Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Birmingham's online course, The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds The selection of Arabic language as the medium of revelation awarded a high status to the Arabic language for all Muslims. This led to the development and beautification of the Arabic script in the form of calligraphy. Calligraphy artists exploited the possibilities of the Arabic script to create writing as ornament. Arabic calligraphy came to be perceived as a visible form of the revealed word of God, and quickly became the most common decorative features in Islamic art. It was widely considered the most noble of the arts. There are different styles of Arabic calligraphy. Each style followed a different trajectory. One of the earliest scripts that emerged from the Hijazi Region, is the Hijazi, or ma’il script.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds The Hijazi script is angular and slopes to the right, and is often referred to as ma’il because of its sloping. It is characterised by a simple skeletal form of words with very few incidents of consonantal pointing or diacritical marks. Just like 1572 a, Hijazi Qur’ans are usually written on parchment. Although, there are also some surviving fragments that have been written on papyrus. Other early Qur’ans were generally written in an angular script known as, Kufic. This script is characterised by its clear, horizontal, and vertical strokes with an emphasis on extending the horizontal lines. The earliest examples were written without any marks differentiating the letters that have similar forms. This script became prevalent between the 7th and 10th centuries.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds It was the main script used to copy Qur’ans until the 11th century. Again, most of these Kufic Qur’ans were written on parchment. The boldly articulated script was also used on objects, textiles, and architectural monuments. Kufic Qur’ans were usually written in a horizontal or landscape format, such as this. A Western or Maghribi form of Kufic script remain popular for both Qur’ans manuscripts and general texts in North Africa and Spain. Here is an example of the Maghribi script. Maghribi means “western” in Arabic, and refers to the Western Islamic world of North Africa and Spain, where the script and its variants developed.

Skip to 2 minutes and 54 seconds It developed in the 10th century with aspects of rounded scripts and was used for writing the Qur’an, as well as other scientific, legal and religious manuscripts. Maghribi script has the following characteristics. Descending strokes with large bowls with sweeping curves or loops. The strokes tend to be of uniform thickness; often written in brown ink. Vowel markings are often flat, rather than slanted. Kufic was predominantly used for Qur’an manuscripts until the 10th century. During this period, various attempts to reform Arabic writing and render the letters more legible took place.

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 seconds As we discussed earlier, in the 7th and 8th centuries, these reforms consisted mainly of adding dots and diacritical marks above and below the words in order to differentiate the letters, and make provisions for short vowels. From the 10th century, further reforms were introduced that further aided ease and accuracy of reading, making it quicker and therefore cheaper, for scribes to copy manuscripts. This was achieved through the introduction of the six proportional cursive scripts. Although the Western Maghribi form of Kufic script remained popular in North Africa and Spain, most Qur’ans would hereafter be written using these six canonical scripts.

Early scripts

The Hijāzī (or Māʾil) and early Abbasid Kūfic scripts are the earliest calligraphic styles in Arabic script.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham