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KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan calligrapher has worked for five years to create the world's biggest Koran, a bid to show the world that Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage and traditions have been damaged but not destroyed by 30 years of war.
The lavish book has pages 2.28 meters (90 inches) by 1.55 meters (61 inches) in size, and has been certified as the world's largest by the Afghan ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs, according to the Kabul cultural centre that houses it.
The previous claim to the title was for a 2 meter by 1.5 meter copy unveiled last year in Russia's Tatarstan region.
The Afghan Koran weighs 500 kg (1,100 lb) and its 218 pages of cloth and paper, bound inside an embossed leather cover made from the skins of 21 goats, cost half a million dollars to create.
Mohammad Sabir Khedri, the master calligrapher behind the project, worked with nine students on a design that combines gold script with millions of tiny colorful dots, forming highly symbolic decorations around the giant pages.
"I wanted to use as many tasteful colors as possible to make this holy book look beautiful," he said, standing beside his enormous creation in a room built specially to house it.
Khedri not only created the masterpiece, he managed to keep it a secret for over two years. It was finished in 2009, but the binding and room to house it were not ready until the start of 2012, when it was finally unveiled.
The Koran is housed in a cultural centre originally founded in the 1980s, and once home to 50,000 books, a medical centre, and schools for Afghan crafts such as carpet weaving.
All of that was destroyed in during the civil war that followed the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops, and the harsh Taliban rule from 1996.
But its founder revived the centre after the 2001 ouster of the hardline government, and his daughter -- member of parliament Farkhunda Zahra Naderi -- now also helps support its work and manages a much smaller library.
"The cultural centre is proud that it provided this opportunity for an Afghan artist to actually show his talent to the world...We have Afghan people who show the positive aspect of Islam," Naderi told Reuters.
The giant Koran was her father's dream and a project he devoted himself to for years, Naderi said.
"Writing the Koran is one privilege, and...of course if you can make the biggest Koran everyone wants to do it, because they want to show the feeling they have, the biggest feeling inside their heart," Naderi said of the project.
But as a devout Muslim, calligrapher Khedri said he would welcome ceding his moment in the spotlight to an even larger Koran made by someone else.
"I will be happier if someone else makes a bigger Koran, it is serving Islam," he said with a smile.
Edited by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski