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Calligraphy, taken from the Greek word “kalligraphia” simply means beautiful writing. This kind of beautiful writing has played a big role in writing the text of the Quran. The very representation of this form of writing in fact points towards Islam and the Arabian culture connected to it.
Calligraphy in the Quran
Calligraphy at its earliest, is found in the beautifully written manuscripts of the Quran. The first scribes that wrote the verses used black ink and gold leaves. They wrote on parchment and used a beautifully angled alphabet called the Kuffi to reproduce pages of the Quran. The margins of the page were intricately decorated with artful lines. Other ornamental techniques were also used to further beautify the book.
In further development of Calligraphy, in the 12th century the Nashk alphabet was invented. This led to the transition of angled lined alphabets to curved line alphabets. The scripts were constantly beautified by incorporating foliation and interfacing.
Arabic calligraphy represents the Islamic culture, most significantly. Just as Quran denotes spirituality, the calligraphy that is associated with its script is also spiritual.
The Arabic script has 28 alphabets and is said to have been derived from the Nabateans. The Nabateans were Arabian nomadic tribes during the 5th century. The North Arabic Script of the Nabateans was introduced to the tribe of Prophet Mohammed which was later accepted and standardized. This took on with other tribes in neighboring areas and thus this art of writing became the official script of the region.
The earliest script of the Quran was written in “Jazm”, which in all probability was designed by a professional and well known calligrapher of those times called Zaid Ibn Thabit. The script was then officially released under the patronage of the king Uthman Ibn Affan in 644-656 AD.
The beautifully angled and well-proportioned letters of the Jazm script represented the diverse regions of the caliphate. The Jazm script gave way to and ultimately influenced the implementation of the famous Kufi script. Other scripts like the Mukawar and the Mubsoot were also inspired by the Jazm script.
Moroccan calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting and calligraphy based on the Moroccan alphabet. The Moroccan calligraphy, also called as Maghrebi, has its links to Arabic. It has a rather rounded letter form with a pointed tip. Other scripts that are closely related to Moroccan calligraphy are North Africa, Iberia and Sudan.
The introduction of Arabic scripts to Morocco dates back to the conquest of the country by Arab invaders. The first conqueror Uqba ibn Nafi from the Arabian peninsula used the Kufic script which has influenced the Moroccan script substantially. The Kufic Script was usually used to write the Quran during those times and its influence blended into Moroccan calligraphy.
Two other scripts that have influence the Moroccan script are the North African Script and the Andalausi script. As the name suggests, the African Script originated from north Africa close to the regions of present day Tunisia. The Andalausi script / calligraphy is believed to have originated in Europe and was used to write the Quran due to the beauty of the alphabets.
The Andalausi script had particular and beautiful rounded letters. Al Maqdisi, the very famous medieval geographer in his book, “The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Regions” incorporated the Andalausi script.
Contrarily, one of the most famous users of the Arabic script was Salih Ibn Tarif. Salih Ibn Tarif was the second king of the Berghouata Berber kingdom in 744 AD. Beside being king, he self-proclaimed himself as the prophet of a new religion. He was the author of a religious text book called the Quran of Salih written in the Arabic script.
The Almovarid dynasty were some of the earliest rulers of Morocco. They were also called the Berber Muslim Dynasty and were dominant during the 11th century. These rulers ruled over not just Morroco but their reign extended to a big part of North Africa. Under the Almovarid Dynasty the Andalausi Script spread through North Africa starting from Morocco all the way to Tunisia. At almost the same time, the Kufic script also developed in Europe and found its way into Morocco from where its popularity started to grow.’
The Almohad Dynasty:
Unlike the Almovarid Dynasty that originated in Morocco, the Almohad Dynasty, were also Berber Muslim rulers that ruled the whole of the North African region in the 12th century. Under the Almohad Dynasty, the Arabic Calligraphy influenced the Moroccan Calligraphy in a big way and flourished well.
The Almohad kings were quite interested in Moroccan calligraphy and hired professional calligraphers to develop the script to a higher level. This endeavor gave birth to the Maghrebi Thuluth script, a form of Moroccan calligraphy, that gained popularity under one of the Almohad Caliphs called Abu Hafs Al-Murtada. In fact, for centuries to come, this Moroccan Calligraphy was applied to write Arabic manuscripts and was published throughout the Moroccan region and beyond.
