Mohamed Zakariya – A 21st century Master Calligrapher

Nancy Micklewright


Fons Vitae was given the opportunity to be the publisher of this ground-breaking book on Mohamed Zakariya , which beautifully introduces anyone -outside of the field -into a rare, first-hand, intimate encounter with aspects of this sublime and unparalleled craft- including some of its masters and their transmissions. We hear fascinating  stories from the astounding lives of  such men as Hezarfen  (Master of a Thousand Arts) Ibrahim Edham Efendi,  his student Necmeddin Okyay, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi and others. We are transported into the traditional world of grinding pigments, making and marbling paper and cutting reed pens! 

Lavishly illustrated, this collection of essays and images is the first to present a comprehensive overview of the life and work of Mohamed Zakariya, the most important American Islamic calligrapher, told through the words and eyes of the artist himself, scholars, students, and colleagues from the international world of Islamic calligraphy. The book examines links between the world of Ottoman calligraphy and today’s practitioners, Mohamed Zakariya’s place in a global lineage of calligraphers, and his role in shaping the next generation of artists. The reader is treated to the extraordinary and complex processes of making inks and paper.

Mohamed Zakariya: A machinist by training, American-born Mohamed Zakariya is a classically educated Islamic calligrapher who earned diplomas in three calligraphic scripts from the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art, and Culture in Istanbul. His work has been collected and displayed worldwide, including at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. Zakariya designed Eid holiday stamps for the U.S. Postal Service in 2001, 2009, 2011, and 2016. He has been featured in several movies, including the 2002 PBS documentary “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” and an episode of the popular NatGeo television series, The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, screened in 2017, that was seen in 171 countries and translated into 45 languages.

Nancy Micklewright writes about visual culture in the Ottoman Empire with a focus on gender, and is currently working on her new book, Dressing for the Camera, Fashion and Photography in the late Ottoman Empire. Through 2019 she was Head of Public and Scholarly Engagement at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. A former university professor and senior program officer at the Getty Foundation, she has a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in the History of Islamic Art and Architecture.

Events Celebrating the Book 

Through June 20th – Exhibition

Living Lines, Living Legacies – an Exhibition of Calligraphy will run from April 11-June 20 at the Qatar America Institute for Culture (QAIC). One gallery is devoted to the work by Mohamed Zakariya, and another to the work of seven other calligraphers, mostly his students. In partnership with the Reed Society for the Sacred Arts

Saturday, May 7th – Symposium

A symposium was held from 10AM – 2 PM. The Islamic art curators from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with a local Ottoman historian will be speaking with the calligraphers about their practice, how calligraphy is supported and collected today, and other topics. The symposium will be recorded and posted online later. WATCH the SYMPOSIUM HERE.

Product Description

Mohamed Zakariya – A 21st century Master Calligrapher is a study of the life and impact of Mohamed Zakariya, a contemporary American artist, who through his pursuit of a centuries old art form, Islamic calligraphy, has become known world-wide for his work. Along the way, he has had a major role in bringing this art form to the US and through his teaching, public appearances and work, creating a uniquely American version of the practice of Islamic calligraphy. 

The account of Mohamed Zakariya’s life is told from a variety of perspectives, from his students, from colleagues and by scholars. This multivocal approach to the subject results in a nuanced, thoughtful presentation of a complex and brilliant artist. 

Essays by leading scholars in the fields of Islamic art, calligraphy and Islamic religious studies unpack the complexities of Islamic calligraphy through history, and place Zakariya and his work in a historical context stretching back over many centuries, but also explain why he is a maverick at the forefront of a global resurgence of traditional Islamic calligraphy. 

There are no book length English language studies of traditionally trained Islamic calligraphers working today or of the American community of such artists. This book fills a gaping hole in the literature on a key aspect of Islamic culture.   

Most books that address traditional Islamic calligraphy assume that the art form stopped developing with the advent of westernization/modernization efforts in the Middle East in the mid-nineteenth century. That is not true. This project is the only book in English to delve into the modern history of a traditional art form, and to focus on a major figure, Mohamed Zakariya, working in that field. 

Current literature that considers calligraphy in the Middle East generally does so from the point of view of artists who use some aspect of calligraphy to create large scale works in a range of media, and on buildings. While this is an important component of global contemporary art, it is only tangentially related to traditional Islamic calligraphy, a subject typically overlooked in studies of contemporary art from Islamicate societies. 

The central figure in this book, Mohamed Zakariya, is intriguing in his own right. Mohamed Zakariya’s life story is the stuff of Hollywood: California child of the 50s travels to Morocco, then converts to Islam and decides to become a calligrapher in Arabic, a language he doesn’t yet speak.  An American calligrapher spurs a fledging Turkish cultural institute to found a calligraphy training program which has had worldwide impact, and receives diplomas from the two greatest living calligraphers in Turkey. Settling in a suburb of Washington DC, Zakariya establishes a studio which becomes a center of calligraphy training in the US and gains widespread popular recognition for designing a US Postal Service stamp for the Eid holidays which has sold millions.


This work will be of interest to a series of overlapping international audiences: scholars and students of Islamic calligraphy and culture in art history, religious studies, and cultural studies; artists and craftspeople working in the book arts of calligraphy, illumination and paper marbling; Islamic calligraphy enthusiasts and collectors; calligraphers working in other languages; students of traditional forms of material culture and their transmission, and art students.

Because the chapters each stand on their own, they could be used individually in a range of courses—studio courses in calligraphy, Ottoman history, Islamic art, history of the book and of calligraphy, and the place of calligraphy in Islamic religious thought. 


Mohamed Zakariya
Hasan Çelebi

About Mohamed Zakariya
Uğur Derman

A Man with a Reed Pen
Nabil F. Safwat

Humane Letters
Mohamed Zakariya

Mohamed Zakariya: A Life in Pictures
Nancy Micklewright

The Last Hezarfen: Mohamed Zakariya and the Legacy of the Ottoman Polymath Artist
Josh Berer

Mohamed Zakariya, the Avant la Letter of Islamic Calligraphy in North America
Nihad Dukhan

The Inimatable Mohamed Zakariya
Elinor Aishah Holland

The Beautiful Pen: Mohamed Zakariya and Contemporary Islamic Art
Emily Neumeier

The Alif and the Ba: The Spirit and Letter of Islamic Calligraphy
Omid Safi

The Master-Student Relationship: Supplication and the Power of Prayer in Ottoman Calligraphy
Bilal Badat

Corporal Memory, Mental Memory, Written Source: Calligraphy, Some Dimensions of Today’s Transfer
İrvin Cemil Schick

Calligraphic circuits: present-day practices of a classical art
Nuria Garcia Masip

WATCH the beautiful symposium for the Living Line, Living Legacy exhibit (Sat, May 7th 2022, Washington D.C.). Many thanks to Reed Society for Sacred Arts and Qatar America Institute for Culture and all the speakers, artists, curators, collectors and community that made it so special.
The Islamic art curators from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with a local Ottoman historian speaking with the calligraphers about their practice, how calligraphy is supported and collected today, and other topics. LINK:
#art #arabiccalligraphy #exhibit


Only a work of both art and scholarship would be suitable for commemorating the extraordinary lifework of the American Muslim artist and scholar, the master calligrapher, Mohamed Zakariya. Consisting of essays by art historians, scholars of Islam, his calligraphy teachers and students, and himself, this invaluable volume shows Zakariya and his art as flowing directly from the pen of the tradition of Islamic calligraphy and especially its Ottoman zenith.
Dr. Alan Godlas, Associate Professor, Department of Religion, University of Georgia
Mohamed Zakariya, a symbol of perseverance and productivity, a unique personality full of self-motivation, creativity, and originality, has equipped himself with everything needed to practice the art of Calligraphy. His exceptional inner drive to discover, learn and produce pushed him to break all the barriers that emerged during this journey. Challenging and overcoming every obstacle on his way, he carried himself to the top, becoming a significant representative of Islamic Calligraphy in the West.
Master Khattat Deniz Öktem-Bektaş & Master Khattat Davut Bektaş