Centre stage. Shoppers at Ibn Battuta mall watch Moroccan artist Filali Baba Abdelghani as he writes their names in Arabic calligraphy Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/XPRESS

Dubai: He is a cultural ambassador of sorts for the Arabs and his country Morocco in particular as he travels around the world promoting Arab heritage. As recently as only three weeks ago, he was in Los Angeles to promote Moroccan Cultural Week.

When he is not travelling around the world, he is busy writing people’s names or Quranic verses on specially designed cards at a corner in Ibn Battuta Mall. And he does this for free.

Meet Moroccan expat and calligrapher Filali Baba Abdelghani who is drawing crowds by the hordes as he works from a space big enough for an eight-seater table and some chairs. You will find him at other malls as well, always surrounded by shoppers who want their names etched into a showpiece of art.

Service

Baba, as he is popularly known, proudly says he must have written over a million names in the last 33 years. “I had open heart surgery which transformed my life. I felt grateful that I was alive and wanted to give something back to society. This led me back to my childhood hobby of calligraphy as I figured I could use it to serve others. I told myself I would do it for free as it would be my way of thanking the Lord for saving my life,” says Baba.

“The smile on a person’s face is all I am asking at the end of it. If people want to donate they can – but it all goes to charity. I don’t keep anything with me,” he adds.

As a crowd forms around him requesting him to write their name, a saying or a Quranic verse, he readily complies, deftly going about his job using two metal nibs which he dips into a special calligraphy ink. “It is a permanent mark,” he says. We saw him write around 50 names in one hour.

Nine-year-old twins Naira and Samaira are excited as Baba just called them princesses. He deftly writes their names and adds the word ‘princess’ to it.

His humour and quips add to his pleasant personality.

“Please make sure to capture my watch and the perfume I am wearing,” he tells those who are taking his video.

So how does he make a living if he is not making any money?

“My daughter has sponsored me and she takes care of my expenses. The Moroccan government pays for my tickets and hotel stays for my journeys around the world.”