Arabic Writing History

piccic's picture

Since I wish to leave Saad's early Kufi thread as is, while I wish to get acquainted with Arabic writing history, I open this thread to gather resources about this topic.

As a first step, I'd like to ask Saad which kind of writing is this one, photographed by Eben Sorkin while doing the Arabic class at Reading with Fiona Ross.

AzizMostafa's picture

Site is inaccessible. Can you upload the image here.

Saad Abulhab's picture

Claudio,

I think this is Maghribi (North Western African) which is derived from Kufi and sometimes referred to as new Kufi. It was used for centuries in Andalus, south Spain and in sub Saharan areas ..

-Saad

John Hudson's picture

Yes, this is maghribi, 'from the maghreb' i.e. Northwest Africa. To my knowledge, there is only one font available in the maghribi style, Hakim Ghazali's eponymous typeface available from Linotype:
http://www.linotype.com/184180/hakimghazali-family.html

The choice of a Latin companion design for this font presents an interesting case. Linotype opted to select a type with similar stroke characteristics, but of course the result in Latin is something very informal and rough, while the Arabic is a relatively traditional maghribi book hand.

John Hudson's picture

Saad: ...and in sub Saharan areas

You might find occasional examples in sub-Saharan regions, implying some measure of cross-desert or coastal trade, but this style is primarily associated with the north. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are regional styles collectively referred to as ifriqi. I am a big fan of ifriqi calligraphy. Here's a piece from my library:

AzizMostafa's picture

And this Maghribi style is dated back to 1885:
http://graphics4arab.com/showthread.php?p=10929#post10929
By Haj Zuhair Bash (not Bush) With Flowers

Saad Abulhab's picture

Aziz,

>>And this Maghribi style is dated back to 1885

I assume you meant this piece (not the style) is dated back to 1885, as Maghribi is much older than that.

BTW: I could not open it as they require me to register, but when I did, they say I have no permissions. Do they charge subscription fee?

-Saad

Saad Abulhab's picture

John:

>>In sub-Saharan Africa, there are regional styles collectively referred to as ifriqi

True, but Ifriqi is directly derived from Maghribi and very close to it.

-Saad

AzizMostafa's picture


Sorry Saad for the inconvenience. Registration there is free.
Just try again. Looking forward to welcoming you there with Flowers.

piccic's picture

Ooh! Thanks to everyone… :=)
Some questions:

1) as for calligraphy-influenced book typefaces, are there widely used styles outside Naskh?
(Aziz's example is a calligraphed book, right?)

The choice of a Latin companion design for this font presents an interesting case. Linotype opted to select a type with similar stroke characteristics, but of course the result in Latin is something very informal and rough, while the Arabic is a relatively traditional maghribi book hand.
@John: I recall you talked about it [Maghribi's "inkblots"] on Nadine Chanine's page. A very interesting challenge, if I wasn't already dispersing in a million "interesting challenges"… :=(

2) Is Maghribi used in Morocco? In general, what's its main use? — since, in typographic form, it does not seem to be such a widely diffused alphabet.

Flowers… :=)

AzizMostafa's picture

Informative but in Arabic:
http://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D8%A3%D8%A8%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9_%D8%B9...
Sorry for not having time to translate it into English.
Any Volunteer?! Flowers for All.

piccic's picture

Aziz, thank you! The English parallel page seems enough interesting as well…

As of now, the most wonderful web resource for me is the Schoyen Collection:
4.7. Arabic scripts section:
http://www.schoyencollection.com/arabic.htm#4597

AzizMostafa's picture

Thanks Piccic with Flowers
1. I do not see the Wiki English page equally parallel to the Arabic one?!
2. Happy Comparing with Flowers
http://www.schoyencollection.com/arabic.htm#4.7.10
http://typophile.com/node/48495

Saad Abulhab's picture

Claudio

>>Is Maghribi used in Morocco? In general, what’s its main use?

The old Maghribi style is not used anywhere now, like Andalusi.

Aziz, shukran, I finally became member of the blog site.

-Saad

piccic's picture

Thanks, Aziz, I hope to get into later scripts later on, for now I am interested in the most ancient roots. Not easy, I understand.

