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Islamic calligraphy (calligraphy in Arabic is Khatt ul-Yad خط اليد) has evolved alongside the religion of Islam and the Arabic language.  As it is based on Arabic letters, some call it “Arabic calligraphy”. However the term “Islamic calligraphy” is a more appropriate term as it comprises all works of calligraphy by the Muslim calligraphers from Morocco to China.

Islamic calligraphy is associated with geometric Islamic art (arabesque) on the walls and ceilings of mosques as well as on the page.  Contemporary artists in the Islamic world draw on the heritage of calligraphy to use calligraphic inscriptions or abstractions.

Instead of recalling something related to the spoken word, calligraphy for Muslims is a visible expression of the highest art of all, the art of the spiritual world. Calligraphy has arguably become the most venerated form of Islamic art because it provides a link between the languages of the Muslims with the religion of Islam.  The holy book of Islam, al-Qur’an, has played an important role in the development and evolution of the Arabic language, and by extension, calligraphy in the Arabic alphabet.  Proverbs and passages from the Qur’an are still sources for Islamic calligraphy.

It is generally accepted that Islamic calligraphy excelled during the Ottoman era. Turkish calligraphers still present the most refined and creative works.Istanbul is an open exhibition hall for all kinds and varieties of calligraphy, from inscriptions in mosques to fountains, schools, houses, etc.

Persian calligraphy

Persian calligraphy is the calligraphy of Persian writing system.  The history of calligraphy in Persia dates back to the pre-Islam era.  In Zoroastrianism beautiful and clear writings were always praised.
History and evolution

It is believed that ancient Persian script was invented by about 600-500 BC to provide monument inscriptions for the Achaemenid kings.  These scripts consisted of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal nail-shape letters and that is the reason in Persian it is called “Script of Nails/Cuneiform Script” (Khat-e-Mikhi).  Centuries later, other scripts such as “Pahlavi” and “Avestan” scripts were used in ancient Persia.

After the Arab conquest in the 7th century, Persians adapted the Arabic alphabet to fit the Persian language and developed a contemporary Persian alphabet. The Arabic alphabet has 28 characters to which Iranians added another four letters for it to fit the sounds and letters of the Persian language that do not exist in Arabic.

Contemporary scripts

“Nasta’liq” is the most popular contemporary style among classical Persian calligraphy scripts and Persian calligraphers call it “Bride of the Calligraphy Scripts”. This calligraphy style has been based on such a strong structure that it has changed very little since.  Mir Ali Tabrizi had found the optimum composition of the letters and graphical rules so it has just been fine-tuned during the past seven centuries. It has very strict rules for graphical shape of the letters and for combination of the letters, words, and composition of the whole calligraphy piece.

The early history of Arabic writing is obscure, and what historical records do exist are controversial. bHere is what we know for sure: The Arabic language is very ancient, but it was not a written language until perhaps the third or fourth century C.E. What the earliest written forms looked like we can hazard only a barely educated guess. Inscriptions on stone suggest both unconnected and connected letter alphabets were in use. The connected letter alphabet is recognizable as the true Arabic alphabet.

 American Muslim Calligrapher, Mohamed Zakariya

The Koran, or Qur’an, in Arabic, refers to the revealed text as received by the Prophet; a mushaf refers to the physical book that contains the text.

According to American Muslim Calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, “because calligraphy isn’t bound by the need to represent objective reality, it’s free from the cultural and political constraints associated with the pictorial arts. This sets the calligrapher free and, at the same time, adds new constraints. This constant tension between constraint, tradition, and standards makes Islamic calligraphy neither a representational art nor an abstract one but something entirely other—a living, evolving art of the word, of meaning itself.”  —Click here to connect to Mohamed Zakariya’s website.