The Arabic Alphabet: A Guided Tour

by Michael Beard

illustrated by Houman Mortazavi
The Arabic Alphabet

Welcome. You will find here an homage to the Arabic alphabet in 32 chapters, one letter at a time, from Alif to Yay. You will find an account of its history and its uses, its flamboyant beauty and its beauty as a finely crafted tool. If you learn something, no harm done. Read the whole thing and you will certainly know the letters of the alphabet.

In Boccaccio's Decameron, the plague comes to Florence. Ten young people decide to escape, and they leave for a villa outside town, where they amuse one another by telling stories. Except for entertaining themselves, they do no particular good, but they do no harm. That is our plan, to forget the epidemic and to do no harm.

Imagine the website as our Tuscan villa. Imagine it as the aerial view of an expansive, limitless landscape. Imagine it as something concrete. For that purpose we have created a book page with samples of how this website can come to life in print.

The website currently contains a sampling of chapters with more to come, like a serialized story. If you are interested to learn when new chapters are added, sign up for email notification below.

 
Introduction
ا
Alif: The Minimal Stroke
ب
Ba is for Bashibazouk
پ
Peh is for Parsee
ت
Ta is for Dragoman
ث
Tha is for Soraya
ج
A Letter Called Jim
چ
Che is for China
ح
Ḥa Ḥutî is for Fatah
خ
Kha is for Mohair
د
Dal is for Dinar
ذ
Dha is for Zildjian
ر
Ra is for Rigel
ز
Za is for Saffron
Zha as in Bijan
س
Sîn is for Zenith
ش
Shîn is for Saracen
ص
Ṣâd is for Zero
ض
Ḍâd is for Drubbing
ط
Ṭâ is for Talisman
ظ
Ẓa is for Zarf
ع
‘Ayn is for Arab
غ
Ghayn is for Ghazal
ف
The F Word
ق
Qaf is for Cadi
ك
Kâf is for Caravan
گ
Gâf is for Cow
ل
Lâm: A Companion for Alif
م
Mîm is for Moloch
ن
Nûn is for Intifada
ه
Ha Hawaz : The Letter with Two Eyes
و
Getting to Wow
ي
Getting to Yay

اهل المجالس

MICHAEL BEARD has written frequently about the cultures where the Perso-Arabic alphabet is the local currency. He co-edits (with Adnan Haydar) a book series for Syracuse University Press (Middle East Literature in Translation). He taught for years at the University of North Dakota. His writing has always been serious. Completely serious.

HOUMAN MORTAZAVI works somewhere in Iran. Years ago, in the U.S., he ran for office under the name Simon Ordoubadi. People still miss him.

REX SORGATZ, like an alphabet, works invisibly behind the scenes to keep this world alive.