Arabic calligraphy

Arabic Calligraphy by Fathima Habna
The stylized signature of Sultan Abdul Hamid I of the Ottoman Empire was written in an expressive calligraphy.

Arabic Calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting and calligraphy based on the Arabic alphabet. It is known in Arabic as khatt (Arabic: خط‎), derived from the word 'line', 'design', or 'construction'.[1][2] Kufic is the oldest form of the Arabic script.

From an artistic point of view, Arabic calligraphy has been known and appreciated for its diversity and great potential for development. In fact, it has been linked in the Arabic civilization to various fields such as religion, art, architecture, education and craftsmanship, which in return have played an important role in its advancement.[3]

Although most Islamic calligraphy is in Arabic and most Arabic calligraphy is Islamic, the two are not identical. Coptic or other Christian manuscripts in Arabic, for example, have made use of calligraphy. Likewise, there is Islamic calligraphy in Persian or the historic Ottoman language.


The pens used for Arabic calligraphy vary from Latin calligraphy. The tools used for calligraphy are different assortments of pens and calligraphy ink. The most common calligraphy pen used is Qalam.

Khamish PenEdit

The Khamish Pen also known as a reed pen is used by Arab, Turkish, and Iranian calligraphers. The reed of the pen is grown along rivers. Although this pen has been used for over 500 years, preparing the pen is a lengthy process.

Bamboo penEdit

Bamboo pens are one of the oldest pens used for calligraphy. The edge of bamboo pens allow the performance of calligraphy to be in full movement.

Java penEdit

The Java pen is known for the tool's hardness and ability to create sharp edges. The pen is good to use for small scripts.

Handam penEdit

The Handam pen consists of the same strength that the Java pen has. The pen is good to use for all kinds of scripts.

Celi penEdit

The Celi pen is used for large writing in Arabic Calligraphy. These pens are made from hardwood and cut and drilled.

Arabic alphabetEdit

The Arabic alphabet is known to be used by one of the most widely used languages in the world. Many scholars believe that the alphabet was created around the 4th century CE.[4] The alphabet consists of 28 letters written from right to left. Each letter can be written in four ways, depending on where the letter is placed in a sentence. These four locations are also known as initial, medial, final and isolated.

Popular scriptsEdit

The two most popular scripts used for Arabic calligraphy are Kufic and Naskh. Kūfic was derived from Iraq and initially used for inscription on stone and metal. Naskhī originated from Mecca and Medina. The script is used as a cursive script, for example on papyrus and paper.

Other scriptsEdit

The Thuluth and Nasta'liq and Diwani script are other scripts used for Arabic scripting.

The Thuluth script used during the medieval times is known as one of the oldest scripts to exist. The script was used on mosques and for Quranic text due to the appearance of the text.

The Nasta'liq script is used more for Persian than Arabic scripting. Because of the upward slant to the left,[5] the script is seen as different than the other scripts. The cursive look creates an elegant look when creating.

The Diwani Script was created during the Ottoman era. The lining and lettering of this script creates a sense of closeness when writing. Due to this reason, it's difficult to read since the letters intertwine.[5]

Table of basic lettersEdit

Arabic letters usage in Literary Arabic
Common Maghrebian Letter

(Classical pronunciation)

name in Arabic script
Value in Literary Arabic (IPA) Closest English equivalent in pronunciation Contextual forms Isolated
ʾAbjadī Hijāʾī ʾAbjadī Hijāʾī Final Medial Initial
1. 1. 1. 1. ʾalif


أَلِف ā / ʾ

(also â )

including /aː/[a]
car, cat ـا ا
2. 2. 2. 2. bāʾ


بَاء b /b/[b] barn ـب ـبـ بـ ب
22. 3. 22. 3. tāʾ تَاء t /t/ stick ـت ـتـ تـ ت
23. 4. 23. 4. thāʾ ثَاء th

(also  )

/θ/ think, thumb ـث ـثـ ثـ ث
3. 5. 3. 5. jīm جِيم j

(also ǧ )

/d͡ʒ/[b][c] Jim, gym ـج ـجـ جـ ج
8. 6. 8. 6. ḥāʾ حَاء

(also  )

/ħ/ no equivalent

("guttural" h, may be approximated as heart)

ـح ـحـ حـ ح
24. 7. 24. 7. khāʾ خَاء kh

(also  )

/x/ loch; German Bach ـخ ـخـ خـ خ
4. 8. 4. 8. dāl دَال d /d/ dear ـد د
25. 9. 25. 9. dhāl ذَال dh

(also  )

/ð/ that, them, though ـذ ذ
20. 10. 20. 10. rāʾ رَاء r /r/ rap ـر ر
7. 11. 7. 11. zāy / zayn زَاي z /z/ zebra ـز ز
15. 12. 21. 24. sīn سِين s /s/ sin ـس ـسـ سـ س
21. 13. 28. 25. shīn شِين sh

(also š )

/ʃ/ shin ـش ـشـ شـ ش
18. 14. 15. 18. ṣād صَاد

(also ş )

// swarm, bass ـص ـصـ صـ ص
26. 15. 18. 19. ḍād ضَاد

(also  )

// dwarf ـض ـضـ ضـ ض
9. 16. 9. 12. ṭāʾ طَاء

(also ţ )

// star ـط ـطـ طـ ط
27. 17. 26. 13. ẓāʾ ظَاء

(also  )

/ðˤ/ buzzword ـظ ـظـ ظـ ظ
16. 18. 16. 20. ʿayn عَيْن ʿ /ʕ/ no equivalent

("guttural" voiced h; similar to ḥāʾ above)

ـع ـعـ عـ ع
28. 19. 27. 21. ghayn غَيْن gh

(also ġ )

/ɣ/[b] Spanish higo ـغ ـغـ غـ غ
17. 20. 17. 22. fāʾ فَاء f /f/[b] far ـف ـفـ فـ ف[d]
19. 21. 19. 23. qāf قَاف q /q/[b] equal ـق ـقـ قـ ق[d]
11. 22. 11. 14. kāf كَاف k /k/[b] key, cap ـك ـكـ كـ ك
12. 23. 12. 15. lām لاَم l /l/ lamp ـل ـلـ لـ ل
13. 24. 13. 16. mīm مِيم m /m/ me ـم ـمـ مـ م
14. 25. 14. 17. nūn نُون n /n/ nun ـن ـنـ نـ ن
5. 26. 5. 26. hāʾ هَاء h /h/ hat ـه ـهـ هـ ه
6. 27. 6. 27. wāw وَاو w / ū /w/, //[b] we ـو و
10. 28. 10. 28. yāʾ يَاء y / ī /j/, //[b] yacht, meet ـي ـيـ يـ ي[d]
(not counted as alphabet but plays an important role in Arabic grammar and lexicon, including indication [denoting most irregular female nouns] and spelling) hamzah هَمْزة ʾ /ʔ/  uhoh

(aka "glottal stop")


(used mainly in medial and final position, which is an unlinked letter)

ʾalif hamzah أَلِف هَمْزة ـأ أ
ـإ إ
wāw hamzah وَاو هَمْزة ـؤ ؤ
yāʾ hamzah يَاء هَمْزة ـئ ـئـ ئـ ئ
ʾalif maddah أَلِف مَدَّة ʾā /ʔaː/ ـآ آ


  1. ^ Alif can represent many phonemes. See the section on ʾalif.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h See the section on non-native letters and sounds; the letters ⟨ك⟩ ,⟨ق⟩ ,⟨غ⟩ ,⟨ج⟩ are sometimes used to transcribe the phoneme /g/ in loanwords, ⟨ب⟩ to transcribe /p/ and ⟨ف⟩ to transcribe /v/. Likewise the letters ⟨و⟩ and ⟨ي⟩ are used to transcribe the vowels // and // respectively in loanwords and dialects.
  3. ^ ج is pronounced differently depending on the region. See Arabic phonology#Consonants.
  4. ^ a b c See the section on regional variations in letter form.

List of calligraphersEdit

Some classical calligraphers:

Ottoman era




Arabic calligraphy serves as a major source of inspiration for Arabic typography. For example, the Amiri typeface is inspired by the Naskh script used at the Amiri Press in Cairo.[7]

The shift from Arabic calligraphy to Arabic typography presents technical challenges, as Arabic is essentially a cursive script with contextual shapes.


EL Seed, a French-Tunisian graffiti artist, makes use of Arabic calligraphy in his various art projects, in a style called calligraffiti.[8]

The Hurufiyya (الحروفية letters) movement, since its beginnings in the early 20th century, uses the artistic manipulation of Arabic calligraphy and typography in abstraction.[9]

Taking Shape: Abstraction From the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, a 2020 installation at New York University's Grey Art Gallery, explored how Arabic calligraphy, with its ancient presence in visual art, influenced abstract art in the Arab world.[10] For Madiha Omar, the Arabic alphabet was a means of expressing a secular identity and appropriating Western painting, while Omar El-Nagdi explored the inherent divinity of Arabic calligraphy.[10]

Modern examplesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Julia Kaestle (10 July 2010). "Arabic calligraphy as a typographic exercise".
  2. ^ Stefan Widany (June 2011). The History of Arabic Calligraphy: An Essay on Its Greatest Artists and Its Development. GRIN Verlag. ISBN 978-3-640-93875-9.
  3. ^ Afā, ʻUmar.; افا، عمر. (2007). al-Khaṭṭ al-Maghribī : tārīkh wa-wāqiʻ wa-āfāq. Maghrāwī, Muḥammad., مغراوي، محمد. (al-Ṭabʻah 1 ed.). al-Dār al-Bayḍāʼ: Wizārat al-Awqāf wa-al-Shuʼūn al-Islāmīyah. ISBN 978-9981-59-129-5. OCLC 191880956.
  4. ^ "Arabic alphabet | Chart, Letters, & Calligraphy".
  5. ^ a b "Arabic Writing and Scripts: A Brief Guide | Shutterstock". 24 July 2014.
  6. ^ Islamic calligraphy
  7. ^ Hosny, Khaled (2012). "The Amiri typeface" (PDF). TUGBoat. 33: 12.
  8. ^ PopTech (2011), eL Seed: The Art of Calligraffiti, retrieved 2020-02-24
  9. ^ "NYU Grey Art Gallery Spotlights Pioneers of Arab Art". 2020-02-07. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  10. ^ a b Heinrich, Will (2020-02-20). "How the Arabic Alphabet Inspired Abstract Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-24.

External linksEdit