The Nasrid Dynasty:
The Nasrid Dynasty came to power after overthrowing the Almohad Dynasty. They ruled Africa and parts of west Europe from 1230 to 1492. Under the patronage of Yusuf I who was the seventh Nasrid ruler and Muhammed V who was the eight, Arabic calligraphy and epigraphy developed well. These inscriptions developed ribbon like extended notes that gave the script the form of a ribbon or a decorative knot.
Fesi Andalusi Script:
The 13th century in North Africa witnessed a mass migration of people from one place to another. This impacted the unique writing style of regions and suddenly there were scripts that witnessed change. The Andalusi script came about as a result of this change.
The Mirinid Dynasty ruled Morocco during these times and under their patronage, the Fesi script spread and flourished in wide areas of northern Africa like Ceuta, Taza, Meknes, Sale and Marakesh.
The only exception to this spread was in Algiers. This region was influenced by the African script of Tunisia as opposed to the Fesi Andalusi script.
The Saadi Dynasty:
The Saadi Dynasty that ruled Morocco during 1549-1659 were also active promoters of the Moroccan script or calligraphy. During their reign, they established calligraphy learning centers throughout the country. One of the most famous kings during the Saadi reign was Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansur. He was a great promoter of Moroccan calligraphic styles. Moroccan calligraphic literature of those times are still available today. These scripts were also found inscribed on their architecture and coinage.
Sultan Muhammed III of the Alawite dynasty unlike the earlier rulers was not interested in the further promotion of the Moroccan script and therefore, slightly devolved into the Badawi script. Under successive rulers of the Alawite dynasty, the script digressed further.
This prompted the professional calligrapher of those times, Ahmed Ibn Qassim to initiate the standardization of the script. Ahmed Ibn Qassim in his book “Stringing the Pearls of the Thread” set rules and standards for Moroccan Calligraphy.
Another Calligrapher, Muhammed Bib AL Qassim, while endorsing the book, Stringing the Pearls of the Thread also came out with his own unique style of Moroccan Calligraphy called the al-Khatt al Qundusi
The west African Maghrebi Scripts:
Many West African Maghreb Scripts were developed in connection with the Moroccan script.
- The most popular of them was the Suqi Calligraphic style. As the name suggests, the style originated from Suq, which is in present day Mali. There are speculations that the Suqi style was first started in Timbuktu. This is associated with the Tuareg people. These people are a part of a Berber ethnic confederation. Timbuktu is also located in present day Mali.
- Kanemi: The Kanemi, also known as the Kanawi script developed in the region of Kano. Kano is an area or region located in Chad and northern Nigeria.
- Other scripts that developed were, Fulani, Hausawi and Mauretanian Baydani.
The book, Al-Khatt-al- Maghrebi talks about 5 subscripts that developed through the years.
The Maghrebi kufic or the Morrocan Kufic: The Moroccan kufic in itself is subdivided and named as follows.
- The Almoravid Kufic – This was a decorative script with its presence seen on coins of that time and on floral designs. Other subscripts are the Almohad Kufic, the Marinid Kufic, the Alawite Kufic and Qayrawani susbscript
- Masbout Script: The Masbout Script was used for body text and also to write the Quran.
- Mujawer: The Mujawer script was a script used by kings to declare the laws of the land. This was a cursive script and thus it had beauty in the writing.
- Thuluth Maghrebi Script: This script was used as a decorative script to decorate book titles and walls on mosques or houses.
- Musnad Script. The Musnad Script was used in courts and notaries
French Colonization: By 1912, France had colonized Morocco and brought about sweeping changes to the educational system prevalent in the country. They brought with them the latin script and standardized it in schools, educational establishments and public life. The Moroccan Nationalist Movement that fought against the colonization of Morocco did all it can to preserve the Maghrebi Script. As a result, in 1949, Moroccan calligraphy was officially published in 5 booklets. The booklets were called Taalim al Khatt al- Magrhrebi.