By Ahmed Khan, Founder,
The Rahnuma Daily (TheRahnuma.com)
(DOHA) RAHNUMA: Sonia Nisa is a Kashmiri origin, Qatar based British national with Urdu roots. She is a leading globally recognized Muslim female versatile calligraphy artist who has peaked the interests of many on the international art scene. Sonia’s professional qualifications are within the ICT sector and teaching. She also pursued Islamic Scholarship (Alimmiyah) Studies and the study of Greek Herbal Medicine.
Sonia’s unique ability to create calligraphy art out of cultures and ideas which today seem self-contradictory and even antithetical to one another has got her recognition from Heads of State, and art enthusiasts around the world. Over the past week, I’ve had the good fortune to talk and get to know one of the most promising, strong, inspiring, and brilliant Muslim female artists I’ve ever talked to!
The Founder of India’s Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan famously said, “When a nation becomes devoid of arts and learning, it invites poverty”.
Art is creation, expression, and imagination. It’s opposite is destruction, repression, and stagnation. During my interesting discussions with Sonia Nisa, I had the opportunity to ask her the questions our readers wanted to know most about her and her art.
How long have you been an artist?
I had a passion for art from a very tender age of seven years so I have been drawing, writing, and doodling ever since. However, I never really pursued any education in art or calligraphy. To cut a long story short, me and my husband moved to teach abroad in Doha, Qatar. Although I was working full-time, I found myself having adequate time on my hands, therefore, I started painting again to fill in the time-gaps.
It is universally recognized that the venerable Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib is the father of Arabic calligraphy. Your calligraphy art uses Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Hindi characters. What inspires you to produce this unique form style of art?
Calligraphy is defined as “the art of producing decorative handwriting or lettering with a pen, special kalam or brush,” and there are many greater calligraphy artists out there with a similar technique to mine, therefore, I do not consider my art unique but I believe my idea was unique of painting a particular leader or legend using the national anthem of his country. My inspiration is derived from my deep thoughts dependent upon my circumstance and the situations around me.
Tell us about some of the celebrities you have painted, and why you chose them.
I have painted many celebrities, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jinnah, Allama Iqbal, Ustadh Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bob Marley, and sportsmen including the late legendary professional boxer Muhammad Ali.
Behind every painting, there is some form of connection. For example, I grew up listening to the king of reggae Bob Marley and following his message of peace he preached through his music. Ustadh Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; who holds the title of being the “King of Qawwali”, has impacted my life from a spiritual perspective and I grew up listening and writing his famous Qawwalis.
As a person of Kashmiri origin, I painted Mahatma Gandhi using Hindi and Sanskrit characters because of his way of life, his teachings of non-violence are very inspiring. He was a man of discipline and peace. I painted Allama Iqbal (poet and philosopher) because I grew up practicing my calligraphy in Urdu using his poetry and message.
How did your life change when famous people started noticing your art?
To be honest, I was taken back as I just saw myself as another calligraphy artist. Especially when my painting went viral on the news and social media pages, I was completely shocked and had never even dreamt of such a response. It strengthened my faith in God and made me work harder and with more passion.
Tell us about your Gandhi and Jinnah paintings. Why did you choose to place them side by side in your gallery?
As a Kashmiri origin British national, growing up in London, I always heard negativity throughout my childhood.
In my primary school, my best friend was an Indian girl who was a Hindu by faith. I couldn’t comprehend how the two nations (Pakistan and India) consider each other enemies whilst me and she were best friends. I have lots of friends of different various backgrounds in Britain and many in Qatar too, and we get along amazingly. I realized with time that most people don’t hold grudges or nor enmity, rather it’s certain politicians and negative elements in the media that create and grow the hatred and endeavor to divide us.
As my art became popular, I decided to pass my message of peace through my art and painted Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah side-by-side.
I strongly believe that only through peace and harmony we can be greater. If you study of the lives of these two men whom both nations class as the “Fathers of their Nations” you will find that they also saw each other as brothers and shared peace and love amongst each other.
Does Art also pay the bills?
Art like any other profession is a mechanism in the clock of the world. If a certain part of the mechanism does not function or stops functioning, then the clock does not work to its optimum.
Similarly, if art does not prosper then it does not allow creativity and new thought to be expressed and developed, therefore the society will not function as it is meant to.
I say this for any profession. No profession is big or small but it’s how we perceive it. Take cleaning, for instance, some nations look down on the profession and see it as something poor. But in my eyes cleaners are a big mechanism in the clock of the world. Without them, the world would be a very filthy place. Also the Prophet Muhammad, salutations and blessings upon him and his family, very famously has said “cleanliness is half of faith” so, cleaners help us to purify that half of our faith.
I had never perceived art becoming a source of income for myself, as art is my passion and my meditation. One can see this through each painting of mine that deep thought, analysis, and immense meaning has gone into creating that particular design.
How does Art change our world in your opinion?
Personally, I believe, just like music, through art, we hold the capability of making change around us. Art influences society, instilling values, it is a sense of communication, which allows people from different countries and cultures to communicate with each other. For example, I have received much positive feedback and respect from across the border. I have received thousands of messages on social media from people across the different countries showering their love and how they feel happy that I painted Bob Marley or Imran Khan or Mahatma Gandhi etc. This demonstrates that art can make people happy, express feelings, and make a positive change.
Art makes the world a better and more beautiful place, and I believe my art creates a way for me to express my ideas, emotions, beliefs, and imagination.
What are the first steps one needs to take to start becoming an artist?
Personally, I do not believe that there is only one path or procedure to becoming an artist or any other profession.
Like the ocean has many rivers that flow to it, similarly, art has many styles and ways to it. I had zero qualifications in calligraphy or specialist arts and reiterating myself I had never imagined I would achieve so much success as an artist. I believe, God has blessed each individual with a special talent, so all we need to do is practice on a daily basis to find that talent and then master it.
Many people don’t know but I have been practicing calligraphy from the very young age of seven. Michael Jackson once said in an interview that he practiced dancing up to ten hours daily. So the first step is to start practicing and always keep yourself motivated. If you have a passion for something, then you will strive to achieve it!
Sonia Nisa is active on social media, where one can see her paintings and the astonishing time-lapses of how she painted them. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok under her name Sonia Nisa or alternatively, you can visit her website, sonianisa.com for art galleries, and place orders for canvases and shirts.
Ahmed Khan is the Founder of The Rahnuma Daily (theRahnuma.com), the online global English daily edition of The Rahnuma-E-Deccan Daily (ReDD), India’s oldest Urdu daily print newspaper established in 1921. More than 81.1 million Indians identify Urdu as their language, and as per the annual INA (Indian Newspapers Association) report, ReDD ranks among the top 5 most widely circulated and read Urdu daily print newspapers throughout India. Ahmed resides in Hyderabad at his maternal ancestral home and can be contacted at, firstname.lastname@example.org