The Life of an Arabic Calligrapher (2018)
Hajj Wafaa, originally from Iraq, is an Islamic calligrapher in Greater Boston Area and teaches at Al-Noor Academy and Worcester Art Museum. His identity is shaped by his past in Iraq, Islamic cultures and faith and the experience of being an immigrant in the U.S. In particular, calligraphy has become a part of his life.
Hajj Wafaa grew up in Kufa, Iraq. At 18, he was mandatorily conscripted into the Iraqi military during the rule of Saddam Hussein in 1989. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Wafaa rebelled against the Iraqi government and ran away. He was then captured and prisoned, being beaten with wood, metal, and fists and deprived of food, drink, and sleep. He fled the prison and settled in a refugee camp in Rafha, Saudi Arabia where there were hundreds of thousands of refugees like him being placed. Since 1991, he lived there for seven years.
Although surviving in the refugee camp was difficult, practicing calligraphy became his spiritual support. He made ink from berries and pen from the top of a soda can and taught calligraphy in the camp.
With the help of the United Nations, Hajj Wafaa was chosen to immigrate to the U.S. He got married with Busha in Nebraska, who also came from Saudi camps. They have been raising four children, three sons, and one daughter, together.
Making a living in the U.S. was not easy for him as he worked as a motor production line worker, cook, and food delivery driver and had no time to focus on writing calligraphy.
In 2003, Wafaa volunteer for service in the U.S. military and went to Iraq. The army paid him $165,000 a year, which he couldn’t earn by doing other jobs. Also, by being a part of the army, he was able to learn American culture and be incorporated into society. He almost lost his life during the Iraqi war but he turned out to be fine.
Wafaa said that Iraqis are connected to their rich cultural heritage and history, but the history can also be baggage for them to move on.
By following this calligrapher and his family through this photo story, you will get a glimpse of the cultural fabrics of the Muslim community in modern America and their inner spiritual world.