Calligraphy Qalam: An Introduction to Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Calligraphy

CalligraphyQalam.com uses interactive tools to interest new audiences in Arabic, Ottoman and Persian calligraphy.

Introduction to the Arabic script

The Arabic script is the second most widely used alphabet in the world, following the Latin alphabet.

Languages that use the Arabic script include:

  • Persian
  • Ottoman Turkish
  • Urdu
  • Dari
  • Malay
  • Kurdish
  • Pastho
  • Baluchi
  • Kashmiri
  • Sindhi

There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet. All share the same 18 basic letter shapes. Dots above or below the letter help differentiate between letters that share the same basic shape.

Dots differentiate letters

Dots differentiate letters from one another.

When other languages adopted this script (see the list above), they added several letter variations to create new sounds. To see examples of these letter variations, watch the introductory video.

The Arabic script particularly lends itself to artistic expression because of the flexibility of its letter shapes. Each letter has four configurations, and the form used depends on where the letter falls within a word. Letters in a word are connected to each other, and the strokes linking letters can be made longer or shorter depending on the needs of the composition. These characteristics allow for the creative play, flexibility and variation often seen in calligraphy compositions.

Each letter has four configurations

Each letter has four configurations.

The Arabic script

Image of the Arabic script

Courtesy of Elinor Aishah Holland.

Image of calligraphy

Courtesy of the Nasser D Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.