Old Arabic Jazm Script: A Typographic Vision

Saad Abulhab's picture


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Dear all

I would like to share with you my latest font family, Jazm. The old Arabic Jazm script was the remarkable ancestor of modern Arabic script which was probably derived from old Arabic Musnad and influenced heavily by the Aramaic Nabataean script widely used in North Arabia.

My font, Jazm, is a modern typographic vision of the Jazm script, not a replication of it, designed along the principles of my Mutamathil style. It has three members, Normal, Bold, and Black. A fourth member is Jazm Quraan, which is a slightly modified version of Jazm Black. Based on my research article about the history of the Arabic script, which will be published very soon, I have concluded that Early Kufi or Quranic Kufi is nothing more than a heavily bolded version of the Jazm style used in Hijaz, which was specifically utilized to distinguish the glorious Quraan passages from normal texts, a practice used by all other religious books of the area then. That includes the so-called Ma’il style, which I believe was used much earlier than it is claimed now. As for the use of Kufi to name the old style, this was probably done much later in Baghdad. My conclusions are based on examination of hundreds of old manuscripts and stone inscriptions.

Notice how the Jazm script was a true “simplified” Arabic style utilized long centuries before Linotype! Clear and remarkable horizontality, minimal shapes per letter, and as it was the case with Nabataen, connectivity seems to be very basic. Shapes are mainly connected as is, with minimum transformation. On the other hand the heavy Jazm used for Quraan later, included ligatures and more alternative shapes. The rules for Yaa’ alone are so fascinating! Also notice changes for Ayn and Qaf. Here is a PDF link:

http://arabetics.com/public/Arabic_Jazm.pdf

-Saad

http://arabetics.com

Thomas Milo's picture

Hi Saad,

Nice work. Can you explain a bit more about the shape of Ayn? Do you have manuscript examples?

Thomas Milo
DecoType
www.decotype.com

Saad Abulhab's picture


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Hi Tom

'Ayn in Jazm, as evidenced by stone inscriptions, was clearly an Aramaic Nabataen 'Ayn. Due to very few pre-Islamic inscriptions available, there is no sample of how final 'Ayn appeared centuries before Islam, but we have sample of middle and initial 'Ayn which were clearly Nabataen like. 'Ayn in Musnad was a small circle.

Unlike early Quraic Kufi, the so-called Ma'il ( ) style used for Quran in Hijaz show final Ayn is also a Nabataen shap. See final Ayn above in the boxed word سريع from (Surat al-Nur, Ayah 40). Compare to final 'Ayn of typical Early Kufi. This 'Ayn and other analysis of Ma'il convinced me that the so-called "lonely and obscured" unexplained Hijazi Kufi Mai'l style found in modern days belongs actually to the first half century after Islam, not 150 years later, as it is told now in textbooks. In a way, Ma'il is the missing link between Jazm and Early Kufi, it was probably the first attempt to distinguish Jazm for Quraan from typical Jazm, that was abandoned in favor of early Kufi.

In my modern typographic Jazm, I have selected Ma'il style final 'Ayn for my Jazm font and early Kufi final 'Ayn in my Jazm Quran font (see initial post image).

-Saad

piccic's picture

It's warm… and very friendly to a stranger's eye…
Saad, I have bought a weight on one of your types but haven't got the time to look at it yet…
I would like to learn the history of the forms. Could you tell me which forms are perceived as more classical and, laterally, more authoritative, in the Arabic?
I mean something related to the classic proportions we have for the U&Lc in the Carolingian Minuscule assimilated in text (of which classic text cuts like Garamond's, Jenson's and others are typographic versions) and the uppercase in the best Latin epigraphy (of which Trajan is a digital example).

Saad Abulhab's picture

Hello Claudio

>>Could you tell me which forms are perceived as more classical and, laterally, more authoritative, in the Arabic?

Naskh and Kufi, are the two main historical original classical old Arabic styles. Both are modernized and utilized today, but Naskh is by far the most popular. Almost 90% of all historical calligarphic styles were derived from Naskh. However, fourteen centuries later, Arabic historians are still debating whether Naskh or Kufi came first. Many believe they were originated independently, probably in two different geographical locations. I think Naskh was directly derived from early Kufi, which I am refering to here as "Hijazi" Jazm, the name pre-Islamic northern Arabs used for their Arabic script to distinguish it from "Musnad", the Arabic script that was widely used in the peninsula, but was later replaced by Jazm after Islam.

Several forms of the earliest Jazm and early Kufi scripts are not utilized today in the daily script usage.

-Saad

piccic's picture

Saad, many thanks for your detailed and authoritative explanation.

After a short research I did a few days ago I understood Naskh (as a typeface) is on the same plane as our most classically proportioned Latin seriffed faces (i.e. the original Garamond, Jenson etc.),
so I guess Tomas Milo's Naskh 2007 is the last word in first class classical typography… :=)
And this is extremely interesting. Historically there seem to be no apparent reason for which scripts get connected, apart from the need of writing faster.
Capitalis Rustica and Uncials originated around the 4th-5th century AD out of the need of having an alphabet for common writing tasks. At the same time Latin letters had another development as they were used for side-notes to the inscriptions, and very quick writing, with pointed pen or stylus on papyrus or wax. But then, after many variations and an incredible richness of connected scripts, Latin affirmed itself as an unconnected alphabet in print (this may largely be connected to the practical aspect of this, as Karsten pointed out in another thread).

