Kufi or Kufic Script – The Beauty of Fatimid Islamic Calligraphy

Illuminated Manuscript Koran, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.553, fol.5a

Image by Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts via Flickr

Arabic Calligraphy is more that just a written script. According to a recent post in Muslim Matters, it was used as a tool for communication, like most languages but later eveolved to be used in “architecture, decoration and coin design.”

Not surprising, because the arabic script including the beauty of Islamic calligrapy is spellbounding to the eye. 

A part that I'd like to focus on in this article is the history of the Kufic Script.

If we examine Kufic script inscriptions, we'll notice particular characteristics, such as the angular shapes and long vertical lines. The script letters used to be wider, which made writing long content more difficult. These characteristics affected the usability of the script and made it more suitable for architectural and written Islamic titles, instead of long texts. The script was used for the architectural decoration of buildings, such as mosques, palaces and schools.

Below are some examples of Kufic scripts and their different developmental stages:

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Kufic script from the 9th – 10th centuries (Image source: Will Schofield)

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Kufic script from the Holy Qur'an, 11th century (Image source: Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art)

While Kufic has been used for a long time and is one of the more common scripts across the Islamic civilization, some versions of it were developed in particular areas, such as Egypt and Iraq. Understanding how the script developed in different areas and being able to identify each variation of it will help us identify the origins of the artifacts where they appear. Variations and developments of the Kufic script include the following:

  • The thick Kufic script This is one of the earliest forms of the Kufic script and was used in the early copies of the Holy Qur'an.
  • Magribi Kufic script
    This script was used in Morocco and includes curves and loops, unlike the original Kufic script.
  • Mashriqi Kufic Script
    The letters in this script are similar to the original Kufic, with a thinner look and decorative lines.
  • Piramouz script
    This script is another version of the Mashriqi script that was developed in Iran.
  • Ghaznavid and Khourasan scripts
    These two other forms of the Kufic script were developed in Iran. These scripts have the same thickness as the original Kufic script, with long vertical lines and decorative ends.
  • Fatimid Kufic
    This form developed in North Africa, especially in Egypt. It was written in thick lines and short curves.
  • Square Kufic
    This form is very noticeable, with its straight letters and no curves at all.

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The Fatimid Kufic script appears in the architecture of Bab Al Nasr, a gate built by Badr Al-Jamali, a minister of Fatimid Caliphate (909 – 1171 CE), on the northern wall of Fatimid Cairo (Image source: Md iet)

The Fatimid Kufic script appears here on the Sultan Hasan mosque in the Fatimid Cairo. (Image source:Stars in Symmetry)

 Credits: Taking A Closer Look At Arabic Calligraphy

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