Calligraphy- Beyond Pen and Paper in Islamic Architecture

Calligraphy is a form of art that is considered as one of the most important and sacred forms of Islamic art [1]. The sacredness it holds is due to the Islamic scripture, the Koran, which was first scribed In Arabic [1]. The Muslim scribes during the 7th century were faced with the challenge of developing a script worthy of the words of god [1]. Muslim scribes therefore began to scribe the Koran using calligraphy, which now holds a spiritual importance for Muslims.
Calligraphy played a central role in Islamic architecture for two main reasons. The first reason dates back to when the first copies of the Koran were produced. The Koran would be scribed in immense detail, which resulted in them being a few metres long [2]. Therefore scribes began to write the verses of the Koran on the walls of the Mosque using their calligraphy techniques [2]. Visual images that could be worshipped were forbidden in Islam, which also played an essential role in the rise of calligraphy in Islamic Architecture [1]. Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a Mosque is a prime example of how visual images were transformed into calligraphy in Islamic architecture. Hagia Sophia’s interior decorations were decorated accordingly when it got transformed into a mosque through the use of geometric tile work and Arabic calligraphy [3]. Calligraphic representations of God’s name rather than literal human figure illustrations were implemented to cover the mosaics of the saints and angels [3] (image 1 and 2).

Image 1: Hagia Sophia Original Interior Dome Design Branden Garrett, Seraphim. 2011, Digital Image. Reproduced from Pinterest (Garrett 2011).


Image 2: Hagia Sophia Renovated Interior Dome with Calligraphy Branden Garrett, Seraphim. 2011, Digital Image. Reproduced from Pinterest (Garrett 2011).

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is one of the oldest Islamic buildings constructed, built during the 690s AD (image 3)[4]. The Dome is one of many Islamic Architectural buildings that employ the use of calligraphy in its decorative system. A 240-meter long inscription of one of the earliest surviving examples of the Koran is plastered around the outside of the entire shrine (image 4) [5]. Thousands of small colored pieces of glass are mosaiced into Koranic verses in a calligraphy format around the top of the interior walls (image 5) [4].

Image 3: Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem Ahmed Charksi, Dome of the Rock. 2017. Digital Image. Reproduced from Trover (Charksi 2017)


Image 4: Dome of the Rock Exterior Calligraphy. Dome of the Rock. 2018. Digital Image. Reproduced from Israeli Images (2018).


Image 5: Dome of the Rock Interior Calligraphy Mosaic .Mosaic at Dome of the Rock. 2018. Digital Image. Reproduced from Israeli Images (2018).


The Ahlul Bayt Centre is an Islamic Centre in Perth, Western Australia which opened late 2017[6]. The mosque in the Ahlul Bayt Centre is a modern and current example of the use of calligraphy in Islamic architecture. The mosque has a mihrab in the position facing towards Mecca that has been decorated with geometric shapes and Arabic calligraphy from verses of the Koran (image 6). The calligraphy is designed around the mihrab and up along the top of the walls surrounding the mosque (image 7). When I interviewed Abdul, the Imam of the Mosque about the importance of the Arabic calligraphy on the walls he said ‘calligraphy in Islamic architecture is not only a pleasing aesthetic but plays a significant importance in creating a sense of spirituality. Surrounded by verses from the Koran not only gives the mosque a sense of sacredness but gives the worshiper a constant reminder of god’ [7]. Hagia Sophia, Dome of the Rock and The Ahlul Bayt Centre are all examples of how Islamic architecture portrays calligraphy beyond pen and paper through sacred art and symbolism.


Image 6: Calligraphy around Ahlul Bayt Centre
(Al Hassan 2018)
Image 7:Calligraphy around Ahlul Bayt Centre Mihrab
(Al Hassan 2018)



[1] “Islamic Architecture And Calligraphy”. 2018. Courses.Washington.Edu.

[2] Osier, Peter. 2017. Islamic Art and Architecture. Chicago, IL: Britannica Educational Publishing.
Accessed March 16, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[3]Isidoros of Miletus, Constantinople, mid-sixth century, (Architect), Anthemius of Tralles,
Constantinople, mid-sixth century, (Architect). Photograph date: ca. 1865-ca. 1895, Building
date: 532-537. Interior, Saint Sophia (Hagia Sofia). Place: Cornell University Library, Rare &
Manuscript Collections, A.D. White Photographs Cornell University, Transfer from the
College of Architecture, Art and Planning, 15/5/3090.00051.

[4] Perspectives on early Islamic art in Jerusalem (2015).Beaverton: Ringgold Inc. Retrieved from

[5]Denny, W. B. (1984). Dodd and khairallah: The image of the word: A study of quranic verses in
islamic architecture (book review). Middle East Journal, 38(1), 162. Retrieved from

[6]”Ahlulbayt Community Of Western Australia – Perth Shia Community”.
2018. Ahlulbaytcommunity.Org.

[7] Calligraphy in the Ahlul Bayt Centre. 2018.Sarah Al Hassan Interview by . In person. Ahlul Bayt
Centre, Perth, Western Australia.

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