The old Maghribi style is not used anywhere now, like Andalusi.
Saad, how would it look a page written in Maghribi, or typeset in a Maghribi inspired typeface to [most of] today's readers?
Plus, take this weirdness: could the "virtually jointed" styles you are developing as Mutamathil be perceived as an "alternative form" of letters? Although not informed by historical tradition, could they be used alongside with – say – Naskh, to create emphasis on single words in a text?
(I mean this like the way we use Italics/Cursive or Small Capitals in Latin)

AzizMostafa's picture

... how would it look a page written in Maghribi, or typeset
in a Maghribi inspired typeface to [most of] today’s readers?
See:
http://typophile.com/node/52935

John Hudson's picture

I suspect one can still find scribes proficient in the maghribi style in Morocco and perhaps into Algeria. The further east you go, the less likely you will be to find this style, and now it is most likely to be found deliberately evoking Andalusian or Moroccan history. In Morocco, I think it is admired and treasured as something particular to the region, but typographically one will presumably find naskh used.

piccic's picture

and now it is most likely to be found deliberately evoking Andalusian or Moroccan history. In Morocco, I think it is admired and treasured as something particular to the region, but typographically one will presumably find naskh used.

Thank you John, for the detailed reply. Aziz: that's what I was asking, I meant it not graphically, but in its impact on the average reader. I have a friend from Morocco, so I guess they treasure this like I treasure Arrighi's cancelleresca… :=)

behnam's picture

piccic:
>>I meant it not graphically, but in its impact on the average reader.

I think we are all (the Arabic script users) in a transitional period. For generations, publishing technology has left us with simplified Naskh as the most visually adapted style for mass production and mass consumption. We don't 'see' anymore anything outside of that established style as 'standard' for publication. If we go outside of its boundaries, we are venturing in graphics and not the functionality of the text.
This is partly for the merits of simplified Naskh, and partly because, for generations, the technology limitations didn't leave use much other choice.
Now the technology is gradually giving us back what it has taken away from us for generations and although the outcome of this new capabilities is unknown to me, but I think it will certainly have a major impact -not quickly- in what we'd perceive as 'standard look' of a published text.
The graphic side also can fly from here on. But I wouldn't put both emerging changes in the same basket.

piccic's picture

Hi Benham, thank you!
Oh, I'm sure you can't make any substantial change to happen. What strucks me with Naskh is how it is both so deeply associated with the religious essence in the sacred text, and the average typographic form for everyday use. That's why I asked about Saad's simplified and often simmetrical experimental forms, and at the same time about a possible intermixed use of Naskh and black Kufic letters.
I see the beauty of Qur'an pages is often obtained by harmony of tone, while I tend to predilige harmony of contrast, and since in Latin we have always had different script forms mixed since the early middle ages (carolingian minuscule, capitals, and many later cursives), I wondered how this variedty could apply with Arabic letters and page layouts.

Are you a native Arabic or an Arabic user of adoption? I ask because I think we will always be more familiar with our own native scripts…

behnam's picture

piccic:
>>Are you a native Arabic or an Arabic user of adoption? I ask because I think we will always be more familiar with our own native scripts…

I'm a native Persian. I use the script for my language but I don't speak Arabic. I can read -badly- an Arabic text and I vaguely understand few words of it because Arabic language -along Qur'an- had a great presence in our language. But I am a native Arabic *script* user not native Arabic. If by 'adoption' you mean in the historic sense, yes Persian language uses Arabic script by adoption. But I personally didn't adopt it. I grew with it and lived with it.
But this is an interesting point because the impact of new technology will be more pronounced in non Arabic languages of Arabic script. I don't know how far the change of 'established look' of published material in Arabic language can go from what it is now. Because the handwriting of Arabs is not essentially very far from it. This is not the case with handwriting of Persians, Pakistanis (who have never adopted Naskh for their mass consumption) and basically most areas to the east of Iraq.
I'm not knowledgable in traditionally established calligraphic styles but I can easily see that mix and match of different styles can happen. The new abilities will essentially move the 'established look' toward what is actually practiced in handwriting, which is mostly derived from Nasta'liq on the east of Iraq.

piccic's picture

Thanks for the explanation. Of course, by "native" in terms of script I meant that Arabic is the alphabet you grew with. I'm sorry if sometimes I can't explain myself well, but my English is not so good as it seems, and often – for a term which is perfectly clear for me in Italian –, I can't figure which is the best word to translate the concept into English.
"Script" actually is one of those terms. In English it may mean the alphabet, a page, or a specific style of a typeface related to calligraphic models (connected or unconnected).
So, when I wish to translate what in Italian we call "scrittura", which means the alphabet with all its richness, history and life implications, I thought using "script" was a fine choice, but it's probably ambiguous. Of course, in Italian "scrittura/e" means also "handwriting", and the books of the Bible, and other things, but by context you can't equivocate so much, since Italian is a very sharp and precise language, quite the opposite of English.

