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Additionally, the calligraphers did not restrict this form of art to paper and leather either; they have extended its usage to become an essential motive of Islamic architecture in Mosques, palaces, and gardens. In order to understand the impact of Arabic calligraphy on modern artists and designers, and find out if it has a significant effect on contemporary designs, we have to go back and briefly learn about how Arabic calligraphy has developed over the last 14 centuries.

When we study the history of ancient and modern Arabic calligraphy we can easily observe that, contrary to popular belief, the development of Arabic calligraphy was not limited to the Middle East region only. In reality, several nations from all over the world have contributed to the evolution of this amazing script over the last 1400 years.

Brief History

The early stages of Arabic calligraphy were very simplistic compared to the later developments in the script’s forms and glyph design. There are two reasons for this development in Arabic calligraphy. The first one is the expansion of the Islamic civilization to cover large areas on earth and many cultures from Africa, Asia, and Europe. Each of these cultures has made its remarkable contribution to developing Arabic calligraphy and its master calligraphers. The second reason was the early interest in learning to communicate across these wide areas of the Islamic civilization. Many artists and scientists used Arabic scripts to spread their art or scientific theories.

Arabic calligraphy on the Dom of the Rock mosque

The first development of Arabic calligraphy started with the first written version of the Qura’an by Zaid Ibn Thabit during the caliphate of Utham Ibn Affan (644-656). This version was written using the Jazm script, an early predecessor of the Kufi script, which we will cover later when exploring the different styles of calligraphy. Based on the Development of The Arabic Script, an article by M.J. Alhabeeb, professor of the University of Massachusettes, the development of the Arabic script continued during the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus with one of its historic achievements of architecture and calligraphy, the Dome of the Rock mosque (Qubatu-l-Sakhra) in Jerusalem. Khalid ibn Al-Hayyaj wrote the script on this monument.

Moving forward, the Arabic calligraphy continued to develop through the different ruling dynasties in Kufa of Iraq, Baghdad, and Cairo. This era saw the emergence of different Arabic scripts, such as the Kufi, Thuluth, Naskh, Muhaqqaq, Riqa’a, and Tawql.

In Persia another script, called the Ta’aleeq, was developed in the early ninth century that was later combined with the Nask script to form the Nesta’sleeq. The evolution of Arabic calligraphy continued until the last dynasty of the Islamic empire, which was the Ottoman reign in Istanbul, Turkey. During this period more complex scripts have appeared, such as the Diwani, Jeli Diwani, Tughra’a, and Siyaqat.

In addition to these major evolutionary stages, other developments have also taken place in various other parts of the Islamic empire in Spain, Morocco, India, Afghanistan, and China.

Arabic Calligraphy Styles

Now that we have overviewed the history of Arabic calligraphy and learnt that each script, or group of scripts, have been developed during specific period of time, let us move on and learn about the most common styles of Arabic calligraphy scripts that many calligraphers and designers are still using today. Here are some examples of the most commonly known standard Arabic calligraphy scripts:

Kufi

One of the oldest Arabic scripts that has been developed in the 3rd or 4th century A.D. Its name refers to the city of Kufa in Iraq, and it is difficult to use for writing long texts, but it is still used in titles and architecture nowadays.

Old sample of the Kufi script

Thuluth

Its name refers to the size of the pen used for writing this type of Arabic script. Unlike the Kufi, this script is readable and you can use it to write either a title or paragraphs. Its glyphs are distinguished by their curves and harmony between each other, which make them appealing to be used by many modern designers in contemporary designs. It first appeared in the 10th century.

Old sample for the Thuluth script

Naskh

The word “Naskh” means “copy”. As you might guess from the name it is used for writing long texts, such as books, because it is readable and comfortable for the eyes, unlike the old Kufi. In the digital world it is preferred in printing due to the simple shapes of its glyphs.

Old sample of the Naskh script

Riqa’a

Its name refers to the Arabic word “ruqa’a”, which means “piece of paper”, and it is used for writing small content, such as correspondence. It is still used nowadays both in handwriting and computer writing. The Ottoman developed it into a new script called Ijaza.

Qura’an phrase written using the Riqa’a script

Ta’liq

The name means “suspension”. You can easily find out the reason for the name when you look at the font and how the glyphs are connected and hung from each other. It was used for a number of purposes including writing letters, royal messages and literature.

A sample of the Ta’liq script

Nasta’liq

As we have mentioned earlier in the history of Arabic calligraphy, this script is a combination of Naskh and Ta’liq that offers a more readable script compared to the Ta’liq version. This script was commonly used in Persia, India, and Pakistan. There is also another, derived version of this script known as Shikaste.

