by Mourad Diouri
Hodder Education, 2011
249 pages, $18, paperback
Part of the Teach Yourself empire. Each letter group given its due, with some nice details like usage in commercial signs which can use exotic typefaces difficult to read for the beginner. Small explications of dialects, Arabic’s impact on European languages, etc.: enough to what the appetite for further investigation. Tidbits of grammar. I liked the bit of analysis of the Ruq’ah script since I find it more difficult to read than say, Naskh. Information on ligatures, logos, loan words, numbers… Some exercises with answers in the back.
Mourad Diouri is an eLearning lecturer and developer at the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World at University of Edinbburgh. He has published numerous articles and books.
by Gabriel Mandel Khan
translated by Rosanna M Giammanco Frongia
Abbeville Press, 2001
180 pages, $35.00, hardcover (paperback available)
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
I like this book. One of the first illustrations is a full page image of sheet number 1256 from Letraset instant lettering. Oh my. I did love Letraset and seeing this sheet of 15mm Naskhi sets my heart aglow. Two colour illustrations, and lots of them, of all kinds of calligraphy. Not a how-to book, but information on cutting and using the calamus. Excellent two page spreads on each letter with proportions shown and styling in an astonishing number of scripts – up to thirty three! Information on vowel markings plus the orthographic and ornamental symbols used by calligraphers to visually balance out their work. A two-page image of a typesetter’s case. And, an illustration of capital letters proposed by Muhammad Mahfuz in Egypt in 1930.
But wait! There’s more! Double page spreads for six supplemental letters used in non-Arabic languages that use the Arabic alphabet. And sometimes in Arabic. Back in 1975, in Alexandria, someone told me the best way to write my first name was not جين but چين. Usually I just use the ج but in the back of my mind I prefer the چ, which I think of as a bit swanky.
So after each letter gets its due, there are pages of calligraphic samples and then an extensive index. Good work, this.
Gabriel Mandel Khan was an Italian psychologist, Sufi guide, writer, and artist of Afghan descent. He was also known by the names of Gabriele Mandel Khān and Gabriele Sugana.
by Stefan F Moginet
American University in Cairo Press, 2009
111 pages, $24.95, paperback
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Not a how-to book, but with much to inspire one to improve their handwriting. Moginet leads the reader on a long voyage from writing in antiquity to Arabic in the computer age. If your interest in Arabic is yoked to an interest in typography this will be a great book. Many illustrations of early Arabic writing, divided into sections on Kufic, Maghribi and Quadrangular styles plus classic cursive scripts. Information on Ibn Muqla and his legacy. Much information on proportions of various scripts.
The sections on movable Arabic type and Arabic fonts are very interesting, crammed with bits of hey-I-never-thought-about-that information. Arabic letters having different forms depending on their places in words, not to mention ligatures and vowel markings, made for many problems in setting Arabic type; Moginet says that while composing Latin script required about a hundred characters, Arabic required between 300 and 600. In the 1930s the Cairo Academy sent out a request for peoposals to reform Arabic script and some of the replies are illustrated here. There are illustrations of lead types, a typographer’s case and other typographic whatnot. All fascinating. I wish for a much longer edition, but there is a bibliography and lots of further readings for the obsessed.
Originally published in French as Du calame à l’ordinateur.
Stefan François Moginet is a graphic and type designer who worked in Morocco and Tunisia.
by Nicholas Awde & Putros Samano
Lyle Stuart, 1986
96 pages, $13.95, paperback
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
This is a solid book for complete novices. It touches on quite a few things while showing how to write Arabic. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like my peas to touch my carrots, meaning I prefer to have separate books for grammar, writing, and the history of the language. But in this case I’ll make an exception. There is very nice attention paid to forming each letter, plus vowel marks. which are shown on the sample words. Putros Samano did a great job on the lettering: big enough and clear. Hints on pronunciation. I really like to look at more than one source for most Arabic language things: the material might be the same, but almost always tricky things are explained in different ways and each author makes their own tangents an possibly mentions something the others didn’t. This book stands up very well.
Nicholas Awde was born in 1961, in London. He grew up in Sudan, among other places. He’s done quite a few different things, I must say.
Putros Samano was born in Iraq in 1953. Since 1974 he has been an Arabic/English translator and interpreter in Britain.
by Sheila Blair
Edinburg University Press, 2008
720 pages, $88.00, hardcover
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Fantastic. Not a how-to book except that many of the colour illustrations inspire one to haul out a pen and start trying to copy. From the work of Ibn al-Bawwab in the year 1063 I have co-opted the style choice of putting the three dots of ش (shiin) in a single angled line instead of the traditional triangle, which makes me feel fancy. Plus Ibn Muqla is my new hero; his work and ignominious end both pierce the heart. Impeccable scholarship; despite the amazing illustrations this is not a picture book. It is a solid, detailed, amazing read.
√ Joint Winner of the 2007 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize for Middle Eastern Studies
√ Winner of 2008 World Prize for Book of the Year by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
√ Selected as a 2007 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title
Sheila Blair was born in 1948 in Montreal. She is a professor of Islamic and Asian Art at Boston College. She has written or co-written seventeen books and more than 200 articles.
by Mustafa Ja’far
32 pages, $10.95, paperback
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
A great deal. It’s only 32 (large) pages but packs a lot in. This is a lovely reference for beginning calligraphy, but also for improving your day-to-day handwriting.
Instructions on cutting reed nibs. Each letter presented in huge format (which is a great help in starting to analyze what is going on) with stroke order and proportions. The last few pages are all kinds of words for the student to trace or copy, smaller than the original presentation but still really big. Plus a gallery of Naskh script past and present, and three practice pages of Murakkabat, the individual letters now joined up. These are crammed with samples, all fitted together beautifully. Notes there are very helpful.
Mustafa Ja’far studied painting, calligraphy and design in Baghdad under master calligrapher Hashim al-Baghdad and continued his art studies in Rome. In 1991, he established his own studio, arabigraphy.com which showcases his own calligraphy. From 2001 to 2011, he taught Arabic calligraphy for the University of London at the British Museum.
by Dr. Fayeq Oweis
Hippocrene Books 2005
92 pages, $6.95, paperback
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
This great little book—and I do mean little—will fit into the back pocket of your jeans. Very nicely organized and lots of information on the two facing pages devoted to each letter, including each letter’s name, pronunciation, and different shapes. Clear instructions for beginners to start writing. Shows each letter in different calligraphic scripts. Highly recommended for beginners and even those who already know their alif-ba-ta but want to review or maybe pick up some tips.
Fayeq Oweis is an Arab American artist, educator, and linguist. He has taught a several universities and now works for Google.
by TF Mitchell
Oxford University Press 1953 Reprinted 1958 & 1966
163 pages, $39.50, hard cover
Uh… not so much. Old School. The book was typed by hand, not typeset. The parts in Arabic were written by Mitchell and his handwriting isn’t very good or clear, and it’s too small. There is a little information on reed pens and the cutting of the nib, but nothing that isn’t covered much better on web sites. There seems to be a newer edition around; it may be much improved.
Terence Frederick Mitchell was born in 1919. He was a British linguist, and later emeritus professor and head of the department of linguistics and phonetics at Leeds University. He died in 2007.