THE MODERN RELEVANCE OF ARABIC CALLIGRAPHY

Calligraphy has a very long history with some saying that it all started in 10th century Iraq and was developed as a means of making sure that the Holy Quran is documented and distributed. Fast forward to the modern world, calligraphy has become a visual art form used not only by Quran scholars to express themselves but even by amateurs fascinated by its intricacies and details. Not everyone is into calligraphy, however. An informal poll amongst young Omanis showed that they like seeing it but dedicating time to learn it can only be attributed to very few who have time to pursue it out of passion.
“When I decided to learn Arabic calligraphy, my friends asked me to stop joking because my writing during our classes was not understandable. I was determined to learn and I did so by following a Saudi calligrapher on a daily basis trying to imitate him,”
Angham al Matroshi, an Omani calligrapher shared.
“I was spending about five hours every day to learn the techniques and style. After a year of learning and closely paying attention to details, it became fruitful for me because when I finally gain the mastery I need, I opened my own business related to calligraphy,” she shared.
Angham now operates a small business that prints calligraphy on mugs, boxes, letters etc.
Arabic calligraphy is one of the most beautiful artistic practice of handwriting in the world. A finished product is a reflection of a person’s discipline, personality, patience, style and sense of beauty.
From its early beginnings being known as khatt — the Arabic term describing the artistic discipline of Islamic handwriting, it went on the expand from Kufic to Naskh, to thuluth and at present, even contemporary calligraphy.
In Oman, those who are involved in Arabic calligraphy usually learn from imitating the masters. Beginners benefit from the advise and support of professional calligraphers.
Zayana al Sheaili, an Omani calligrapher, said that she learned to love Arabic calligraphy when she was just in her second grade in primary school. She was 8 years old then and pursued Naskh script which is one of the first scripts of Islamic calligraphy commonly used in writing administrative documents and for transcribing books including the Holy Quran because of its easy style and legibility.
Simulation and imitation helped Al Sheaili to develop her skills. She said that she followed some calligraphers on Instagram and then take inspiration from their work by learning their techniques and style.
Today, Zayana has passed the stage of drawing inspiration from others. She has mastered Naskh script, Roqa, Diwani and kufi. But she likes to work more in Open script because it is controllable, uncommon, attractive to the reader, and shows her personality and ability to draw.
There are free lessons to learn Arabic calligraphy held weekly at the premises of the Omani Society of Arts in Diwan of Royal Court. This free course is offered by professional calligrapher Sultan al Rashedi. The girls’ classes are held on Mondays and the boys’ classes are on Tuesdays. The lessons are not only for professionals but a portion of the lesson are also dedicated to beginners.
Several of the local calligraphers noted that Arabic calligraphy is not generating enough interest and are calling for more support to bring it to the general population’s attention.
Hamad al Fraei said that he only paid attention to Arabic calligraphy when he was already in his first year at the Sultan Qaboos University.
When Al Fraei started, he said there were not a lot of students interested in the art so he ended up forming a group with his friends so they can pursue the art together.
They did launch a group they called “Masqh” dedicated to the oldest calligraphy form of the Arabic script. Meaning “to stretch out, they were able to master the strokes in a short period of time and eventually, the popularity of their group also increased within the university.
Al Fraei pointed out that one of the challenges in starting with calligraphy is getting the right tools. He said that different calligraphers use different tools and depending on the calligraphic form, the prices also vary.
“When I started, I had trouble buying the right tools because they were so expensive. In addition to that, Oman only have one calligraphy shop and for lack of competition, there was no choice but purchase expensive items,” he said.
Al Fadhel al Waili, another Omani calligrapher, said that for him, calligraphy and drawing are two sides of the same coin.
Al Waili, just like other emerging calligraphers in Oman, had been blending Arabic calligraphy with their paintings. While some argue that Arabic calligraphy should be independent of drawing, Al Waili is one of the voices who think that merging the techniques with other art form allows for more creative freedom.
“I really think calligraphy, in a creative sense, can work well with drawing. The letters can be drawn according to how the calligrapher sees it fit,” he said.
For people who want to learn Arabic calligraphy today, getting the right tools has become easier because of small shops like Harf store.
Ibrahim al Shkaili, one of the founders of Harf store specialising in the selling of Arabic calligraphy and painting tools, shared, “We received our first shipment in 2014 and in the same year we started the marketing process through social media platforms under the name ‘Harf store.’ People finally have an option,” he said.
Al Shkaili said that they also have many tools that are rare and not available in many countries making sure that they offer a variety of materials for their customers.
“We aim to be the first store in the Sultanate and the Gulf to that offers some of the rarest calligraphy tools and materials to allow the growth of calligraphy art in Oman,” he said.

Alzahra Sunaidi