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Arabic Script: Mightier than the Sword
Following the revelation of Islam in the seventh century AD, Arabic was established as the language and script of the Muslim empire.
Muslims must learn the Qur'an in its original Arabic. Therefore Arabic spread with Islam and was eventually used to write languages such as Persian (Iran), Urdu (India and Pakistan), Dari (Afghanistan), Ottoman Turkish (until 1928) and the languages of Indonesia and Malaysia (until recently).
There are many different styles of Arabic scripts.
Kufic developed around the end of the seventh century in Kufa, Iraq (from which it takes its name) and other centres. Until about the eleventh century it was the main script used to copy Qur'ans. The simple and elegant forms were embellished over time.
Eastern Kufic was developed by Persian calligraphers during the tenth century and is distinguished by short, angled strokes.
Maghribi script evolved in North Africa (the Maghreb) and Spain in the tenth century. Forms of this script are still used in this region today.
Square Kufic appears from the thirteenth century on coins, tilework and elsewhere in the lands of the Mongols and their successors.
As the decorative potential of Kufic was increasingly exploited, it became ever more difficult to read and was gradually abandoned for general use during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Rounded scripts were used since early Islamic times for everyday correspondence on papyrus for example, whereas Kufic was reserved for more formal public texts.
The letter alif. The calligrapher Muhammad ibn Muqla (died AD 940) is credited with establishing rules for writing rounded scripts that would make them as well proportioned and as beautiful as the Kufic script and therefore appropriate for writing the Qur'an. The guiding principle was the use of a circle, the letter alif, and a dot formed by pressing the pen diagonally on paper so that the length of the dot's equal sides is the same width as the pen nib. This provided the proportional grid for all letters.
Naskh is the 'copyists' hand mainly used from the twelfth century for writing government documents and also for copying the Qur'an.
Thuluth, meaning 'one third', is often used for monumental inscriptions and was particularly favoured by the Mamluk sultans of Egypt (AD 1250-1517).
Nasta'liq is the 'hanging script'. According to legend it was perfected by the fifteenth-century calligrapher Mir Ali al-Tabrizi after dreaming of flying geese. It was popular in Iran and Mughal India from the sixteenth century but is rarely used to copy the Qur'an.
Divani was developed by Ottoman Turkish calligraphers during the fifteenth century and often used on documents.
Alphabet and numerals
The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left and consists of twenty-eight letters which are created from seventeen different letter shapes. In modern Arabic dots above and below letters help to distinguish them from each other. In early Arabic these dots were frequently omitted. Many of the letters change their shape depending on where they are situated within a word.
Arabic numerals were developed in India in the fifth century AD and spread with Islam, replacing Roman numerals. In the ingenious Indo-Arabic method, any quantity could be represented by figures using a decimal point. The numerals, unlike the alphabet, are written from left to right. Their shapes have evolved over the centuries.
The scripts have been copied by Nassar Mansour.