A short history of Arabic script

ArabicArabic script is one of the most widespread writing systems in the world: nowadays, you can find Arabic script used as the primary alphabet in large parts of Asia and Africa, as well in ethnic communities all over the world. Some of the languages that use Arabic script, other than Arabic include Farsi, Urdu, Kurdish, Sindhi, Pashto and Arabi Malayalam.

There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet and there are no differences between upper and lower case letters.

Despite Arabic inscriptions being most common after Islam was born in the 7th century, the basis of the Arabic alphabet can be traced back to the 3rd century. It stems from the writing that was used by the semi-nomadic Nabataean tribes, who occupied the Sinai Peninsula, Northern Arabia, Jordan and Southern Syria. Nabataean script was uncovered via surviving stone inscriptions. This shows a lot of similarities to the Arabic writing system used today.

Some of the similarities include the fact that Arabic written text mainly consists of long vowels and consonants. There is also evidence of the same basic letter shape being used in variations to signify different sounds.


The Arabic alphabet is one that has developed significantly over the years. Early Arabic did not contain any of the dots that we see in modern Arabic today. These were introduced to help learners differentiate between the various sounds. The Hamza (a vocal “stop” sound) and vowel marks were later introduced, at some time in the 17th century. It was not until the 20th century that punctuation marks were adopted.


Today there are lots of factors about Arabic script that makes it unique. One of these unusual attributes that a lot of people are aware of is the fact that it is written and read from right to left, and there is no distinction between lowercase and uppercase letters. To determine whether a letter is an initial, medial or final position in the word, you will often find that the shape of the letter changes. In addition to this, short vowels help when it comes to word pronunciation. Short vowels are signified by a group of marks either above or below the letters. Nonetheless, these are often only found in texts for novice readers or indeed pieces of work whereby proper recitation is imperative, with the Qur’an being the prime example.


All in all, the use of Arabic in today’s world is extensive and it is growing by the day. It is remarkable to think that the origin of this script began way before the birth of Islam. Since then it has developed extensively and its use is only set to increase.


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