What you say about whether Naskh or Kufi came first is super-interesting, since our calligraphic forms evolved necessarily from inscriptions.
Do you know if this early Kufic style/Hijazi Jazm was used in inscriptions and relevant writings, both in pre-islamic Arabia and in important applications, literary or religious. Was that mostly an exposed writing (like in stone inscriptions) or used on vellum and other support for literary puroposes? I see from your reply to Milo there are very few resources about this material, do you know where I could find something?

Many thanks for taking your time for replying. I see it's incredibly complex, and I don't know if I'll be able to get to the roots of Arabic, but I love the alphabet.

Saad Abulhab's picture

Hi Claudio

>>Historically there seem to be no apparent reason for which scripts get connected, apart from the need of writing faster.

precisely! The need for "writing faster" was also the main reason for the invention of typography. As Goudy put it: “the demand for more speed than the scribes could provide made some means of more rapid production necessary.”

>>Do you know if this early Kufic style/Hijazi Jazm was used in inscriptions and relevant writings, both in pre-islamic Arabia and in important applications, literary or religious.

Unfortunately, so far, only 7 pre-Islamic inscriptions are discovered. All are stone inscriptions. This is why I think we need to examine early Islamic inscriptions more closely, in addition to early Islamic historian works rather than relying solely on these stone inscriptions (all in Nabataen territories). Early Kufi paper and leather inscriptions are all after Islam.

-Saad

AzizMostafa's picture

> Early Kufi paper and leather inscriptions are all after Islam.

Here are some pages written by Imam Ali, the son of AbiTalib,
the First Successor of God's Messenger Mohammed ( Peace be on them).
http://www.mrsaawam.com/vb/61235.html

Was Arabic born connected, kerned and Ligatured?!
That's what I strongly believe.

Saad Abulhab's picture

The Hamzah of السوء in the last line makes it unlikely that (الامام علي (ع would have written this. I think this use of Hamzah came very late, but nothing can be ruled out.

>>Was Arabic born connected, kerned and Ligatured?!
>>That’s what I strongly believe.

I agree with you on this. Arabic was probably born in the first couple centuries AD, since even Musnad, the Arabic script widely used then had two cursive (used on soft wood) and non cursive styles. Inscriptions of Cursive Musnad going back to 300 AD are available.

-Saad

piccic's picture

This is why I think we need to examine early Islamic inscriptions more closely, in addition to early Islamic historian works rather than relying solely on these stone inscriptions (all in Nabataen territories). Early Kufi paper and leather inscriptions are all after Islam.

Are the Musnad inscriptions you have mentioned made in stone? And are Musnaad and Nabataean very different from the early Kufi you used as a model here for your typeface, say it may not be Jazm the most ancient lapidary style?

Now, from what I understand, in Islam: the earliest examples of manuscript on paper are Kufic, right? (I have an image from a 7th century Quran)

It's like driving at night, but it's incredibly fascinating. :=)
I have a (very) few books: I will do a little homework about Arabic history.
For now, thank you again very much.

Saad Abulhab's picture

You are welcome. Cursive Musnad inscriptions were only found on wood. Nabataean and Musnad are very different from early Kufi, or Hijazi jazm, as I like to call it. But Jazm which is the script found on 7 pre-Islamic inscriptions is similar to Early Kufi.

-Saad

nadine_chahine's picture

Notice how the Jazm script was a true “simplified” Arabic style utilized long centuries before Linotype! Clear and remarkable horizontality, minimal shapes per letter, and as it was the case with Nabataen, connectivity seems to be very basic. Shapes are mainly connected as is, with minimum transformation.

This is the reason why Linotype's Simplified Arabic was accepted back in the 50's at the time when so many simplification attempts were being made. The key was the fact that they were able to use a feature of the Arabic script that was not alien to it. The simplicity of the early forms leaves a lot of room for modern interpretation. It's very interesting to look into.

For reference regarding Naskh and Kufi, a good place to look is paleography though of a slightly later date. Early handwritten notes on papyrus (early 8th century) were very similar to the manuscripts written on parchment.

A great book to read is:
Khan, Geoffrey
Bills, Letters and Deeds: Arabic Papyri of the 7th to the 11th centuries
Part of The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art
Oxford; Nour foundation, 1993

He writes: "The script current in documents of the 3rd and 4th centuries AH can be distinguished by...two traits: One was a formal development in which the shapes of the letters became more rounded, even in examples executed with the greatest care, it can therefore be classed as a change in script competence. The second, which may be seen as marking a general decline in script performance, was the increased frequency with which cursive tendencies occurred. These may be identified as follows:
1- The transformation of angles into curves.
2- The transformation of curves into straight strokes.
3- The elimination of the necessity to remove the pen from the surface of the papyrus.
4- The reduction of the distance covered by the pen.
At least one of these factors played a part in the formation of cursive letter forms.”

Khan also provides visual analysis to back up his arguments (p.40-42)

And again he writes: “In general, it can be said that the script of the papyrus documents written in the first 2 centuries of the Islamic era bear a certain resemblance to the contemporary monumental styles found in inscriptions, on coins, and in Quoranic manuscripts, especially those in the hijazi script1.”

Adolf Grohmann, reknown expert on the topic, sais,” In the first half of the IInd century of the Higra the script begins already to change into more roundish characters... S. de Sacy and after him E. Sachua as well as R. Lepsius qualified the script as Naskhi which is, of course, not quite right, but might be justified as a sort of auxiliary characterisation for this more flexible script.”

Grohmann, Adolf
From the World of Arabic Papyri. Cairo; Royal Society of Historical Studies, 1952

This is part of the research I did at Reading into Early Kufi. I hope this helps.

vsather11's picture

Can someone please tell me what that passage says that is posted with this article??

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