The Arabic alphabet
is written from right to left. There are 18 distinct letter shapes, which vary slightly
depending on whether they are connected to another letter before or after them. There are
no "capital" letters.
The full alphabet of 28
letters is created by placing various combinations of dots above or below some of these
shapes. (An animated
version of the alphabet shows the correct way to move
The three long vowels are included in written words but
the three short vowels are normally omitted though they can be indicated by marks above and below
Although the Arabic alphabet as we know it today appears
highly distinctive, it is actually related to the Latin,
Greek, Phoenician, Aramaic, Nabatian alphabets. Other languages such as Persian,
Urdu and Malay use adaptations of the Arabic script.
The numerals used in most parts of the world 1, 2,
3, etc were originally Arabic, though many Arab countries use Hindi numerals.
The following four lessons (part of the Babel course) give
a fair idea of what is involved in learning to read and write Arabic:
Decorative writing calligraphy is one of the
highest art forms of the Arab world. This is partly because strict Muslims disapprove of
art which represents humans or living things.
The links on this page explain the historical development
of calligraphy and provide examples that illustrate both its beauty and its variety.
Styles of calligraphy
A wealth of
information about Arabic calligraphy can be found at www.islamicart.com,
a website produced by the Islamic and Arabic Arts and Architecture Organisation. This
includes a general overview
of calligraphy in an Islamic religious context and discusses the work of famous calligraphers.
It describes the
instruments used for
calligraphy and how the proportions
of the letters are determined.
It explains the six major scripts
used in traditional calligraphy, and the differences between them. There are also some
high-quality work in various styles.
Another excellent website is produced by Mamoun Sakkal, a Syrian-born designer and
teacher. This takes a historical
view of the development of Arabic writing and calligraphy, from the earliest alphabets to
the evolution of kufic
For those who want to try their hand, there are also a
couple of lessons
for designing in the Kufic style.
Examples of calligraphic art
Islamic Calligraphy (I)
Examples in various styles - Kufi, Maghribi, etc.
Islamic Calligraphy II
Twelve images, though without description.
Examples from around the Islamic world, arranged by country
Work by Lassaad Metoui and Hassan Massoudy
More work by the Iraqi-born calligrapher
A few examples of Islamic art: the Fatiha, a peacock and a lion.
Modern designs by Julien Breton, a young French calligrapher
Calligraphy, Tile and Pottery
by Madeline Snyder
Origins of Arabic
reform of Arabic writing; early
calligraphic development; later
Islamic image (1):
calligraphy as graphics - by Mamoun Sakkal
An Islamic image (2):
English in Arabic garb - by Mamoun Sakkal
Henna and tattoos
Decoration of the skin with henna, plus a note of caution on "Arabic"
Calligraphy for sale
Fifty sets of Arabic calligraphy for sale and re-use (mainly EPS files)
by Mamoun Sakkal (also designs to order)
A company that provides Arabic logos for businesses, plus a
variety of other design and translation services.