We’ve heard of fanatical lovers writing letters to their beloved in blood. But Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein took this practice to a new level. In the late 1990s, he commissioned a calligrapher to make a copy of the Qur’an, using his own blood as ink. For the project, Saddam donated 7 gallons (27 liters) of blood over the course of two years – the time it took for the book to be completed. The book still exists, and no one knows what to do with it.
For now, Saddam’s blood-inscribed Qur’an is being kept behind locked doors in Baghdad. The unusual book is both sacred and profane, so officials are quite unsure as to how to deal with it. Islamic clerics are confused over the decision to either destroy the book or preserve it as a reminder of the dictator’s brutality. It is most likely that Saddam was quite aware of the controversy his project would spew, given the taboos in Islamic culture over human bodily fluids, but he went ahead with it anyway. His intentions were clear – he had said that the book was his tribute to God because his son had survived an assassination attempt.
In the words of one Iraqi citizen, “On one flank had been the government, doing all it could to prevent access. The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionize the remnants of the Ba’athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days. And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur’an with the reverence of a holy book.”
What’s creepy about the copy of the Qur’an that Saddam commissioned is not so much that it’s written in blood, but that the blood used is human. According to Bruno Pouliot, a professor of art conservation at the University of Delaware, “blood is a common medium used in paint. Ox blood is one of the oldest forms, and a very stable form, actually, of paint.” It’s only the fact that the artifact is actually a human remain, that shrouds it in controversy.
Like Vicki Cassman, another professor at Delaware says, “”what’s different about things that involve human remains is that they are always controversial. There is that symbolism — that is, who it represents and if this person’s spirit lives on in the object.” Well, whether Saddam lives on through the book or not, his blood sure will live a long time, should it be chosen that the book be preserved. It turns out that human blood is one of the toughest stains to remove and as blood dries, it forms a solid film. Preservation isn’t going to be much of a problem, just maintaining it like any other book will do. The pathogens present in human blood also do not pose a risk, once it has tried up.
During the course of this project, Saddam donated more blood than the average person would in a lifetime. The 27-litres he donated is approximately 5 times as much as the amount of blood he would have had in his body at any given time. In the United States, a donor is allowed to give only five to six pints of blood over the course of a year, which comes to less than a gallon. At that rate, it should have taken Saddam 9 years to donate all the blood that he did. Experts say that if the figure is indeed correct, the rate at which he donated blood should have made him anemic. Well, it appears as though Saddam was in a hurry to leave his mark in the world in more ways than one.