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On International Day of Arabic Language: Appreciating Arabic Calligraphy

On International Day of Arabic Language: Appreciating Arabic Calligraphy

Perception Mural by French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed’s mural in Cairo quoting St Athanasius: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly, needs to wipe his eyes first’
Source: elSeed;s Facebook page

Celebrated every day on December 18, International Day of Arabic Language, celebrated since 2012 by UNESCO, aims to shed light and appreciation one of the fastest growing languages in the world.

Arabic, officially used in over 25 countries and with over 400 million native and non-native speakers, the Semitic language has been around for around a thousand years. It comes in a variety of dialects and written forms, sprinkled around the Middle East as well as elsewhere in the world through the diaspora of Arabs and Middle Easterners.

 

During the Middle Ages, Arabic was a driving force of culture in Europe with Arabic scholars widely studied and honored in Europe during the Middle Ages. Having been inspired from their own cultural backgrounds and from Greek history and philosophy, Arabic scholars excelled in mathematics (especially Algebra), science, medicine and philosophy.

The language has also inspired countless literary forms and works across the ages – one particular format which remains extremely appreciated today not only in the Arab world but in the West as well as Arabic calligraphy, an intrisicate mesh of lines and dots often forming beautiful words and expressions.

What is Arabic calligraphy?

Awing millions, Arabic calligraphy is most well known as an  artistic rendition of the Arabic alphabet. In Arabic language, it is often referred to as ‘khatt’ which translates to ‘line’ or ‘construction’.

Calligraphy by Mohamed Zakariya. Source: islamicartsmagazine.com

There are various ways to practice Arabic calligraphy as calligraphers use different pens to create different effects such as bamboo, java and khamish pens. While khatt is often seen as the technique, it is the form in which many artists and calligraphers choose to format poems, expressions, religious quotes and titles.

A verse from the Quran in Arabic calligraphy taken at the City of the Dead, a Northern cemetery in Cairo.
Photo courtesy of Walk like an Egyptian

In modern times, the style has been adapted technology to be translated through state of the art mediums such as photography, using ‘light’ to draw the ‘khat’.

Light Calligraphy with a backdrop of Blibliotecha Alexandrina

Moreover, the style has been re-adapted by contemporary artists, one of which being Iranian artist Sherine Nashaat in her ‘Women of Allah’ photography serie, as well as individuals keen on tattoos of ‘Eastern’ influences.

‘Word as Weapon’ by Sherin Nashaat

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