in the orchestra plays something in selfish interest forgetting the others. So, when we play our part in harmony, we become part of the harmony, which is, becoming part of Creator. We are all little pieces of our creator. Together we are the creator. These are all words of Tagore.
    Tagore read all holy books before he wrote this book (Religion of Man). If we read all holy book, keeping this ecological philosophy in our mind, we might understand them better. (I confess I have not read them all. But I shall, when I have time.

    3. In countries like Bangladesh where majority are very devout practicing Muslims; hundreds of writers, poets, painters, dancers, singers, stage performers and other activists are fighting to turn the country into a secular state (so that all religion has equal status & rights). many of them are under constant attack from fundamentalists. Many were tortured and murdered. World media is so silent about it that it amounts to cruelty in journalism. The percentage of fundamentalists & terrorists are an inconsequential miniscule fraction of the population. But they have unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia and some other Middle East countries. In the past, USA has supported fundamentalists to form coalition government in Bangladesh. They removed secularism from the Constitution of the country. In 2008, there was a globally recognized fair election and young generation of Bangladesh voted a secular party to form the government. This government is trying to covert the constitution to its original secular form in stages. But the small minority of fundamentalists are in all sectors occupying lead positions: Army, Beaucracy, Business, Education etc. Judiciary is still free from this penetration. But USA still recognizes the Fundamentalist party as a moderate Muslim party. But this party is funding all the terrorist parties in Bangladesh. Present government has started a symbolic War Crimes Trial against a few members of this party. Actually a hundred thousand of this party was involved in war crimes like murder, rape, arson, torture etc during the liberation war of Bangladesh. The fundamentalist party is spending billions of dollars to hire US lobbying firms for propaganda against war crimes trial. With their help Economist, Al-Zazira and some others are waging a slandering war aginst the War Crimes Tribunal. Recently, William B Milam, ex Ambassador of USA to Bangladesh gave a statement against War Crimes Tribunal. Mr. Milam is now the chief of one of the US lobbying firm hired by the Fundamentalsit party. The whole idea is to stop this trial. If they succeed, voters will refuse to vote the current secular government in the coming election in 2013. The Fundamentalists will return to power in coalition with other Pro-Pakistan parties. Bangladesh will forever become a Taliban country after that.

    The relevance of my writing all this: If you want the Muslim Fundamentalists get defeated, please help us, at least with moral support. A country which is shedding its blood for secularism, will be seen as a fundamentalsit country proving that Muslims are really very bad. If that is what the world wants to see, I have nothing more to say. I am an old man, and I shall pass this World with Tagore in my heart.

  23. “Do not think I came to make peace on Earth,
    I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

    – Mathew 10.34

    Cherry pick, or remove from context, parts of any
    literature and you can make it sound however you want

    Why are there so many intellectually challenged
    people commenting on this site, Mike?

  24. FTD,

    Yes, arts should be respected. But things that are meant to demonise others, should no way be. Now you may say that the Quran demonises others, so it should not be respected as well. Then you have to disrespect all other scriptures, especially your ones very much.

    I told this earlier. There is nothing called Muslim fundamentalists. Fundamentalism arose in Christianity. Now it is being labeled on Islam and Muslims. What is fundamentalism. It is a devotion to some ideology or aspects of an ideology. For example, if someone has a Ph.d. on polymer chemistry, whenever any discussion on chemistry arises, that fellow will try to turn the discussion into polymer sides. Does that mean polymer chemistry has to do anything with religions?

    Don’t praise Tagore. He claimed to be a reader and connoisseur of all faiths but his own philosophy was based on Hinduism and that was Brahminic Hinduism. He was also a strong supporter of Hindu terrorists. Need evidence: just read his poem “Shivaji Utsav” where he praised the plunderer Shivaji; he was also a secret aide to the Hindu terrorists of 1905-11. He opposed the creation of educational facilities for Muslims and low-caste Hindus. In his baronship, to curtail the large number of Muslims, he introduced Hindus. In his Shantiniketon, he ordered that non-Brahmin teachers should no way be respected by Brahmin students.

    Understood, you are an anti-Bangladesh, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim pig. What about your beloved motherfucker present government of Bangladesh? They introduced political terrorism in Bangladesh. In 1974, when the National Awami Party was holding an anti-Awami league and anti-India meeting, the Awami league unleashed poisonous snakes into that meeting. Very concerned about Hindus? This is the Awami league that is liable for the famine of 1973-4. A Hindu lady named Basanti Devi went to the public wearing just fish nets because she had no clothes. Whenever Awami league comes to power, their first policy is to go against Islam. IN 1973-4 the Awami League granted the residence of the chief cleric of the national mosque to Venus Jewellers, a Hindu company. The PM of Bangladesh, was commented by a Hindu lawyer and MP, Sudhanshu Shekhar Halder, that “give up the drama of prayer beads and Hijab, become a true Bengali”. The motherfucker seculars also get courage from Awami League to bash Islam and Muslims.

    Come on up with more of your craps, I have better dosages for you.

  25. Can we just lay the “cant build churches in Muslim countires” to rest? U can’t build a mosque/sinogaugue/Hindu temple in the Vatican can u?

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