So, basically, what I meant is that what we grow with and learn as children is very deeply assimilated.

What did Persians and Pakistans have adopted as the most used model of typeface instead of Naskh?

behnam's picture

piccic:
>>What did Persians and Pakistans have adopted as the most used model of typeface instead of Naskh?

English is not my mother tongue either! I use the term 'script' as it is used by Unicode in defining a writing system covering a number of languages. By this definition, Italian is part of 'Roman script' as English is, and Persian, Urdu and Arabic are part of 'Arabic script'.

Persians adopted Naskh exclusively. Because up until now -and even now- Nasta'liq could not be produced by machinery. When it comes to poetry, the hand work of calligraphers in Nasta'liq was occasionally used in school books and literary publications. There is now some speciality graphic applications that do Nasta'liq.
Pakistanis were more persistent in using the hand work in their publications (for Urdu Nasta'liq) and even now, have put more effort in producing fonts of Nasta'liq for mass consumption. But they also use Naskh in less exclusive manner.
The emerging advances in font technology and text rendering has just started and has not yet reached a widespread use and technical support in applications to have an immediate impact in the state of the affairs.

piccic's picture

I use the term ’script’ as it is used by Unicode in defining a writing system covering a number of languages.
Me too. I hope it's not so equivocal. If there are better english terms, any native Englishman is welcome to suggest! :=)

Thanks for the explanation, it's great to learn little by little more and more…

AzizMostafa's picture

... since Italian is a very sharp and precise language, quite the opposite of English.
... any native Englishman is welcome to suggest! :=)

2 interesting comments by our Italian Typophile.

Saad Abulhab's picture

Behnam wrote:

>>Persians adopted Naskh exclusively. Because up until now -and even now- Nasta’liq could not be produced by machinery.

Like with Europeans, it was the trend centuries ago to adapt a specific calligraphic style of the Latin script as a "national" or imperial style. Smartly, the west had realized the advantages of getting rid of this antiquated practice. Script unity with open style diversity had served the Latin script and the West well.

Despite my fascination with the beauty of Nastaleeq (Urdu and Persian), I am happy that the pre-Tasmeem machinery had at least served a good cause by practically "forcing" all users of the Arabic script to learn one common default style: Naskh. The Muslim east can also benefit from similar unity and diversity.

-Saad

piccic's picture

Like with Europeans, it was the trend centuries ago to adapt a specific calligraphic style of the Latin script as a “national” or imperial style.

I do not think it happened univocally this way. As printing with movable types was invented, Gutemberg adopted the textura because it was widely used as a calligraphic style, and he was setting a Bible in germany, at that precise time.
In fact, Italy remained mostly (entirely?) extraneous to the Blackletter use in typography.
In fact, what happened at Subiaco shows this mutual influence of cultural heritages: Schweinheim and Pannartz (which were German monks) turned the Blackletter back into less elaborate letter-forms setting the basis for what subsequently become our essential typographic letter forms.

I try to translate what Piero Trevisan says in his 1953 book "Storia della Stampa" ("A History of Printing"):
Coming from the dioceses of Magonza and Colonia, they (Schweinhem and Pannartz) came as the first books had already reached a degree of perfection and, given their origin, they should have cut purely gothic typefacses. But finding themselves among such a treasure of codes transcribed in native styles, especially in humanistic and carolingian calligraphy, they felt their benefical influence, and like all proto-typographers they mixed proud and necessity to create something personal.

Similar to what could happen if Latin designers would approach Arabic letters and challenge themself to design with more thoroughness. In this sense, the "typographic matchmaking" project may not be such a disappointing effort, if it has contributed to the awareness of the Latin-based designers which partecipated in it… Who knows?

Saad Abulhab's picture

I admit that I do not know the details of *how* some European chose certain style over another. But I am confident that national identity played a main role. In the East, choosing certain calligraphy (i.e. Nastaleeq) as the official style in specific lands was definitely linked to this or that Sultan, Shah, or another man in power who wanted to be differentiated from others. My post was mainly to indicate that such practice is counterproductive in today's world.

