Arabic calligraphy is the art of fluently transcribing the 28 letters of the Arabic language alphabet to impart harmony, elegance and beauty to writing. This cultural manifestation dating from the 7th century AD, linked to the spread of Islam, was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
The multinational candidacy, jointly submitted by the host communities of the countries where it is practiced, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, under the name of “Arabic calligraphy: knowledge, skills and practices”, was approved this Tuesday during the sixteenth meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the body.
Initially, this calligraphy was conceived to make the writing clearer and more legible, and it was linked to religious texts of the Muslim revelation, but later it was transformed into a true Islamic Arabic art to write classic and modern works.
“There are various styles of Arabic calligraphy. The most common are: Kufi, Ruqaa, Naskh, Thuluth, Diwani and Maghribi. These styles have developed over time, each with a variety of expressions and compositions ”, reads the application file for the candidacy.
The traditional instrument of the Arabic calligrapher is the calamus (qalam), a writing instrument usually made of dry reed or bamboo stalks, or it can sometimes be made of steel beak and feathers, cut and split into different sizes. The ink is made with a mixture of honey, carbon black and saffron; and the paper is made by hand and treated with starch, egg white and alum. Markers and synthetic paints, as well as sprayers, are frequently used in modern calligraphy to write on fences, planks and walls of buildings, UNESCO says.
Arabic calligraphy is also used by artisans and designers to perform artistic ornamentation on marble, wood carving, fabric embroidery, and metal engraving. This calligraphic art is widely spread in Arab countries and beyond, and is practiced by men and women of all ages, even in Western countries Arabic calligraphy has become popular in tattoos.
Execution techniques are transmitted informally, through apprenticeship systems or in official educational centers. In some countries there is a system for passing on experience and accrediting calligraphers known as “Ijazah”.
Another method, called “Sabyanah”, dominates in Egypt. It consists of transmitting the competence of the professional calligrapher to his apprentice in several stages. The first is called “Bedaya” which means to begin, then the assistant becomes “apprentice” and then “calligrapher’s assistant” until reaching the level of “calligrapher”.
In Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Sudan, Arabic calligraphy is transmitted in the traditional Koranic schools attached to the mosques called “Zawiya” or “Madrasa”. In Lebanon, some well-known Arab calligraphers were trained by their parents.
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