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Arabic Calligraphy through the Ages

The flowing, beautiful nature of the Arabic alphabet makes it the perfect language for calligraphy, or artistic handwriting. This gorgeous art has been passed down generation to generation and can be found in architecture, art, and other designs. Because of this intertwinement of decor and writing, Arabic calligraphy has become an essential aspect of the culture. An Arabic proverb even says, “Purity of writing is purity of soul.”

Over the years, Arabic calligraphy has evolved, transformed, and developed into many different styles, each distinct in its form and usage.

The History of Arabic Calligraphy

Al-Jazm is an early script originally used in the Arabian Peninsula. It has roots in Persian, Syriac, and Nabatean scripts. It’s considered one of the predecessors to the Arabic alphabet and likely originated around AD 300.

Today Al-Jazm is one of the most widely used alphabets in the world. Multiple languages and Islamic calligraphies use the alphabet. Arabic calligraphy, known in Arabic as khatt, is only one of these Islamic calligraphies.

a man writes arabic calligraphy.

Kufic, the oldest Arabic script, was named after the ancient Mesopotamian city Kufah. Kufic is recognizable because of its long, horizontal lines and angular design. In line with its controlled appearance, it was used for religious and other official documents. Most surviving examples, such as ancient copies of the Qur’ān, appear to be the work of professional scribes. 

Other early scripts followed less rigorous rules. Cursive was used in Egyptian papyri. It was used every day as a more common and quick hand. Experimentation over time led to a wide variety of scripts and styles.

Naskhī, a cursive script, is one of the most commonly used today. It’s even used in most printed publications, such as newspapers. This script isn’t as loose and informal as older cursive scripts. Instead, it calls for precise ratios of the letters to maintain the desired look.

Two women write in a book.

Calligraphy Tools

To achieve varying styles and line thickness, calligraphers use an array of pens and tools. The most common pen in Arabic calligraphy is the qalam, dried reed cut at an angle, which allows calligraphers to create fluid lines with varying thickness. Because of calligraphy’s prominence, the qalam represents wisdom and knowledge in Islamic culture. 

Other pens serve different purposes. The java pen, for example, is used for small scripts with tight turns. The celie pen, on the other hand, is a hardwood pen best used for large writing.

Calligraphy Design

Arabic calligraphy on a wall.

The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left and consists of 28 letters. Some of the letters can connect with adjacent letters, similar to cursive in English. This only adds to its unique, flowing appearance. Capital letters aren’t used in Arabic, creating a uniform look. 

Calligraphy is often used in conjunction with geometry and ornamental designs to create artwork. Stylized scripts appear on ceramics, walls, doors, scrolls, coins, and more. Historically, calligraphers have been so respected for their craft that rulers sought them out.

Modern artists continue to explore the boundaries of Arabic calligraphy. The practice has been seen in abstract, cubist, and other movements.

Calligraphy in Architecture

Arabic calligraphy has long been used as a decorative element in architecture, particularly in religious architecture. Calligraphers were often commissioned to inscribe verses of the Qur’ān in religious buildings. These verses were thought to enlighten followers. You can find intricately decorated scripts used throughout architecture in stone, wood, stucco, tile, and more.

Arabic writing on the side of a dome.

Preserving Arabic Calligraphy

Calligraphy is an integral part of Arabic culture. It’s so respected that people have been collecting examples of beautiful calligraphy for generations. Some are even stored in museums. If you have Arabic ancestors or family members, it’s worth saving your family’s collections or penmanship. The deep cultural roots will be meaningful for generations to come.

Learning the art of Arabic calligraphy for yourself might help you feel connected with your heritage and ancestry. You can share your progress and creations on FamilySearch Memories as well.

Source: Family Search

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