An open door to the Arab world


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Arts and culture




Arabic calligraphy


The Arabic alphabet

ARABIC 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 pen).

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 other letters.

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 examples of high-quality work in various styles.

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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 and cursive styles.

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.

Calligraphic Collection
Examples from around the Islamic world, arranged by country

Modern calligraphy
Work by Lassaad Metoui and Hassan Massoudy

Hassan Massoudy
More work by the Iraqi-born calligrapher

Glory through Calligraphy
A few examples of Islamic art: the Fatiha, a peacock and a lion.

Modern designs by Julien Breton, a young French calligrapher


Arabic Calligraphy, Tile and Pottery
by Madeline Snyder

Origins of Arabic Calligraphy
Plus: the reform of Arabic writing; early calligraphic development; later calligraphic development

An 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" tattoos.

Calligraphy for sale

Arabic Calligraphy Art
Fifty sets of Arabic calligraphy for sale and re-use (mainly EPS files)

Calligraphic clip-art
by Mamoun Sakkal (also designs to order) 

A company that provides Arabic logos for businesses, plus a variety of other design and translation services.


In the calligraphy section


In the arts and culture section


Books from Amazon

Arabic Writing for Beginners
Zafar H Qureshi

A Jeweller's Eye: Islamic Art of the Book from the Vever Collection
Glenn D. Lowry, Susan Nemazee | Paperback | 1988

After Timur: Qur'ans of the 15th and 16th Centuries
David James | Hardcover | 1992

The Abbasid Tradition: Qur'ans of the 8th to 10th Centuries AD
Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, Francois Deroche | Hardcover | 1992

The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy
Abdelkebir Khatibi, et al | Hardcover | 1996

Calligraphy and Islamic Culture
Annemarie Schimmel | Hardcover | 1984


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Last revised on 05 August, 2015