The absence of figural representation in Islamic art led to an unprecedented development of calligraphy as a decorative art throughout the world of Islam. In almost all periods of Muslim rule, calligraphy has been the favorite art; which has been developed in numerous patterns and floral designs.
The Muslim Rulers and Emperors have taken a keen interest in the development of calligraphy, which, besides being used in writing books, has been a favorite art of decoration, especially of architectural monuments. Such monuments, particularly mosques and mausoleums, built throughout the Muslim world, bear exquisite calligraphic inscriptions and floral designs.
Two of the well-known Muslim Rulers of India, Nasiruddin Mahmud (1246-1266 A.C.) and Aurangzeb Alamgir (1656–1705 A.C.), were good calligraphists who used to transcribe the Holy Quran for their livelihood.
The Mughal rule is particularly known for the development of calligraphic art in India. Almost all the splendid monuments erected by the great Mughals, including the world-famous Taj Mahal, the famous Juma Mosque of Delhi, the Pearl Mosque in the Delhi Fort, the Badshahi Mosque of Lahore, the tombs of Mughal Emperors Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan, bear exquisite patterns of calligraphic art.
The history of calligraphy in the Muslim world dates back to the earliest period of the Islamic era when Arabic was written in Kufic script. Kufic character originated two centuries before Islam and was used in oldest Arabic documents, coins and inscriptions. For nearly five centuries, the Kufic script was popular, though it was artificial as well as awkward. The Holy Quran of early period has been written in Kufic script which continued up to the 10th-century A.C.
From the beginning of the 19th century, Naskh, a rounded script of a rather level ductus with orthographic marks was introduced in transcribing the Holy Quran. This script received the final shape by the beginning of the 10th century and was perfected a hundred years later. By and by it was developed to such a degree of perfection that it outclassed and later replaced the Kufic script.
The third and the most popular script Nastaleeq was developed by the Iranian calligraphers during the 13th century A.C. It was used mostly for writing Persian works. The Nastaleeq script was developed in Persia with rounded circles and more formal and correct symmetry. The Nastaleeq style was beautiful and fluent, but the scribes needed much time and patience to give full shape and form to circular letters.
It, therefore, gave birth to another variation called ‘Shikasta’ which is broken in style and later on to another form, Shafia, named after the scribe of that name. Shikasta was also called Khatt-i-Diwani (Civic script) in India. Urdu adopted the Nastaleeq and Sindhi the Naskh script. These attained great popularity during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, whose Court calligrapher Mirza Muhammad Husain won great fame in it and has left behind many masterpieces.
Almost all ruling Muslim dynasties had their own calligraphers but the greatest among them have been Ibn al-Bawwab, Ahmad Suhrawardy, and Yaqut al Mustasimi whose works are recognized as marvels of this art.
Abul Hasan Aladin Ali ibn Hilal, better known as Ibn al-Bawwab, the celebrated Arab calligrapher was a porter’s son of the Audience Hall of Baghdad. He was also called Al-Sitri and died in 1022 A.C.
He was buried beside the tomb of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
Ibn al-Bawwab is recognized as one of the greatest Arab calligraphers, whose works are viewed with great admiration and considered marvels of the Calligraphic Art.
He had a wide knowledge of Islamic law, had learned the Holy Quran by heart and wrote out 64 copies of the Holy Book. One of these copies, he wrote in Kihani script which is preserved in the Laleli Mosque of Constantinople (Istanbul). It was presented to this mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Salim I.
The Diwan of the pre-Islamic Poet Salma ibn Jandal, copied by him, is extant in the Library of Aya Sofia (Istanbul).
Ibn al-Bawwab had invented the Kahani and Muhakkik scripts. He founded a School of Calligraphy in Baghdad which survived to the time of Yaqut al-Mustasimi, another great Arab calligrapher, who died in 1298 A.C.