The Art of Calligraphy

Calligraphy, the art of beautiful writing, acquired special significance in the context of Islamic culture. The utmost care devoted to copying the Holy Qur’an with exactness and excellence won Arabic calligraphy a distinct status among all arts. Due to Arabic being the language of the Holy Qur’an, calligraphy in Arabic script came to be perceived by all Muslims as “Islamic calligraphy”.

Throughout history, calligraphers in various Muslim communities produced artworks by copying Qur’anic verses and hadiths of the Prophet Muhammadsaw, as well as sayings, poems and literary texts in Arabic. Calligrapher-scribes copied official documents with art, craftsmen engraved inscriptions on architectural monuments. Different styles of writing were developed, rules and standards were established for each style. In the Omeyad period, measures were set for pen nibs and the scripts were adapted to various applications. The system laid down by the Abbasid Vizier Ibn Muqlah (886 – 940) by adopting the dot as a unit of measurement was a major breakthrough. Yaqut al-Mustasimi (? – 1298), the court calligrapher of the Abbasid Caliph Mustasim, standardized the aqlam al-sitta “the six scripts” (literally “the six pens”), i.e. thuluth, naskh, tawqi’, riqa’, muhaqqaq and rayhani which Ibn Muqlah had defined. He added elegance to the script by cutting the nib of the reed pen obliquely instead of horizontally. After the Abbasids, calligraphy art continued to progress in the hands of Turks and Persians as well.

The Seljuks of Anatolia utilized the kufi, muhaqqaq and jaly thuluth scripts extensively in architectural works. Calligraphy practiced in the Ottoman period acquired features so distinctive that it came to be called the “Turkish Calligraphy Art”. Sheikh Hamdullah (1429-1520) established a new genre by examining Yaqut’s letters and selecting the best among them. For this major innovation Sheikh Hamdullah came to be considered as the chief of calligraphers which won him the title “al-qibla al-khattatin” (“the qibla of calligraphers”). In his time, uniformity of style within each Qur’an copy became regular practice, and the thuluth and naskh styles acquired wider usage. In the 19th century, Mustafa Râkım (1758 -1826), who represents a school of practice still relevant today, determined the ideal measures for jaly scripts. As to nastaliq, the most widespread style after thuluth and naskh, it was developed in the Persian area and won preference for its fluidity suitable for literary works and, in its jaly form, architectural ornamentation. After the invention of the printing press, Islamic calligraphy continued to be taught by master to pupil and appreciated as an art of excellence.

Along with the arts of illumination and the arts of paper, calligraphy is one of the main disciplines taught in art schools throughout the Muslim world. With its authentic spirit and aesthetical characteristics, Islamic calligraphy wins the interest and appreciation of multicultural audiences within and outside the Muslim world

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