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Why Calligraphy?

Week 18, Episode 36

Did you know that long ago Arabic language was brought to the rest of the world to embrace thanks to... poetry? The creativity and musicality of the language doesn't stop there. A written word in Arabic became a powerfull tool to express devotion to God—Allah—and so beautifying it and making it into an art form served as a way to honor Him. That is what promted the boom of calligraphy—enticing and gracefully ordered handwriting with intricate details.

It is hard to stay indifferent to and not get caught in awe of the swift and elegant cursive letters composed into one message even if you don't understand the meaning behind them. Using language for this kind of art is something that Arabian culture encourages you to do. Literally.

You see, in many religions, paintings or sculpture of religious figures is commonplace. However, in Islam images are prohibited as they feel idolatry. Calligraphy gave people something to relate to through creatively organized words joined in one cohesive unit filled with emotional energy and harmony of propotions.

Though calligraphy takes its rise for religious reasons, in modern world it is still a growing field in art that spills onto many other spheres of life. it is there to magically turn language into images, and so شنب (shah-nab), "moustache", for example, becomes:

Arabic calligraphy has 6 major scripts:

  • Farsi (or Ta'liq, unpretentious cursive script), 
  • Naskh (displays a very rhythmic line; the curves are full and deep, the uprights straight and vertical), 
  • Kufi (has specific proportional measurements, along with pronounced angularity and squareness), 
  • Diwani (excessively cursive and highly structured with its letters undotted and unconventionally joined together), 
  • Riq'a (rounded and densely structured with short horizontal stems, and the letter Alif is never written with barbed heads), 
  • and Thuluth (literally "a third", probably because of the propotion of straight lines to curves; the letters are linked and sometimes intersecting, thus engendering a cursive flow of ample and often complex proportions).

Arabic letters connect with each other in these scripts more like dancing than placed in strict order. And if you know the language, the depth of the imagery enhances wildly, but it seems that the visuals touch even those who cannot comprehend messages integrated in the compositions through the knowledge of Arabic (6 minutes):

I touched the subject of calligraphy in this Langventure for, though I didn't realize it before, it was not just ignited by creative ones. It didn't appear because someone was bored and started to write letters decoratively for no reason. Calligraphy is like a melting pot where cultural beliefs and needs fuse and merge with letters to establish themselves through language. It is probably the only visual aid that proves the power of a language to preserve and display the values of a given culture.

And thanks to Arabic, we can see this power in action, we can discover its great importance to the native speakers, we can almost touch the historical background behind its existence, and thus we can open to ourselves a different way of thinking and looking at the world around us. It is like a mind-shifter in one image, but only if you stop and open up your mind, giving up the "cage" of your habitual perception, letting yourself learn and think differently, trying to connect to something new that comes from a place you've never been before.

In a way, it is spooky, weird, and magical.

Here we come to the end of our trip in Arabic and it is time to say مع السلامة (Ma’a salama), "Goodbye." It wasn't easy even for a second for me as the language is so distinct from anything that is familiar to me, so I think you might have had some troubles, too. But I am glad to realize that distinct doesn't mean bad, and that even though new things may scare at first, learning more about them actually helps to understand what you neglected as odd and thus not useful or needed in the beginning. Strange, but I think it reminded me about humility and tolerance.

Get ready for a new Langventure into the mysterious language of Persian!

Buckle up, people! :)

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Read more about Arabic and other languages at

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