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Arabic calligraphy, also called Islamic calligraphy, is a form of writing which has become an important traditional art form in the Muslim world. Calligraphers produce elaborate designs using Arabic script. Arabic calligraphy often has a religious or devotional theme, and often includes prayers or passages from the Qur'an, Islam's sacred text. The shahada, or Muslim profession of faith, is a common subject.
Calligraphy has a special place among the arts in the Muslim world because of the traditional prohibition against representative art in religious contexts. Islam prohibits the worship of images, and many Muslim cultures extend this prohibition not only to images of Allah but to all religious figurative art. As a result, non-figurative art forms such as calligraphy have a high degree of importance in Islamic culture compared to the cultures of Western Europe. Arabic is the language of the Qur'an, giving Arabic calligraphy a special status even in Muslim cultures where Arabic is not the dominant language.
Over the long and varied history of Arabic calligraphy, a number of different styles developed in different regions. For example, the early Kufic style is highly linear, with sharp angles and straight lines. A later calligraphic style, the Nash or Naskh script, is much more fluid.
The traditional instrument of Arabic calligraphers is a type of pen called a qalam, made from a reed with a shaped and notched tip. This type of pen has a long history in the cultures of the Middle East. In other parts of the world, the primary instrument is different. This is the case in the Chinese Muslim community, where brushes are the standard tool.
Inscriptions in Arabic calligraphy appear in a wide variety of contexts. Calligraphic designs are common in books, particularly sacred texts, but they also occur on pottery, coinage and other objects. Inscriptions in Arabic calligraphy are an important part of the decoration of many mosques. These inscriptions are combined with geometric decoration to create a visually striking effect. In some mosques, the passage from the Qur'an chosen for the inscription relates to the part of the mosque it adorns.
One unusual type of Arabic calligraphy is the calligram. In a calligram, the calligrapher uses the words of the inscription to create a picture. The picture is often related to the text of the inscription, creating a visual pun. Calligrams are a form of popular calligraphy and do not usually appear in mosques or other high-status contexts.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the historical significance of Arabic calligraphy?
Arabic calligraphy is deeply rooted in Islamic culture and is considered an art form that dates back to the 7th century. It was initially developed to transcribe the Quran and has since evolved into various styles. Its significance lies in its role as a means of preserving the Arabic language and Islamic heritage, as well as its use in architecture, decoration, and communication. Arabic calligraphy is not only an aesthetic expression but also a reflection of spirituality and intellectualism in Islamic societies.
What are the main styles of Arabic calligraphy?
There are several prominent styles of Arabic calligraphy, each with unique characteristics. The most notable ones include Naskh, which is known for its clarity and is widely used in print; Thuluth, recognized for its elegance and often used in mosque decorations; Diwani, characterized by its complex curves and used in Ottoman documents; Kufic, one of the oldest forms with geometric patterns; and Ruq'ah, the most common handwriting style in modern Arabic. These styles showcase the versatility and artistic depth of Arabic calligraphy.
How does Arabic calligraphy differ from other forms of calligraphy?
Arabic calligraphy is distinct in its use of the Arabic script, which is written from right to left and consists of 28 letters that change shape depending on their position in a word. Unlike Latin-based scripts, Arabic calligraphy places a strong emphasis on the horizontal axis, where letters are elongated and connected in fluid and intricate ways. The art form also incorporates a high level of abstraction and complexity, often integrating calligraphic pieces into geometric and vegetal designs, known as arabesques.
Can Arabic calligraphy be considered a form of religious expression?
Yes, Arabic calligraphy can be considered a form of religious expression, particularly within the context of Islam. Since the depiction of human and animal figures is often discouraged in Islamic art due to the prohibition of idolatry, calligraphy has become a primary means of artistic expression. It is used to convey religious texts, most notably verses from the Quran, and is imbued with spiritual significance. The art of calligraphy is seen as a way to honor the divine word and is often incorporated into religious architecture and artifacts.
What is the process of learning Arabic calligraphy?
Learning Arabic calligraphy is a disciplined process that requires patience, practice, and a deep understanding of the script's form and rhythm. Students typically begin by studying the basic strokes and shapes of individual letters, gradually progressing to more complex compositions. Mastery of calligraphy involves learning under a skilled calligrapher, understanding the proportions and spacing of letters, and becoming proficient with traditional tools such as the qalam (a reed pen) and ink. As with any art form, becoming a skilled calligrapher takes years of dedicated practice.