A sample for the Nasta’liq script

Diwani

This script is one of the latest script developments that came into existence during the Ottoman period in the 16th century, and it is still commonly used in today’s designs and art because of its beautiful curves and shapes. Many designers are still using it to construct complex Arabic calligraphy forms.

A sample for the Diwani script

Maghribi

This script has developed in North Africa and Spain and its name was inspired by the area “Maghrib”, which means west in Arabic, or west of the Middle East. This script is distinguished by its long letters and curves, and it is still used in some countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

A sample of the Maghribi script

In addition to the Arabic scripts above, there are a number of other types, such as the Muhaqqaq, Ryhani, and Tawqi’.

Arabic Calligraphy in Modern Life

In the digital era, modern designers and calligraphers are still using Arabic calligraphy as an essential element of their designs, and not only Arabic designers, but designers from all around the world, as we will see later on. While many contemporary calligraphers and designers use the standard script styles we have mentioned above, others prefer to use the free style, which is not restricted by the writing rules of any of the known standard scripts. This free style relies on the beauty of Arabic glyphs and how they can be curved, twisted, and reshaped to form a visual melody and eye-catching artwork.

Unlike old Arabic calligraphy, which used to be written in ink with a pen or dried bamboo, modern calligraphers experiment with different materials, such as acrylic colors, water colors, oil colors, and even sculpture clay. With the advancement of advertisements and the media, modern designers now use Arabic calligraphy in different types of designs, such as logo design, printing materials, outdoor advertising, clothes, and TV commercials.

Calligraphy Artists from Around the World

After this introduction to Arabic calligraphy, let us explore modern designers and calligraphers from around the world, and see how they implement the Arabic scripts into their artwork and designs.

Peter Gould

I would like to start with a remarkable designer from Australia. Peter Gould is a talented designer, digital artist, and photographer who was a pioneer in the emergence of new Muslim design. He runs his own design studio, Creative Cubed, and has illustrious clients, such as Sony, Colgate, Vodafone, and McAfee. Peter Gould usually uses Arabic calligraphy In a creative way both in his commercial designs and artwork. Furthermore, he uses Arabic calligraphy to design innovated ideas such as clothes, mobile apps and more.

In his T-shirt designs he uses free style Arabic calligraphy merged with Islamic motives and floral elements to form a unique style, as we can see below.

In addition to his talented designs, he also uses Arabic calligraphy in his digital artwork, as we can see from his free digital artwork below.

Eduard Dimasov

Let us move on from Australia to Russia with Eduard Dimasov, an art director, designer, and calligrapher, who uses Arabic calligraphy in most of his unique artwork. Eduard Dimasov was born in 1985 and grew up in Perm, Russia. Although he studied philosophy, he also studied Arabic and has one of the most eye-catching Arabic calligraphy profiles on the web.

You can easily identify his style by its simplicity and unification. He uses free Arabic style in his work and relies on the curves and the flow of the letters along with experimenting with different materials. Let us explore some of his calligraphy drawings and his amazing control over the lines and shapes in his artwork.

Furthermore, Dimasov also uses Arabic calligraphy to create amazing logo designs and digital art, as we can see below.

Khawar Bilal

I have known Khawar for a while and always enjoy visiting his profile on Behance or his website. Khawar is a very talented graphic designer who lives in Doha, Qatar, and uses Arabic calligraphy for logo design, branding, and his artwork. His innovative colors and use of curves in Arabic letters distinguish his artwork. His implementation of Arabic free script in the logo designs below shows his amazing understanding of each Arabic glyph and the adaptation of the language to reflect corporate identity.

His T-shirt design below uses free style Arabic script in a unique way, especially with the bright colors and creative concept.

And here are some of his breathtaking Arabic calligraphy artwork that shows his great control over the tools and the lines.

In addition to the designers and calligraphers above, there are many others who have contributed to merging Arabic calligraphy with the modern digital world, such as Julien Breton, Iqbal Khaly, Christopher Gow, Linda Dassin, Mohamed Zakariya, and more. These observations indicate that the evolution of Arabic calligraphy has not stopped with the end of the Islamic empire in Istanbul.

Arabic calligraphers around the world are still using their calligraphy in the new digital era to build new styles and ideas that some see as complete new styles, and others see it as extensions of the old Arabic calligraphy scripts. Finally, I hope I could give you a quick overview of the history of Arabic calligraphy and its contemporary usage.