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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds SPEAKER 1: Cursive Arabic script had been used as early as Kufic, mainly for administrative purposes. The cursive scripts went through various changes and calligraphic rules, until there was standardised by the Abbasid vizier Ibn Muqlah. Ibn Muqlah, in the 10th century, used a system of dots to fix the proportions of cursive scripts. Cursive scripts were later codified by the famous calligrapher Ibn al-Bawwab into six major styles that remain in use until the present day. These styles are Thuluth, Naskh, Rayhan, Muhaqaq, Riq’a, and Tawqi. Now let’s take a closer look at the styles of script that emerged from the 10th century. This is an example of Naskh script, literally meaning “to copy.”

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds Naskh script initially coexisted with Kufic, but eventually replaced it as the main script for copying Qur’an. Small, legible, and fluid, this cursive script first appeared in the 10th century. As a cursive script, it could be written much faster, and was readable, yet visually appealing. It emerged as one of the six cursive scripts officially put forward by Ibn Muqlah. You can see that the vertical lines are slightly slanted, and the descending strokes are hooked upwards. Here’s an example of the Muhaqaq script. Muhaqaq, meaning “strongly expressed,” began to be used to write larger Quranic scrolls and architectural inscriptions. It has upright letters with strong horizontal emphasis.

Skip to 2 minutes and 4 seconds The downward strokes ended with sharp strokes, rather than the upward hooks you see in other letterings. Is The Ta’liq script was developed in the 11th century, and formalised in the 13th. It has distinctive loopy finishes and unauthorised linking of words, that you see here. Ta’liq means “hanging together.” Calligraphic styles were for the most part multi-functional, although some styles were developed in specific regions or for specific purposes. For example, in the 10th century, the Ta’liq script developed in Iran combining the rounded forms and exaggerated horizontal strokes primarily derived from the Riq’a script, with the ornateness and sloping quality of the written line of the Tawqi script.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 seconds In the 15th century Persian calligrapher Mir Ali Tabrizi developed a hybrid script, combining Naskh and Ta’liq. This new script, known as Nasta’liq, was used for Arabic and Persian, and was developed in Iran. Nasta’liq was predominantly used for transcribing poetry, and it would eventually replace the Ta’liq script altogether. From Iran, it spread to Mughal India and Ottoman Turkey. This script is still used in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Nasta’liq script maintained the beauty, elegance, and fluidity of Ta’liq while applying the proportion laws from Naskh. Another highly decorative hybrid script developed under the Ottomans– the Diwani script. This originated from Nasta’liq and Riq’a scripts, and is marked by its beauty and harmony, its compact style, and use of full diacritical marks.

Skip to 4 minutes and 4 seconds Some of which have a function, while others are only decorative. The Diwani script reached its full splendour in the 16th century, and would be used in Ottoman diplomatic correspondence until the 20th century. The Ottoman sultans developed from this style a unique calligraphic composition, known as the Tughra, as their official signature.

Cursive and regional scripts

You can learn more about tughras and see an example at the ‘Tughra of Süleyman the Magnificent’ page on the website of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Optional Activity: After watching the video, if you would like to find out more about the features of each script and how they were used, go to the Calligraphy Qalam website.

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This video is from the free online course:

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

University of Birmingham