Last week was the second time in a year that I had the pleasure of visiting the old campus of International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). On both these occasions, I was there for an academic conference, and while there was able to view the most exquisite work of Sham-ul-Islam Shams.
Originally from Saidu Sharif, Swat, Mr. Shams was born in 1958 and works as an assistant in the Swat revenue court. In his spare tome, however, he creates masterpieces of contemporary Islamic calligraphy. Mr. Shams comes from a distinguished Muslim family and his father, Fazl-ur-Rehman Faizan, was an author of over twenty-five books including Pashto translations of Sa’adi’s Gulistan and Bostan. All that I have learned is from “my father and the artist M. M. Sharif” says Mr. Shams, in his modest manner, when asked about the progression of his work.
An avid scholar himself, with an extensive collection of rare books in Pashto and other languages, Mr. Shams displays his art freely and has never sold his work for profit. He also has quite a few students in Kabul and usually bears the expenses of his exhibitions out-of-pocket.
Mr. Shams is an expert on all major Arabic scripts including Kufi, Nasta’aliq, Diwani, Shikasta and others and mostly uses natural media (leather, stone, leaves, bones etc.) to produce his works of calligraphy.
Besides his calligraphic art, Mr. Shams also writes poetry in Pashto and has appeared in various public and televised poetry readings and poetry shows. He is influenced by the works of Rehman Baba and mostly writes Sufi poetry. His father was his firstt poetry teacher.
Mr. Shams is also teaching his art to his two children and hopes to establish a calligraphy institute in swat. “There is not a lot of work being done in this area and not many teachers are available” says Mr. Shams.
Let us hope that his work will be more widely recognized nationally and internationally and that he will be able to pass on his skills and vision to the next generation of Pakistan in general and swat valley in particular.