The Art of Islamic calligraphy
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The Arabic language is inseparably linked
with the religion of Islam.
December 12, 1999,
The Arabic language is inseparably linked with the religion of Islam. The holy book of Islam, the Quran, played a central role in the development and evolution of the Arabic script, and by extension, calligraphy.
Today, calligraphy has become the most revered art form in the Islamic world because it links the literary heritage of the Arabic language with the religion of Islam. The result is an artistic tradition of extraordinary beauty, richness and power.
Calligraphy is an extremely demanding activity, and most of the great Muslim masters devoted their lives to perfecting their art. Mastery of calligraphy requires not only the discipline of developing technical skill, but also the engagement of the calligrapher's moral force and personality.
Islam in Arabic means "submission" and derives from a word meaning "peace," for it is in submitting to God's Will that human beings gain peace in their lives in this world and the hereafter. Islam is a universal message revealed in the sacred book, the Quran, through the Prophet Muhammad , and shares with the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity, their ethical teachings and the belief in the One God. Islam is both a religion and a way of life.
Early calligraphic developments, the North Arabic script, which was influenced by the Nabatian script, was established in north-eastern Arabia and flourished in the 5th century among the Arabian tribes who inhabited Hirah and Anbar. It spread to Hijaz in western Arabia, and its use was popularized among the aristocracy of Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad , by Harb ibn Ummayyah1.
Although early Arabic sources mention several calligraphic styles in reference to the cities in which they were used, they generally fit into two broad categories with some minor variations, these are the "dry styles," the early predecessors of Kufic, and the "moist styles," the early predecessors of the cursive family or scripts.
With the increasing number of non-Arab Muslims, there was a greater need for facilitating reading and learning of Arabic. Since several letters of the Arabic alphabet share the same shapes, and since vowels are not clearly indicated, some reform was needed to avoid confusion, and a system of Naqt or I'jam (letter-pointing), and Tashkeel (vowel indication) was developed.
Abul Aswad al Du'ali (d. 688) was the legendary founder of Arabic grammar, and is credited with inventing the system of placing large colored dots to indicate the Tashkeel. It was used with the Kufic scripts, but proved to be somewhat cumbersome to use with smaller scripts, or in ordinary writing.
The Ummayad governor al Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al Thaqafi enforced a uniform system to distinguish letters by using dots, which he asked two of al Du'ali's students to codify.
Under the Ummayads and Abbasids, court requirements for correspondence and record keeping resulted in many developments to the cursive scripts, and several styles were devised to fulfill these needs.
Abu Ali Muhammad Ibn Muqlah (d. 940), along with his brother, became accomplished calligraphers in Baghdad in an early age. Abu Ali became a Vizir to three Abbasid caliphs, and is credited with developing the first script to obey strict proportional rules. His system utilized the dot as a measuring unit for line proportions, and a circle with a diameter equals to the Alef's height as a measuring unit for letter proportions.