You might have noticed, just by browsing the galleries, that calligraphic pieces can look very different. These can all be grouped into different Arabic calligraphy scripts. Each Arabic calligraphy script has developed to serve particular functions throughout history. This section will teach you about the main Arabic calligraphy scripts. You’ll also be able to read posts on how to write each script.
The Arabic Alphabet (very) briefly
The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, all of which are consonants. It has three vowels which are represented by diacritic symbols, and three long vowels used by Arabic. Arabic does not have capital letters or lowercase letters. Words are generally all linked to each other, like in cursive. The way a letter is written in a word depends on whether it attached to another letter before it or after it. Some letters do not attach to anything after them. You can find more information about the Arabic alphabet under the resources section.
The main Arabic Calligraphy Scripts
Despite there being several scripts based on regional, functional and historical developments, six main Arabic calligraphy scripts can be singled out. These are:
Below I’ll go into some details of the historic developments and principal uses of each script.
“Thuluth” means ‘a-third’ in Arabic. It is believed that this script gets in name either from the fact that the smaller dimensions of the pen used for this script, or that the smallest width of a letter is a third of the widest part.
Thuluth is visually a very curvy looking script. As a result, it emphasises the fluidity of the cursive words in Arabic. It normally also includes various diacritic marks and ornaments to decorate words.
Thuluth has been frequently been used in religious settings. It is common to find Thuluth script used in Architectural settings. Many mosques are decorated with Thuluth script passages of the Quran. Frequently, thuluth is used as heading and titles of written documents. It is therefore uncommon to see Thuluth script used to write the headings of Quranic verses.
The development of the Thuluth script has been credit to the Ottoman calligraphers, Seyh Hamdullah, Hâfız Osman and Mehmed Şevkî Efendi.
A notable use of the Thuluth script is the Saudi Arabian flag.
We’re currently writing a series of posts that will help you learn how to write Arabic Calligraphy in Thuluth script.
“Naskh” comes from the Arabic word “nasakha”, which means ‘to copy’. It’s name may originate from the fact that its a style that is relatively easier to copy. It has therefore become of the most common scripts in Arabic publications.
The ease with which it is copied and read led it to become the preferred script for writing Qurans. It’s ease of legibility also makes it common in books, newspapers and other publications.
Naskh is derived from Thuluth. However, the script is usually very small and fluid. Because letter proportions are significantly different to other scripts, it is a somewhat hard script to master.
Ibn Muqlah Shirazi has been recognised as the creator of this particular script.
“Riq’ah” (also sometimes written as “Ruq’ah) derives it’s name from the noun for the Arabic “cloth”. The script has derived its name because it was usually written in small pieces of paper.
Riq’ah stems its roots from Naskh. Because it is easy and fast to write it has become the most prevalent handwriting across countries that use Arabic alphabets. In most cases it allows for entire words to be written without lifting the pen off the paper. Words are normally written diagonally and do not normally include diacritic markings (short vowels). Therefore vowels are inferred through context.
It was made popular in the Ottoman empire as it was used for a variety of purposes. These included personal correspondence, writing stories and official documents.
“Kufic” gets its name from the city of Kufa in southern Iraq. Despite this origination, “Kufic” is a general category of ancient scripts which do not necessarily originate from Kufa. This family of scripts is likely to be the oldest of Arabic scripts.
Kufic script are angular in the shape of their letters. The strokes are normally thick and letters are written compact on a horizontal baseline. Moreover, older Kufic did not include noktahs (dots), making it hard to correctly pronounce letters. This makes this particular script difficult to write long pieces and to read.
It used to be the main script for writing Qurans. However, it declined in popularity in favour of easier scripts in written pieces. Nonetheless, the Kufic script maintained its place for decorative items, and in short written pieces on non-paper mediums.