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History of Islamic Calligraphic Art

History of Islamic Calligraphic Art

Perhaps you might be familiar with seeing some form of calligraphic art. Calligraphy or calligraphic art is a type of visual art related to writing letters which mostly end with extended tail points. By using a broad-tipped pen or brush and moving it in a uniform manner, each letter design comprises thin and thick strokes depending on how the writing instrument moves either in horizontal, vertical or diagonal path.

What is Islamic Calligraphic Art?

‘Islamic calligraphic art’ or as many people know it as ‘Arabic Calligraphy’ is the practice of handwritten alphabetical designs related to mostly Arabic language and depicting the Islamic cultural heritage.

Islamic calligraphy or ‘Khat-e-Islami’ as it is called in the Arabic language, has quite a few variants like Arabic, Ottoman or Turkish, Persian and the Asian subcontinent separately known as Pakistan and India. All these variants depict a merged form of the pure Arabic calligraphy together with each region’s own artistic cultural preferences prevailing at the time when it evolved.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay


Why is calligraphic art important is Islamic culture?

The history of the calligraphy art dates back to the time of ancient civilizations. But as the time passed, most civilizations adopted different forms of art like making paintings or sculptures and statues portraying living beings. Thus, the art of calligraphy faded to much extent in these cultures.

Contrary to this, painting any living creature or making its statue or sculpture is prohibited in the religion of Islam. Therefore, even after hundreds of years have passed since the inception of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, Quranic Calligraphy is still a highly practiced and widely admired and respected form of art of the Islamic world.

History of Islamic Calligraphic Art

The first form of Arabic calligraphy evolved in a non-uniformed style to spread the Quranic verses and communicate important messages between the far-flung central and regional administrations of the overextending Islamic empire.

But then in the year 762 AD, Caliph Mansur from the Abbasids’, planned to build a new capital city for his empire, which we know as Baghdad. It is from this city of Baghdad, which not only proved to be a gem in his empire, but also marked the beginning of the golden era in Arabic calligraphic art.

Around this time in Baghdad, three great calligraphers in Islamic calligraphy history evolved. The much used techniques of designing each letter in calligraphic art according to a fixed ratio or proportion, as well as the still used form of calligraphic pen with a cut nib, are among some of the marvelous and remarkable contributions to Arabic calligraphic, thanks to these innovative minds.

The first calligrapher is Ibn Muqla who lived between the period of 886 to 940 AD, is known for setting out the principles such as theory of proportions or using rhomboid shaped dots and the length of the ‘Alif’, the first letter of the Arabic alphabets, to set the measurement standard for writing rest of the letters in any text.

Ibn Muqla was followed by Ibn Al-Bawwab who lived between the years 961 to 1022 AD. Ibn Al-Bawwab is known for preserving the original work of Ibn Muqla, as well as enhancing it with several refinements. It is also implied that the cursive scripts of Rayhani and Muhaqqaq were invented by Ibn Al-Bawwab.

Both of the above mentioned calligraphers of this golden era were followed by a third contributor known as Yaqut Al Musta’simi. Yaqut Al Musta’simi served as a scribe in the royal court. His contributions to the art of Arabic calligraphy include adding a more systematic approach to use the proportional measurement standards set out by earlier calligraphers. Another notable contribution that Yaqut Al Musta’simi is known to have pioneered is cutting the nib of the calligraphic pen. This technique is still used by many Arabic calligraphers.

The history of Islamic calligraphy is not only limited to this golden era. Of course, many other students had the privilege of learning the art of Arabic calligraphy under these three best calligraphers. These students later travelled to different areas and marked the beginning of different Arabic calligraphic forms.