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Short URL: http://scripts.sil.org/ArabicScriptFAQ

Arabic Script FAQ

Lorna Evans, 2013-09-09


The Arabic Fonts page has been moved to a new web site. Please  click here for the new site.


The Arabic Fonts page has been moved to a new web site. Please  click here for the new site.

Table of contents for this page:

Question: How do I use Arabic script in Microsoft Office?

Answer: The ability to display right-to-left (RTL) and other complex scripts is built into the standard editions of Microsoft Office since Office 2000.

In the link below, a document template provides helpful hints on use of RTL scripts in Word 2000, Word 2002 and Word 2003. Included are general instructions for getting such scripts to work correctly, known bugs and weaknesses, and various tips and tricks. There are also some macros that may be helpful when working with RTL scripts.

The template is available here:  ABS Macros.

Question: How do I use Arabic script in LibreOffice?

Answer: There are probably many levels to this question. We'll start by getting you set up properly in  LibreOffice. First of all you should enable Complex Text Layout (CTL) in LibreOffice. Do this by going to Tools > Options > Language Settings > Languages. Then click on Show UI elements for Bi-Directional writing. Then go up to CTL and select an Arabic language such as Arabic (Saudi Arabia). Click on OK.

Turning on CTL in LibreOffice

Next, you should go to View > Toolbars and make sure Formatting is selected. You should now see the Right-to-Left (RTL) button.

LibreOffice RTL Formatting toolbar

You may need to restart LibreOffice before these buttons show up. Now, when you have Arabic script text you should make sure to select the text and click on the RTL button. This will ensure that all (or most) of your RTL directionality issues (such as punctuation and numbering) are resolved.

If you wish to input Arabic script text you will also want a keyboard. You can either choose one of the operating system keyboards or if you have a  Keyman keyboard you should associate it with an Arabic script language (such as Arabic (Saudi Arabia)). Associating your keyboard with Arabic (Saudi Arabia) should make LibreOffice switch to the Arabic (Saudi Arabia) language when you select your keyboard.

Question: I am experiencing what appears to be corruption of my data in LibreOffice when I use Scheherazade. What is the matter and how do I fix it?

Answer: It is important that you have the latest version of  LibreOffice installed as that fixes some potential bugs.

However, the problem is likely related to how Windows handles font installation. Some of our Scheherazade font testers have experienced this problem. It is likely caused because font testers were installing the font numerous times in testing. If you go to the Command Prompt and look in your C:\Windows\Fonts folder, you may discover that you have various versions of Scheherazade in that folder:


These various versions of the font will not show up if you just go to your font folder in Windows Explorer, they only show up if you go to the Command Prompt. It is important to get rid of all of these, reboot and then reinstall the latest version of Scheherazade. Hopefully that will resolve your problem.

Question: Why is the line spacing in Scheherazade v 2.000 so much looser than in Scheherazade 1.005?

Answer: Our Arabic fonts include characters with multiple stacked diacritics that need a much looser line spacing (for example, U+06D1  with a vowel below would need a lot of space!). We cannot make the line spacing tighter without experiencing “clipping” of those characters. You may be able to overcome this by adjusting the line spacing in the application. For example, in Microsoft Word select Format / Paragraph and set the line spacing to use the Exactly setting and a value more suited to your needs. For example, if the font size is 12 pt, select line spacing of Exactly 13 pt. This will give a tighter line spacing. You can adjust the value up or down depending on how many diacritics you need to stack. With HTML you should also be able to change the line spacing; add the line-height property to your HTML element or CSS style (“line-height: 105%;” or “line-height: 12pt;”) and play around with the value until you get the spacing desired.

We have provided a "Tight" version of our font for download and even a "1.0 Compatible" version of Scheherazade. This is available from TypeTuner Web. Just select Scheherazade and choose the Line spacing feature you desire. Then download the font. Be aware that it will have a different font name.

Question: How do I get correct display for "Chapter:Verse" references using a regular "Roman" colon?

Answer: In RTL texts a “chapter:verse” reference is often written as "verse:chapter" or "endverse-startverse:chapter". For example:

ChapterVerseLTR rendering:Desired RTL rendering:
1 2 1:2 2:1
12 34-56 12:34-56 56-34:12

Digits can display in different orders, depending on the punctuation around them.

Consider whether you want:

LTR RenderingCodepointsRTL RenderingComment
a 12:34-56 U+0031, U+0032, U+200F, U+003A, U+0033, U+0034, U+200F, U+002D, U+0035, U+0036 56-34:12 RLM before colon and before hyphen
b 12:34-56 U+0031, U+0032, U+200F, U+003A, U+0033, U+0034, U+200E, U+002D, U+0035, U+0036 34-56:12 RLM before colon and LRM before hyphen

For option a, the RLM (U+200F RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK) is inserted before the colon and before the hyphen. For option b, the RLM is inserted before the colon and the LRM (U+200E LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK) is inserted before the hyphen. Option b is rather unusual, but it is used in some regions.

This was tested in LibreOffice and NotePad. It is important to insert the marks in both positions in order to have consistent behavior across different applications. Unfortunately, Word has its own issues with how it handles this. The  RTL scripts in Microsoft Office template will be useful to read and use for Word documents.

Question: Some of the characters in the Arabic Supplement block and none of the new characters in the Arabic Extended-A block are rendering correctly. How can I resolve this problem?

Answer: The font supports  Graphite rendering. See  this page for a list of all applications supporting Graphite rendering.

The font also supports the OpenType shaping features specified by  Microsoft. The result is that the fonts work pretty well in Microsoft Office XP (or later) as well as in most  Uniscribe-based applications such as  Paratext 6+ and  Toolbox. Uniscribe in versions of Windows prior to Windows 8.1 does not include support for Unicode 6.1 and so does not support the Arabic Extended-A characters (U+08A0..U+08FF), nor a few new characters in the 06xx block. Windows 8.1 supports all Arabic script characters through Unicode 6.1 (including the new  Arabic Extended-A characters). Mozilla's  Firefox and  Thunderbird do provide OpenType support for the new Arabic Extended-A characters.

 International Components for Unicode (ICU) includes a shaping engine for Arabic text and thus applications such as XeTeX that use ICU Layout will be able to render text using SIL's Arabic fonts. The ICU Layout library used in XeTeX (TeXLive 2012) has been updated to support the Arabic Supplement characters added in Unicode 5.1 (but not 6.1).

XeTeX (from TeXLive 2013 on) now supports the HarfBuzz shaper which supports Graphite as well as all Unicode characters through Unicode 6.1.

The rendering engine in Adobe's InDesign CS6 has also been updated to support the Arabic Supplement characters added in Unicode 5.1 (but not 6.0, 6.1 or 7.0).

Contact Us

As our fonts and utilities are distributed at no cost, we are unable to provide a commercial level of personal technical support. We will, however, try to resolve problems that are reported to us.

We do hope that you will report problems so they can be addressed in future releases. Even if you are not having any specific problems, but have an idea on how this system could be improved, we want to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Please note that our software products are intended for use by experienced computer users. Installing and using them is not a trivial matter. The most effective technical support is usually provided by an experienced computer user who can personally sit down with you at your computer to troubleshoot the problem.

General troubleshooting information, including frequently asked questions, can be found in the documentation. Additional information is also available on the FAQ pages. If that fails to answer your question, please feel free to contact us!

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