The Origin of Arabic Calligraphy

By Ahmed Ebeed

There are different viewpoints and theories about the origin of Arabic calligraphy, some of which are based on legendary and metaphysical hypotheses with no real grounds. But inscriptions discovered in the north of the Arab Peninsula have made the origins of Arabic calligraphy a little clearer. There are several viewpoints about the origin of Arabic calligraphy, among which are the following:


·         Divinely inspired origin: Advocators of this theory perceive that Arabic writing is bestowed from God, Who taught Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) all names. Ishmael (peace and blessings be upon him) was the first to speak the Arabic language and this was its origin.


·         Historical origin: Others link Arabic calligraphy to the writing of the Himyrite in Yemen. Yet this opinion does not depend on any physical evidence, as there is no relation linking the calligraphy of the people of Yemen to the calligraphy of the Arabs in the north.


·         Ancient Egyptian origin: According to this theory, hieroglyphic writing is the oldest link in the chain leading to Arabic calligraphy. This is the origin of the Arabic calligraphy now accepted in the modern age. Hieroglyphic writing, according to this theory, was changed by the Phoenicians, who turned it into the alphabet, which they taught to the Greeks in the 16th century BCE. It then spread from Greece to other parts of Europe.


·         Modern opinion: Having reviewed different viewpoints, advocators of this opinion believe that the Arabs only became acquainted with writing in the modern ages as a result of their emigration from the center of the Arabian Peninsula to the more civilized peripheries. In these areas, the Arabs gave up their Bedouin style and endorsed more civilized means of living. They established the Nabataean Kingdom, with Petra as its capital, and they invented a script derived from the Aramaic one. This was known afterwards as Nabataean calligraphy. The Nabataean Kingdom disappeared at the end of the second century CE, but their script remained and it was used by the Arabs who moved from the north. Afterwards, Arabic calligraphy passed through different stages until it reached the current form.



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