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Create a Personal Murakkaalar (activity)

Garden of Happiness

Garden of Happiness, an Ottoman Turkish Poem, 2004, by Mohamed Sakariya (American, born 1942). Ink and colors on paper. Gift of Anne Breckenridge Dorsey and Carolyn J. Young, F2005.73.


Students create a murakkaalar (calligraphy album) of their name and adjectives that describe their personality written in Arabic. They will make a calligraphy reed and learn to write with it.

1 class period

Content Standards (California): VPA/VA 9-12. 1.5: Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work.VPA/VA 9-12.2.1: Solve a visual arts problem that involves the effective use of the elements of art and the principles of design. VPA/VA 9-12.3.4:  Discuss the purposes of art in selected contemporary cultures. VPA/VA: 9-12.5.2: Create a work of art that communicates a cross-cultural or universal theme taken from literature or history.

Arabic Alphabet handout, rectangular cardboard, light brown paper (pre-cut so the dimensions are smaller than the cardboard), tempura paint, black ink, decorative paper, brushes, glue, lined paper, scissors, exacto knife, sand paper, black tape and tongue depressors.

With simple beginnings in the pre-Islamic period, Arabic script developed rapidly after the rise of Islam into not only a writing system but also an art form. The writing and reading of Arabic has a central role in Islam. Because the revelations of God to Muhammad were in Arabic, it became the language of Islam and has a central role in the religion. In the first chapter of the Koran, God is described as "most generous, teaching by the pen" (96/3-4), and God is often described in Islamic poetry as the eternal calligrapher. Because of its religious significance, and perhaps because of an early Islamic prohibition against the depiction of animals and people, Arabic script took on an important role as decoration.

A kit’alar is a calligraphic work written on a rectangular piece of paper pasted onto a cardboard backing. Equal margins are left around the calligraphy in which the artist decorates with marbled paper (ebru) or illumination. A murrakkalar is a series of kit’alar attached together in an album that resembles an accordion.


  1. As a class, examine Islamic calligraphy. Discuss with students the training process of apprentice calligraphers.
  2. Describe to students the religious and secular significance of calligraphy in Islamic art. Explain the materials, tools, and process of creating a calligraphic artwork. Emphasize to students the characteristics of Arabic writing: it is written only in cursive and is read from right to left, there are no capital letters, letters change form slightly depending on their position in the word, and short vowels are indicated by diacritical marks.
  3. Have students create a kit’alar and reed:
    1. Have students cut the end of a tongue depressor at angle about 35–40 degrees and then lightly sand it. On the cut end of the tongue depressor, make a one-inch slit using an exacto knife.
    2. Dip the “reed” into the ink. When writing, hold it similar to the way Western calligraphy pen. Practice writing the name using the ink and “reed.”
    3. Next, have students write their names name on the brown paper. Use a brush to touch up the letters.
    4. Using tempura ink, plain flower and plant motifs around the letters. Set it aside to dry.
    5. Cut a piece of decorative paper so it is one inch larger that the cardboard. Paste it onto the cardboard. Fold over the edges and glue them down.
    6. Have students paste their paintings in the center of the wrapped cardboard.
  4. Have students look up three adjectives that describe their personalities in an Arabic dictionary. Make a separate kit’alar for each of these words.
  5. Place the total of four kit’alar on the table with the one with your name on the far right. Tape them together with black tape.
  6. Turn them over and glue the bare side of the sections with decorative paper.
  7. Fold the sections together to make a small album.