Hashem al-Khattat was born in Baghdad in 1917. He started to learn Arabic calligraphy from an early age, and won a calligraphy Diploma from Mulla ‘Ali al-Fadli in 1943.
He continued his studies in Cairo and obtained a Diploma with honours from the Royal Institute of Calligraphy in 1944. In the same year, he won the Calligraphy Certificate from the calligrapher Sayyid Ibrahim and the calligrapher Muhammad Husni.
In 1946, he published a text book on Al-Riqa’ style of calligraphy. He visited Turkey, and showed examples of his work to the famous Turkish calligrapher, Musa Azmi, known as Hamid al-Amidi, who awarded him calligraphy Diplomas on two occasions, 1950 and 1952. On the second occasion, al-Amidi declared that Hashem was one of the finest calligraphers in the Islamic world. He said of him, “The art of calligraphy sprang in Dar-As-Salaam (Baghdad) and returns with you to Dar-As-Salaam.”
He followed the classical Baghdad style of Yaqut al-Musta’asimi and combined it with the more modern Ottoman school, and he was also known to be amongst the best calligraphers of the Thuluth style.
He supervised the printing of the Holy Qu’ran which was calligraphed by the Turkish calligrapher Muhammad Amin al-Rushdi. Al-Khattat reilluminated some of the missing letters, numbered the verses and calligraphed the addresses of the Surahs (chapters). This Holy text was first published in Baghdad in 1951. It was subsequently republished in Germany in 1966, and then a third edition was published, also in Germany, in 1972.
In 1960, he was appointed Lecturer in Arabic Calligraphy at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. Later, he became the Head of the Arabic Calligraphy and Islamic Decoration Department where he stayed until his death in 1973. During this time (1961) he published his collection of calligraphy containing his finest work under the title “The Methods of Arabic Calligraphy.”
His calligraphic work adorns a number of well-known Mosques in Iraq, including al-Shahid Mosque, Shaikh Abdul Qadir al-Gailani Mosque, Haiderkhana Mosque, Almuradia Mosque, and the Bunia Mosque. He designed Iraqi Bank Notes, and the coins for Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Sudan. He awarded only one Diploma, to his student Abdul Ghani al-Ani.
He planned to write a text of the Holy Qu’ran in his own particular style, but he died before completing the project. A collection containing his latest work was republished in Baghdad in 1978.