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Islamic Art:
The Iraqi Kurdish Soldier Proving His Pen Mightier Than His Gun

Saman Omer
After only three years of lessons, a young Iraqi Kurdish man is winning prizes for his calligraphy. His major problem: As a soldier, his hobby must fit in around fighting extremists.
27.07.2017  |  Sulaymaniyah
Funding and finding the time to practice are major issues for the soldier-calligrapher.
Funding and finding the time to practice are major issues for the soldier-calligrapher.

It was one of his sweetest victories but for Iraqi Kurdish soldier, Sarkout Mohammed, that glory did not come on the battlefield, fighting against the extremist group known as the Islamic State. Instead it came in southern Iraq in May this year, when the 28-year-old won second prize in an international calligraphy competition held in Najaf, in southern Iraq. He was judged expert in his version of the thuluth, a script variety of Islamic calligraphy, beating out 81 other calligraphers from nine countries.

Mohammed, who lives east of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, graduated with a degree in business administration before joining the Iraqi Kurdish military. In his spare time, over the past three years, he has been learning calligraphy from a local teacher.

Islamic calligraphy is an art form in many Muslim countries and a student will often spend hours copying the penmanship of their master. The painters will write out verses of the Koran and, partially, the work is popular because of Islamic rules about idolatry and not showing pictures of religious figures.


سركوت محمد

Sarkout Mohammed has won an important prize for his Islamic calligraphy.


“I had to undertake my military duties but in the holidays I would visit my teacher to take lessons,” Mohammed told NIQASH.  

Mohammed’s teacher, Ali Hassan, is justifiably proud of his pupil and believes he has a natural talent: “He has made more progress in three years than some people do in 20,” Hassan told NIQASH. “There is a bright future awaiting him.”

Unfortunately that bright future may eventually be in Turkey. Both teacher and pupil complain that they have been unable to get any support or recognition from any official institutions in Iraqi Kurdistan. To supplement his soldier’s pay, Mohammed has started sending his artworks to Turkey to try and sell them there.

“Unfortunately the materials I need cost a lot and a soldier’s salary doesn’t cover them,” Mohammed says. “I am hoping to continue to do this but it is hard.”


سركوت محمد

Mohammed's hobby must fit in between stints on the battlefield.