19-October-2021

Pioneer Of Designing Arabic Alphabet On Computer

Pioneer Of Designing Arabic Alphabet On Computer

Prof. Ali honoured by Sharjah ruler

By: Rogia al-Shafee

KHARTOUM (Sudanow)—For ordinary people he might be one of thousands carrying a PhD titles before their names. But, to computer experts, language programmers, he stands aloof, a towering figure that introduced the calligraphy of a native language otherwise spoken by over one and half billion people in the Middle East and beyond: Arabic language, into the computer and computer programming industries.

Few people would even think of a Sudanese contributing to this smart industry that generate billions of billions of dollars a day. The country was attached to conflicts and hardship, but the other side of it has never been under focus.

Well he comes to illustrates the other eclipsed face of the coin: creative Sudanese that benefits not only his countrymen but billion of people who use Arabic script, from Indonesia in the far east to Senegal and Gambia in the far west and beyond.

The coming story tells it all:

Prof. Ahmed Abdul Rahman Ali, teacher of the Arabic calligraphy in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts in the University of Sudan, is the pioneer of designing the Arabic alphabet on the computer.

Interviewed by SUDANOW on his artistic and innovative career and on his internal and international participation, Prof. Ali said:

"It was my idea and the world's first experience of designing the Arabic alphabet to take up its position on the computer keyboard beside the Latin alphabets and all those who came afterwards were my students."

After graduating in the Fine and Applied Arts Faculty in the early 1960s and before the spread of the computer, Ali went to Britain for a Master's scholarship.

While he was studying in the British university, he noticed that a number of students of different nationalities used the computer in the Latin languages. Ali applied to his supervisor for approval for devoting his dissertation and graduation project to designing an Arabic script to insert in the computer keyboards. The supervisor welcomed the idea as fine and unprecedented which could encourage other students to develop designs that might be useful to them and to their communities back home.

Therefore Prof. Ali is considered as the first one who has laid down the first brick of designing Arabic alphabets for printing. He designed three types of alphabets to be printed, with the first one to be known as central, the second to carry his first name Ahmed and the third kind to be named after Huda, his wife and his life companion.

The three types were bought and owned by major computer companies after they were approved by international experts who were delighted that the Arabic calligraphy would be introduced to serve all the Arab peoples instead of the Latin alphabets which were prevalent at that time. Those Arabic alphabets are now being used after they were programmed in the computer.

All designers acknowledge that there was no soft word Arabic Language programme in all computer systems before the designs which were developed by Prof. Ali. Instead, they used to copy from a costly old American programme or from other alternative programmes or they use the English alphabet that corresponds to the Arabic one. But after the designs which were introduced by Prof. Ali, the Arabic alphabet took a position among the Latin alphabets and, moreover, it is borrowed by many African and other languages.    

After his return from Britain, Prof. Ali received an invitation from an international British company for a six-month visit to work with it on a contract for designing a new printed Arabic alphabet which the company would purchase and sell it internationally as part of its job of selling printers with which it would market the alphabets in exchange for an agreed upon percentage. He designed that alphabet and named it after his daughter Sara.

Prof. Ali returned home on request by the International Africa University for designing an Arabic calligraphy for unification of the method of writing on the computer for the African countries. 

Prof. Ali specialized in the Latin script to which he contributed a great deal. Moreover, he developed a new method for writing the Arabic alphabets by adding colors. He still teaches the Latin calligraphy and designs of the printed Arabic alphabets to the students of the sections of the calligraphy and demonstrative designs in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts.  

Prof. Ali has won several awards, including the Gold Medal for the Sudanese innovators from the University of Khartoum and the Gold Medal of Khartoum International Music Festival in addition to local and international honors he was accorded.  

Inter alia, Prof. Ali was honored in 2016 by Sharjah Emirate ruler Dr. Sultan al-Gassimi as part of the 7th Shargha Forum for Arab Calligraphy for his contribution to the printed alphabets as his experience of the Arabic calligraphy is regarded a valuable addition that had a remarkable contribution to making the Arabic alphabet occupy a distinguished position among other parallel arts.

Some of Prof. Ali's works

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