Al-Qalam Qur’an Project

More about the Chinese-Arabic Calligraphy tradition

In contemporary China, Arabic calligraphy has taken diverse forms, including a unique Chinese-Arabic fusion script which is known as ‘Mushafi Script in the Chinese Style’ which is used to copy the Holy Qur’an This script finds primary use among Chinese Hui Muslims and employs a slim bamboo pen, similar in size to a pencil or chopstick. The nib of the bamboo pen is sharpened to a fine 2.3mm width at an angle of about 10 degrees, this pen unites with ink and paper to inscribe the sacred words of Allah.

Across Arab lands and Central Asia, three distinct calligraphic scripts – Muḥaqqaq, Rayḥānī, and Naskh – have traditionally been employed for transcribing the Holy Qur’an. These scripts found their way to China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) through trade and interactions between Arab Muslims and neighbouring communities in Central and Western Asia.

Chinese Muslim scribes embraced these foreign scripts for transcribing Qur’anic verses, articles of faith, and Islamic literature. While they diligently studied these scripts, they didn’t rigidly adhere to established rules or standardised writing tools, allowing for a captivating fusion of art, materials, and Chinese calligraphy with the Arabic scripts.

Chinese Muslim calligraphers skillfully combined  elements from both the Muḥaqqaq and Rayḥānī scripts, giving rise to a distinct writing style known as the “Muṣḥafī script in the traditional Chinese-Arabic style.” This unique script continues to be studied and employed to this day, bearing witness to a remarkable cultural amalgamation.

Significant differences distinguish this emerging style from its parent scripts. Take, for instance, the letters Alif (اا) and Lam (لل), which feature nine nuqtas (dots) in the Muḥaqqaq script, contrasted with a more condensed five to six nuqtas in the Chinese Muṣḥafī style. Notably, elements like the ornamental symbol (Zulfah) are rendered in one fluid stroke within the Chinese Muṣḥafī style, devoid of subsequent alterations.

Furthermore, the angle at which the pen is wielded and manoeuvred during writing differs distinctly. Regional variations within the Chinese Muṣḥafī style contribute to diverse stylistic expressions. These encompass the “North China” style, the “Central Plains” style, the “Northwest” style, the “Southwest” style, and more, each bearing the nuanced imprint of its geographic origin. 

The profound reverence and connection Muslim calligraphers hold for the Holy Qur’an is also expressed in intricate embellishments and borders. These creations blend Islamic and traditional Chinese patterns, adorned with resplendent gold illumination, reflecting the rich cultural identity of Chinese Muslims.