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"Wisdom reveals herself in the
dialect of the Greeks, the craftsmanship of the Chinese, and the language of
For nearly 14 centuries, calligraphy has been the most important medium of artistic expression in Islamic culture. This is due to it being the noblest of the visual arts in the world of Islam, for it is the writing of the Qur'an that is sacred art par excellence. It plays a part more or less analogous to that of the icon in Christian art, for it represents the visible body of the Divine word. Thus calligraphy itself was considered a major art - great calligraphers, who introduced new styles of forming the script, were more famous than great painters, and calligraphy was not only the affair of the craftsman, it was also practiced by many learned people and even by sultans.
Arabic is the language of Islam. It is the language in which the Holy Qur'an, Islam's sacred scripture, was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) by God; thus, daily Muslim life vibrates with it's sacred formulae. Quranic inscriptions, whether engraved in stucco, carved in wood, or chiselled in ceramic tiles, has something of the holiness of the Quranic words which passes over into the writing that embodies them. Arabic is written from right to left; this is as much to say that the writing runs back from the field of action towards the heart. It is the language which binds Muslims of all times and places together in a single cohesive brotherhood.
Over the centuries, many different scripts have evolved in various regions of the Muslim world. Its smooth linking of its characters when forming words has added to the sense of continuity of design, which parallelism of form has already produce. A band of arabic writing marching across a door or circling around a platter could thus replace a border in creating the impression of an integrated unit but without putting an end to its sense of indefinite extendability. The friezes of inscriptions crowning the inner walls of a hall of prayer, or surrounding mihrab, recall to the believer, as much by their rhythm and their hieratic form as by their meaning, the majestic and forceful current of the Quranic language.
This preoccupation with beautiful writing extended to all arts-including secular manuscripts; inscriptions on palaces; and those applied to metalwork, pottery, stone, glass, wood, and textiles-and to non-Arabic-speaking peoples within the Islamic commonwealth whose languages-such as Persian, Turkish, and Urdu-were written in the Arabic script.
The term Kufic means "the script of Kufah," an Islamic city founded in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) in AD 638. Kufic is a more or less square and rectilinear script characterized by its heavy, bold, and lapidary style. Its letters are generally thick, squat, and unslanted, and it was particularly suitable for writing on stone or metal, for painting or carving inscriptions on the walls of mosques, and for lettering on coins. Professional copyists employed a particular form of Kufic for reproducing the earliest copies of the Qur'an that have survived. The writing is frequently large, especially in the early examples, so that there may be as few as three lines to a single page. The script can hardly be described as stiff and angular; rather, the pace is majestic and measured. With the high development of Arabic calligraphy, Kufic writing became an exceptionally beautiful script. From it, there were derived a number of other styles, chiefly medieval, in North and Central Africa, Spain, and northern Arabia.
Naskh, which means "copying," was developed in the 10th century, and refined into a fine art form in Turkey in the 16th century. Since then it became generally accepted for writing the Qur'an and has remained to be perhaps the most popular script in the Arab world. It is a cursive script based on certain laws governing the proportions between the letters. Naskh is legible and clear and was adapted as the preferred style for typesetting and printing. It is a small script whose lines are thin and letter shapes are round. Naskhi was always employed chiefly for writing on papyrus and in time, it evolved into innumerable styles and varieties, including the ta'liq, the riqa', and the diwani scripts, and became the parent of the modern Arabic writing.
The Thuluth script was first formulated in the 7th century during the Umayyad caliphate, but it did not develop fully until the late 9th century. The name means 'a third' -- perhaps because of the proportion of straight lines to curves, or perhaps because the script was a third the size of another popular contemporary script. Though rarely used for writing the Holy Qur'an, Thuluth has enjoyed enormous popularity as an ornamental script for calligraphic inscriptions, titles, headings, and colophons. It is still the most important of all the ornamental scripts and was used on some of the functions of the early Kufic script; it was used to write surah headings, religious inscriptions, and princely titles and epigraphs. It was also used for many of the large copies of the Koran produced from the 13th century.
The term ta'liq means "suspension" and aptly describes the tendency
of each word to drop down from its preceding one. Designed specifically to meet
the needs of the Persian language, Ta'liq was used widely for royal as well
as daily correspondence until the 14th century, when it was replaced by Nasta'liq.
The Diwani script is a cursive style of Arabic calligraphy developed during the reign of the early Ottoman Turks (16th-early 17th century). 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. Diwani is excessively cursive and highly structured with its letters undotted and unconventionally joined together with no vowel marks.