UNESCO on Tuesday added Arabic calligraphy, a key tradition in the Arab and Islamic worlds, to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

A total of 16 Muslim-majority countries, led by Saudi Arabia, presented the nomination to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, which announced the listing on Twitter.

“Arabic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting Arabic script in a fluid manner to convey harmony, grace and beauty,” UNESCO said on its website.

“The fluidity of Arabic script offers infinite possibilities, even within a single word, as letters can be stretched and transformed in numerous ways to create different motifs.”

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud welcomed the decision and said it would “contribute to developing this cultural heritage”, in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Calligraphy that reads in Arabic ‘Allah’ at the old mosque inEdirne. AFP

Abdelmajid Mahboub from the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, which was involved in the proposal, said calligraphy “has always served as a symbol of the Arab-Muslim world”.

But he lamented that “many people no longer write by hand due to technological advances”, adding that the number of specialised Arab calligraphic artists had dropped sharply.

The listing “will certainly have a positive impact” on preserving the tradition, he added.

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage “is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation”.

Its importance “is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next”.