NAJAF - Seeking to set a Guinness World Record for Islam's holy book, an Iraqi calligrapher is trying to make history by writing the world's longest copy of the Noble Qur'an a scroll between 5,500 and 6,000 meters long.
"It is very nice to do work that is related to the Qur'an or [holy] shrines," Hussain Al- Kharsan told Agence France Presse (AFP).
"I do not take any salary for my work, although there is an agreement that I get a percentage of the budget of the project, which is about 100 million dinars ($83,300)."
Participating in Arabic calligraphy competitions since he was just nine year old, Kharsan, 25, writes on four pieces of white paper that are each 1,500 meters long.
He has succeeded in copying 13 pages of the Quran since he started his work about a month ago.
When finished, the Qur'an copy would be between 5,500 and 6,000 meters long, or 3.4 and 3.7 miles.
Working inside a religious school in Najaf, Kharsan's dream proved to be a big challenge.
The young Iraqi, who graduated from Baghdad University's college of fine arts, started to feel pains in his neck and back from long hours of carefully writing out one verse after another.
"At the beginning, the agreement was to finish the work in six months, on the basis of writing three pages out of 503 pages of the Qur'an every day," Kharsan said.
"I succeeded at the beginning and worked for 16 hours a day for more than two weeks until I started suffering pains.
"The doctor asked me to stop working for about a month but I refused and told him that I work with the blessings of the Qur'an. Now I take pain-killing pills and work for five hours a day, which means I need about a year to finish."
The Qur'an copy was supposed to be shown this year, when Najaf was to be the Islamic Capital of Culture.
The project, however, has been postponed indefinitely amid serial delays and allegations of corruption.
The new copy of the Noble Qur'an celebrates Arabic calligraphy as one of the most prominent forms of Arab and Islamic art.
"We are the people of Arabic calligraphy," said Shaeikh Ali Merza, the principal of the school where Kharsan is working on the Qur'an.
"Kufi calligraphy [named after Najaf's twin city of Kufa] is well known, and when we want to do calligraphy, it is not something new for us because we practiced this kind of art historically," Merza said.
Kharsan said his work will be displayed in Najaf, even if the Capital of Islamic Culture project does not go ahead.
"I feel proud of what I am accomplishing, and all I want is to leave my mark," he said.
"This is a blessed work. But at the same time, my name will be part of history, because we compete on an international level."
Guinness World Records does not have any entries for the longest Qur'an, but the largest printed copy measures two meters (6.5 feet) high and 1.52 meters (4 feet, 11 inches) wide, and was unveiled in Russia last November.
Last January, an Afghan calligrapher created the world's biggest Qur'an with pages 2.28 meters (90 inches) by 1.55 meters (61 inches) in size.
The smallest copy, printed in Cairo in 1982 and owned by a Pakistani man, is 1.7 by 1.3 centimeters (0.66 by 0.5 of an inch), but still 571 pages long.
The biggest book in the world measures five by 8.06 meters (16.4 by 26.44 feet) and weighs some 1,500 kilograms (3,306 pounds).It is on the life and achievements of the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessing be upon him), and was unveiled in Dubai in February.