Arabic letters are not only beautiful on their own but when arranged into words, they communicate another level of meaning. If you are able to read the Arabic script, you should be able to read calligraphy. It takes time and practice.
Letters in calligraphic compositions are often interwoven, making them more challenging to read than printed Arabic. The Arabic fonts used for printing are often based on the Naskh script. Arabic script calligraphy, on the other hand, employs a number of different scripts. The best way to begin reading calligraphy is by familiarising yourself with how the letter shapes appear in each of the different scripts; along with how they are arranged.
See below for some tips.
If the letters of a composition are interwoven, there may not be a clear horizon line (the invisible horizontal line upon which letters sit). Sequential letters might be placed above or below each other, making words difficult to read. The best way to decipher this type of composition is by trying to recognize whole words.
If a composition is circular or teardrop-shaped, start reading in the lower right-hand corner. Lines in this type of composition are stacked vertically. Start in the lower-right hand corner and read from right to left, working your way up the page. (A few circular or teardrop-shaped compositions start at the top, but this is very rare).
Look for a keyword. Certain phrases are repeated over and over again in calligraphy. Often if you can read the first few letters, the rest of the phrase becomes apparent. An example of a phrase that is commonly written is Bismillah, the Islamic phrase for, “In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful, most kind.” Often a few letters or words are all that is needed to decipher these well-known passages or sayings.
Patience is key, with some pieces of calligraphic artwork, it can take a long time to be able to decipher a composition. If you can’t read it straight away, you can still enjoy its aesthetic beauty. A certain amount of ambiguity is part of the delight of Arabic calligraphy.