The Currency Designer
Most people would have seen the Saudi currency coins and notes but not many would look at the artwork in detail. One person who would have known all the fine details would be Sheikh Mahmoud ibn Wan Saleh ibn Sheikh Zainal Abidin Fatani.
The Saudi coins started during the reign of King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud since 1920. In 1925 the Saudi national emblem was incorporated on the coin, the crossed swords and the date palm tree. In line with Islamic beliefs no figure of a person was allowed to be incorporated on the coin. It is normally decorated by a beautifully designed khat letterings of the name of the King intertwined and balanced resulting in a beautiful but complicated design that is difficult to decipher unless the reader is familiar with Arabic language and the art of khat writing called calligraphy. The year the coin was struck was also engraved on the coin. It is this expertise that made Sheikh Mahmoud a very important man. He was the chosen person to designed these coins.
To Sheikh Mahmoud it was indeed a great honour to have been appointed to do something like this for the Kingdom.
He was the 11th grandson of the famous Sheikh Mohammad Ismail Ad Daudy Alfatani on his mother’s side.
He was born in the Great House of Qushashiyya of Sheikh Muhammad Ismail, located in AlKhandafushi Alley close to the Masjidil Haram in the year 1335 H (1917 AD). His mother Khadijah was the third daughter of Sheikh Mohammad or number 6 among the children of the Sheikh. She was born in 1886. His father Wan Saleh was from Patani, immigrated to Makkah at the time when the Buddhist rulers of the Kingdom of Siam was harassing muslims in Patani. His grandfather Wan Zainal Abidin was a well-known religious teacher in Patani.
Unfortunately, the father Wan Saleh died young. Mahmoud was only 6 years old then.
In his early years his mother and uncle Sheikh Muhammad Noor were responsible for giving him religious education and Arabic language lessons. In 1929, Sheikh Muhammad Noor Alfatani took his sister Khadijah and children to settle down in Patani due to political instability in Makkah. Here Mahmoud adapted to the Malay and Siamese culture and attended school. He learned the Malay language and also the Thai language. He also picked up a new hobby by learning calligraphy and drawing skills which became very important in his later life. He also joined the Boy Scouts, adding more positive attributes to his personality. He finished high school before he was brought back to Makkah in 1934 when things stabilized under the rule of King Abdul Aziz AsSaud at the age of 17.
In Makkah he continued his education and pursued his hobby in calligraphy by learning from famous a Calligrapher Sheikh AlGhazzawi and Sheikh Adib Al Turki, a prominent government calligrapher. Under the tutorship of these famous calligraphers, Mahmoud was able to rise to the ranks of a handful of famous calligraphers alive in Makkah at the time.
He started working life as a teacher in Al Falah schools where he taught calligraphy. He progressed further by joining the government service and rose to the rank of Director General of the Technical Department in the Ministry of Finance before he opted to retire in 1970. Most of the postage stamps, commemorative stamps, arches to welcome state dignitaries were designed by him.
He had travelled to various countries and met other famous calligraphers who were equally charmed by his style in calligraphy.
Apart from his hobby in the arts with an equally interested life partner, Siti Amnah daughter of his uncle the scholar Sheikh Muhammad Noor AlFatani, they ventured into the fashion business and interior decoration. They also opened a restaurant in the middle of Makkah City serving Malay and Indonesian cuisines.
During Hajj season he was responsible for providing clean water and drinking water to the pilgrims, an envious position even in the times of Rasulullah peace be upon him.
He also introduced an important innovation for refrigeration before the technology of refrigerant was used in refrigerators and room air-conditioners, simply by using the principle of removal of heat through evaporation. He successfully preserved the meat for the kitchen for a few days longer than without his innovation. Had he been exposed to the world authority in science he would have been awarded a recognition for his invention.
Such was the colourful life of Sheikh Mahmoud ibn Wan Saleh Fatani and his beloved wife Siti Amnah Sheikh Muhammad Noor Fatani, very much loved by the greater extended family members of Sheikh Mohammad Ismail Ad Daudy Fatani residing in Saudi, Malaysia and Patani.
He passed away at the age of 74 years in 1988 and left behind a name associated with calligraphy and the design of stamps, notes and coins for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.