Claudio wrote:

>>As printing with movable types was invented, Gutemberg adopted the textura because it was widely used ..

Exactly, this supports my point; just re-write the statement: "As computers were invented, producers adopted Naskh because it was widely used .."

I am happy that computers have unified users of the Arabic script on one common style and I do not wish that any future advancement in technology (i.e. Tasmeem) would be used to reverse that. Instead it should be used to enriching it by producing other styles as typo-caligraphic varaieties.

-Saad

John Hudson's picture

Saad: I admit that I do not know the details of *how* some European chose certain style over another. But I am confident that national identity played a main role.

This is backwards. Regional style of writing and hence typography became associated with national identity as the latter emerged as a modern phenomenon. Insofar as the printing revolution contributed to the development of the modern nation state, one can go so far as to say that typography played a role in national identity, rather than the other way around.

Saad Abulhab's picture

John,

>>..one can go so far as to say that typography played a role in national identity, rather than the other way around.

It is clearly a two way relation, but my point was that throughout history rules and even religious leaders had selected specific calligraphic styles to differentiate themselves from others. The Persians had even used specific script styles to differentiate between society classes. Under Islam the Arabs quickly established the Early Kufi style to emphasize their new identity. Emphasizing national or religious identity was the main factor behind selecting a newly derived calligraphic style.

-Saad

John Hudson's picture

I understand, Saad. I just wanted to clarify that the situation in Europe was a little different. On the religious front, for example, after the Reformation in Germany the blackletter style became associated with protestantism and the antiqua (roman) style with the Catholic faith. But this was not because 'religious leaders selected specific styles', but because during the Counter Reformation many Catholic books were imported into southern Germany from Italy (and later France and Belgium), so were set in the roman types.

piccic's picture

Yes, despite deliberate appropriations, the richness of each cultural heritage remains a shared thing. The individual and the local enrich the universal, which gives them its shared higher value in return.

Colors, for example, were not used in protestantism, and black was adopted as the main color. But nonetheless, later on, black became also the default dressing color for the catholic clergy.
Also, most things pertaining to German culture became involved in Nazism, but continued to exist after the war (the interest in occultism and the Ahnenerbe, for example). It's also interesting to note how Edith Stein reflects upon Nazism: German hebrews were very fond of their heritage as German people, up to Hitler's prosecution.

Associations are unavoidable, but we should be able to keep them as an exterior element, and seek the unity. Saad, you can't imagine how often it's difficult to discorporate islamic terrorism from the public perception of Arabic culture and Islam. Here it's often of no use to point out there are immigrants which are better persons, serious and hard working, than many Italians.
Providentially, it's also the other way around: we have a new generation of children growing up together, and the few friendships which blossom also between adults are a precious thing.

I will pick it up on the history of Arabic alphabet hopefully in a near future, otherwise I will never work on my stuff… :=)

MahmoudShariff's picture

I think that this essay makes perfect sense. I am currently living in NYC right now while my son studies nearby. I am worried that he would not be able to understand Arabic because of the different lifestyle here in America but I will make sure that he would be able to read this entry.

Jongseong's picture

Now that Titus Nemeth's Aisha, a revival of Marcellin Legrand's mid-nineteenth-century Arabe maghrébin, has won a TDC² 2010 Award, I wanted to revisit this thread to ask how this maghribi typeface would be received by modern users in areas where the maghribi style was traditionally used. Would it be successful as a book face in Morocco? Or would it feel antiquated or quaint, like a German book set in fraktur, because users are so used to naskh being used exclusively for book typography? In short, what is a maghribi typeface's place in the world today?

piccic's picture

I'm not dead yet… :)
@Jongseong: Aisha seems a beautiful rendition, but – extraneous as I still am with Arabic – it looks a little too "regularized" as an interpretation of Maghribi.
Thanks for providing the link: it's very beautiful. :)

Chris Dean's picture

No time to read the thread but if it hasn’t been mentioned:

http://www.amazon.com/Arabic-Typography-Huda-Smitshuijzen-Abifares/dp/08...

John Hudson's picture

if it hasn’t been mentioned

...there may be a reason why it hasn't been mentioned.

Syndicate content Syndicate content