Saturday, March 23, 2013

Arabic Caligraphy

Arabic Caligraphy
Harmony Sutherland

Arabic Calligraphy: Unlike Roman or Chinese calligraphy, Arabic calligraphy is quiet new. Until the rise of Islam, Arabs were a nomadic, tribal peoples with a custom of oral communication. According to tradition, the odes of the al-Mu'allaqat were the only things transcribed to writing in pre-Islamic Arabia, and  inscribed in gold lettering around the Kaba.i After Islam was born in the early 600's, Muhammad's successor, Caliph Abu Bakr, ordered the Prophet's secretary, Zayd ibn Thabit, to gather the revelations and make them into a book, the Qur'an. The holy book plays a critical role in the development of Arabic calligraphy. The script was written to mirror the nature of the book, it having to be as beautiful as the word of God. 

Process and tools: Like Western/Latin calligraphy (khatt), a calligrapher (or khattat in Arabic) gets formal training, it taking three to ten years to master presently. There are strict rules to follow, the calligrapher having to learn measurements, ratios, and many other devices.
ink well and pen. Extracted from
The ink (hibr) used is usually made out of soot, mixed with gum arabic and water, creating a black color. Traditionally, the soot is scraped from mosque lamps, thus making the writings even more scared.v A wad of silk (liqa) is placed in the inkwell, the calligrapher just pouring enough ink into the well for the wad to soak in. This allows just the right amount of liquid to get onto the pen so that no blobs of pigment will get on the paper in result to too much ink. 
Material used for writing calligraphy on was papyrus or parchment made from animal hides until the tenth century when paper was Before the paper is written on, it is dyed with a starchy substance known as ahar and then burnished smooth.

Alif : The alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet and is also the base ratio of all other calligraphic letters. A calligrapher will create the alif and then measure the mark with points. A point is the shape formed when pressing the tip of the pen on to the paper, creating a square. This form of measurement was attributed by calligrapher Abu Ali Muhammad Ibn Muqlah (d. 940).vii

Naqt/ I'jam: Naqt or I'jam is the use of dots, or letter pointing. The Arabic alphabet consists of twenty eight letters, many of the consonants are the indistinguishable of another. The only thing that allows the letters to be recognized is the naqt placed on top or under the letter. Abu l-Aswad al-Du'ali (d.688), who is credited founding Arabic grammar, developed a system called Tashkil (vocalization) that emphasized the use of naqt/i'jam. This system used large colored dots to show parts of Arabic speech that are not shown through letters.x

Nabatean Script: The Nabateans were a people that lived close to the Arab regions and held close trade and cultural ties.xi They were a nomadic culture that dwelt in Northern Arabia, to southern Syria until developing a kingdom around the Jordan area in about 150 BC. The Nabateans eventually lost  power by the Romans in 105 AD.xii However, not everything of the Nabateans was wiped out. Their script survived and had a big influence in the maturing of Arabic calligraphy. Jazm, the earliest reference to Arabic writing, was a Nabatean based script.  The Jazm stlye's  stiff and angular characteristics greatly influenced the famous Kufic script.xiii 
Nabatean Script. 

 Ibn al-Bawwab: Abu l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Hiilal, or better known as Ibn al-Bawwab (d, 1022)xvi was a student of a student of Ibn Maqlah. Without violating any of the rules placed down by Ibn Maqlah, al-Bawwab was able to revise the designs of his teacher's master. Al-Bawwab developed a measuring system using the square dots made by the pen to measure the height and width of a letter, refining Ibn Maqlah's measurement system. 
Ibn al-Bawwab was born a commoner, believed to be the son of a doorman, thus how he got his name (Ibn al-Bawwab translates to son of the doorman). Starting out as a house painter, Al-Bawwab eventually obtained the career of a book illuminator. He then went on to master calligraphy and eventually became an imam in a mosque in Baghdad.xvii The calligrapher went on to have written sixty-four Qur'ans and many secular works using his calligraphy skills.xviii   

Abu’l-Majd Jamal al-Din Yaqut (or Yaqut al-Musta'simi): Yaqut (d. 1298) was born in Anatolia, working as a salve to the last caliph of the Abbasid caliphate, Musta'sim Billah. He eventually became the scribe to the royal court of Baghdad. Yaqut was known for his strictness with his pupils, he wrote two sections the Qur'an everyday, himself. The story goes that he even refused to flee Baghdad when the Mongols attacked, he still needing to finish his daily sections. With a pen, paper, and ink, Yaqut hid in a minaret of a mosque and continued his practice as the city below was getting destroyed. 
Yaqut was trained by a women, Shuhda Bint al-'Ibari, who was a student in the direct line of al-Bawwab.xix  He revolutionized how the pen tip was cut by giving it a slanted tip, giving the letters that al-Bawwab had developed a new life. He even invented a new form of the Thuluth Style script, it being called Yaquti.xx

Cursive Script: The cursive scripts date back to the very first years of the Muslim era.xxi  At first lacking the elegance seen today, time progressed, allowing the scripts to evolve into the flowing, curved styles there are today. The cursive scripts include the Naskh, Thuluth, Muhaqqa, Rayhani,Tawqi, Riqa, and the Nastaliq scripts. 

Naskh Script: This script's name derives from the word nasakha which means “to copy”.xxii It was at first not counted as one of the Sitta due to it was easy to write. Due to not having any strict conformity,xxiii  early Naskh styles allowed anyone to easily copy it, until Ibn Muqlah's measuring system came around. With the development of strict proportions, the Naskh script was transformed into a major calligraphic stlye. Ibn al-Bawwad eventually transformed the font to the point it was aesthetically pleasing enough to write the suras (chapters) of the Qur'an.  It replaced the Kufic script as the choice style for the holy book, giving Naskh the title “servant of the Qur'an”.  Naskh was also the chosen style for many other books because it was so easy to read and is still used today in many printed books.xxiv 

Thuluth: According to some calligraphers, you are not a calligrapher until you master the Thuluth script.xxv This tall, intertwining script is used mostly in headings, titles and colophon pages.xxvi It is also a choice script to be used on architecture, it exaggerating the hight of the building, and is also used on metal work, glass, wood, and other materials. It is viewed as being a more decorative, ornamental script due to many of the letters braid together and have a steep curve. 
The Tumar script, one of the earliest of the Arabic scripts, is thought to have been the influence of this script and considered to be an “addition” to the Sitta. This script is graceful but very large, it one-third the size of the pen. 

Muhaqqa and Rayhani Script: Muhaqqa was at first a term givin to the scripts that were not as angular as Kufic scripts, but with better spaced ligaturesxxviii This gave Muhaqqa its name, meaning “strongly expressed”. Muhaqqa had received the stamp of excellence until the arrival of paper and it became less controlled and used more freely. During the rule of Caliph al-Ma'mun (813-33) it evolved to a  point were it was round enough to make it easy to write, it becoming the choice script for warraqun (professional scribes)xxix. This script contains hardly any downward strokes and is very vertical. The Rayhani script is reasoned to be a smaller version of the Muhaqqa.
Rayhani script, named after a basil plant, gets its name thanks to the delicate lines and steams that form from the sharp pointed ends of the 

Tawqi and Riqa Script: Tawiq is catagorized as being one of the “additional” scripts of the Sitta. Meaning “signature”, it supposedly had birthed from a script that the Abbasid caliphs used to signature documents. It was not fully developed until the eleventh century by  a second generation student of al-Bawwab, Ahmad ibn Muhammad, who was also known as Ibn al-Khazin (d.1124).  Tawqi is generally used for special occasions and was continued to be the script chosen to signature important documents.  A smaller version of the script was created by al-Khazin called Riqa. Favored by Ottoman calligraphers, Riqa developed to being the script used as handwriting around the Arab world today.xxxii 
Last of the “additional” scripts, Nasta'liq is a mixture of Naskh and Ta'liq styles, its name being a compound of both of the scripts names. It was formed in the fifteenth century by Persians and has since been the national script.xxxiv It is believed that the creator of this script was Persian khattat Mir 'Ali Sultan al-Tabrizi (d.1416). In the traditional texts, al-Tabrizi was said to have been visited by Caliph Ali in a dream, allowing him to create a new, beautiful script by studying a certain bird. He was then visited in his dreams by a grouse. From the shape of the bird's wings, al-Tabrizi got inspiration to create the Nasta'liq script. 


Calligraphy Qalam. “Tools and Materials”. Last modified 2009.
“Ibn Maqla”. Last modified 2009.
“Kufic/ Maghribi Style.” Last modified 2009.
        “Ibn al-Bawwab”. Last modified 2009. 
“Yaqut al-Musta'simi”. Last modified 2009.
“Thuluth/Naskh”. Last modified 2009,
  “Muhaqqaq/ Rayhani”. Last modified 2009.
“Ta'liq/Nasta'liq/Shikaste”. Last modified 2009.

Khatibi, Abdelkebir and Sijelnassi, Mohammed. The Splendour of Islamic Calligraphy. New York: Rizzoli International. 1976

Safadi, Yasin Hamid. Islamic Calligraphy. Boulder: Shambhala. 1979.

Sakal Design. “The Art of Arabic Calligraphy”. Last modified 1993.

Zoghbi, Pascal and Stone. Arabic Graffiti. Berlin: From Here to Frame. 2011


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