Islamic calligraphy and its fonts

Islamic calligraphy is a highly evolved form of art. Over centuries, the art of writing the holy verses of the Quran branched into different styles, each with its own set of rules. These fonts emerged in different regions of the world over different periods of time. As Islamic wall artist growing trend in home décor and many people now log in to e-commerce websites to buy Islamic art online, perhaps it’s time to revisit the history of popular artistic fonts in which Arabic is written:

  • Kufic: This is the oldest font, and developed in the 7th century in Kufa, Iraq (thus, the name ‘Kufic’). The first copies of the Quran were transcribed in Kufic font. At that time, Arabic had only 17 letters and no symbols to represent vowel sounds. As Arab Muslims started settling beyond the borders of Arabia, and non-Arab people began converting to Islam, vowel symbols were introduced into the script. The Kufic style is characterised by very long or very short angular strokes, and round characters with tiny counters.

Kufic was an aesthetic font, and had sub-categories like floral, foliated, and squared, but was not very legible. Therefore, around the 10th century, aesthetics gave way to practicality, and a new font called Naskh was developed. Kufic, however, survived as a style used for decorative purposes such as painting on ceramic plates. Today, one can find Kufic font much in use in modern Islamic wall art.

  • Naskh: This is a cursive font and is quite legible, thus it is used for more practical purposes such as printing books. It is equally easy to write too for the scribes. Developed in Makkah and Madinah, Nash became the primary font in which the Quran was written. Even today, the Quran is printed in Naskh; so are newspapers and official documents. The font formed the basis of the modern Arabic script.
  • Thuluth: Thuluthemerged from the Naskh font, but is often classified as a different style. ‘Thuluth’ is Arabic for ‘one third’, and in this font, one-third of the letters are straight.  Because of its long, vertical lines, broad spacing, emphatic dots and vowel symbols, the Thuluth style has a very grand, imposing and breath-taking appearance. It, therefore, was used to decorate the walls and ceilings of mosques, palaces, and monuments. Today, it is an extremely popular font used in Islamic wall art.
  • Nastaliq: This font came into being in Iran and had a more secular usage – transcribing court documents. ‘Ta’liq’ means “hanging” and refers to the steeped lines of which words run in, giving the script a hanging appearance.
  • Diwani: This style emerged in Ottoman Turkey in the 16th century. It is a strikingly elaborate and ornate style of writing Arabic– the letters are slanted, and the narrow spaces between them are densely filled with dots. The Diwani script is not very legible and was used to transcribe confidential court papers. In modern times, its intricate and ornamental look makes it a popular choice for those looking to buy online Islamic art.

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