Arabic calligraphy is an aspect of Islamic art that has co-evolved alongside the religion of Islam and the Arabic language.
Arabic calligraphy is associated with geometric Islamic art (the Arabesque) on the walls and ceilings of mosques as well as on the page. Contemporary artists in the Arab and Islamic world draw on the heritage of calligraphy either to use calligraphic inscriptions in their work or to use calligraphic abstractions.
Instead of recalling something related to the reality of the spoken word,calligraphy for the Muslim is a visible expression of the highest art of all, the art of the spiritual world. Calligraphy has arguably become the most venerated form of Islamic art because it provides a link between the Arabic language with the religion of Islam. The holy book of Islam, al-Qur'an, has played an important role in the development and evolution of the Arabic language, and by extension, calligraphy. Proverbs and complete passages from the Qur'an are still active sources for Arabic calligraphy.
In the beginnings of Islam, the Qur'an was mostly recorded in the memory of those who memorized the entire text; they are known as the Huffaz. After witnessing the unreliability of such a form of transmission, mostly because of the untimely death of many of those Huffaz in battle, it was decided to record it in written form and compile it into one book instead of several pieces.
Given its sacred nature to Muslims, as the Qur'an is considered the word of Allah, the book would be made with great attention to quality and readability. Given Islam's taboo against pictorial representation, however, drawings could not be used to illustrate the book, as was done in the Christian world. Thus, the art of calligraphy became very important in the Muslim world, and today it is still a major art form; calligraphers are held in great esteem. The aesthetic of their art, which allows for the teaching of the Qur'an, is a unifying aspect of Islam.
After the definitive fixing of the Arabic script around 786, by Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi, many styles were developed, both for the writing down of the Qur'an and other books, and for inscriptions on monuments as decoration.
The first of those to gain popularity was known as the Kufic script; it was angular, made of square and short horizontal strokes, long verticals, and bold, compact circles. It would be the main script used to copy the Qur'an for three centuries; its static aspect made it suitable for monumental inscriptions, too. It would develop many serifs, small decorations added to each character.
More often used for casual writing was the cursive Naskh script, with rounder letters and thin lines; with refinement of its writing techniques it would come to be preferred to Kufic for copying the Qur'an. Most children are taught the Naskh font first, and at a later stage they are introduced to the Riq'a font. Almost all printed material in Arabic is in Naskh so, to avoid confusion, children are taught to write in the same script. It is also clearer and easier to decipher.
In the 13th century, the Thuluth would take on the ornamental role formerly associated with the Kufic script. Thuluth meaning "one third", it is based on the principle that one third of each letter slides downward. As such it has a strong cursive aspect and is usually written in ample curves.
As Islam extended farther east, it converted the Persians, who took to using Arabic script for their own language. They contributed to Arabic calligraphy the Taliq and Nastaliq styles. The later is extremely cursive, with exaggeratedly long horizontal strokes; one of its peculiarities is that vertical strokes lean to the right rather than (as more commonly) to the left, making Nastaliq writing particularly well flowing.
The Diwani script is a cursive style of Arabic calligraphy developed during the reign of the early Ottoman Turks (16th-early 17th century). It was invented by Housam Roumi and reached its height of popularity under S leyman I the Magnificent (1520_66). As decorative as it was communicative, Diwani was distinguished by the complexity of the line within the letter and the close juxtaposition of the letters within the word.
A variation of the Diwani, the Diwani Al Jali, is characterized by its abundance of diacritical and ornamental marks.
Finally, the most commonly used script for everyday use is Riq'a. Simple and easy to write, its movements are small, without much amplitude. It is the one most commonly seen. It's also considered a step up from the Naskh script, and as children get older they are taught this script in school.
The traditional instrument of the Arabic calligrapher is the qalam, a pen made of dried reed; the ink is often in color, and chosen such that its intensity can vary greatly, so that the greater strokes of the compositions can be very dynamic in their effect.
Indeed, Arabic calligraphy hasn't fallen out of use as in the western world. Being cursive by nature, unlike the Latin alphabet, Arabic script is used to write down a verse of the Qur'an, a Hadith, or simply a proverb, in a spectacular composition that is often indecipherable. The composition is often abstract, but sometimes the writing is shaped into an actual form such as that of an animal. One of the current masters of the genre is Hassan Massoudy.
- The Art of Arabic Calligraphy (http://www.sakkal.com/ArtArabicCalligraphy.html)
- Egypt: Art of Arabic Calligraphy (http://www.touregypt.net/historicalessays/calligraphy.htm)