The Story of Bismillah

Bismillah plays an important role in Islamic Culture. Following the practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blesssings be upon him and his Household (Ahlul Bayt), Muslims begin with the name of Allah before doing anything. Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim is translated as "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful". Bismillah occurs at the head of every chapter (surah) in the Holy Qur'an, with the exception of the 9th chapter, Surah al-Baraa'at (also called Surah al-Tawbah). Calligraphers have written bismillah in many ways. This pictorial gives us a unique opportunity to look at some of the ways bismillah can be written.

In a letter on behalf of Prophet Muhammad,
peace be upon him and his Household

This bismillah is taken from a letter written on behalf of Prophet Muhammad [s] to the Ruling Archbishop of Egypt. The letter was written in the fifth year after Hijrah (627 CE). This letter is preserved in the Topkapi Museum, in Istanbul, Turkey. The actual inscriber is not known. The Holy Prophet [s] used to ask several different companions to write on his behalf. Among them was a young companion named Zaid bin Thabit.

Written at the time of Uthman b. Affan

This is from one of the earliest copies of the Holy Qur'an housed in the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. This copy of the Qur'an is one of the original manuscripts written at the time of Uthman's caliphate. Another original manuscript from the same period is on display at the Tashkent Museum in Uzbekistan.

Written by Amir al-Mu'minin, Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him

This bismillah is written on deerskin by Imam Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him.

Bismillah in calligraphical styles:

Bismillah is still written with the same letters, but the calligraphy has certainly changed. Here are some of the samples of bismillah written in different calligraphical styles. The name of the style is written below them.


Eastern Kufi


Modern Kufi

Bismillah Today:

The bismillah above is written in Nastaleeq script. This is the same script in which Urdu in India and Pakistan and classical Farsi in Iran are written. Until ten years ago, all newspapers in Pakistan were handwritten in this script. But now several computers equipped with the Nastaleeq fonts are used. Arabic and Persian languages nowadays are written in Naskh script. Turkish, Malay, and Bangla languages at one time used to be written in Naskh script before the Arabic script was abandoned.


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