An Explanation about Arabic Character Sets

Remember ISO-8859-6 is Mac and Unix, CP-1256 is Windows

Poetry and Texts in Arabic

Chaper 4 of Taha Husayn's "Al-Ayyaam"
Nizar Qabbani's Mata Yu`linun Wafat al-`Arab    
ISO 8859-6
CP 1256
The Five Pillars of Islam
ISO 8859-6
CP 1256
al-Jurjani's Risalah fi al-Wujud
ISO 8859-6
CP 1256
Abu Hanifah's al-Fiqh al-Akbar
ISO 8859-6
CP 1256
Mu@allaqat Umru' al-Qays
ISO 8859-6
CP 1256
Surat l-Baqara
ISO 8859-6
CP 1256
I discovered these pages in one of the links in a network of Web sites called the "Arab Ring". These pages had a !"<""Meta tag"">" declaring the use of the 8859-6 charset which caused my browser on my Mac, Netscape 3.0, to override my default display options and display these pages in the fonts selected for the "Western" option rather than my selected "User-defined" option. Below are two links to a story typed in, in the Arabic character set 8859-6. One with the tag and one without. The one without, if you are using Netscape on a Mac will display in whatever fonts you have selected in your display options profile for the profile which you have currently selected. The one with the !"<""Meta tag"">" tag, will, if you are using Netscape on a Mac, display in whatever fonts you have selected for your "Western" display options profile regardless of which profile you have currently selected. These pages still have their original link into the home page that will take you back into the "Arab Ring"
Story in Arabic, 8859-6, no meta tag
Story in Arabic, 8859-6, with the meta tag
for completeness I have converted the 8859 in CP1256, and have copied up two versions of the files in CP1256 to see if any of the Windows-based browsers get overly happy about this tag. These files can be browsed:
Story in Arabic, MicroSoft CP-1256, no meta tag
Story in Arabic, MicroSoft CP-1256, with the meta tag

The Arabic Book Center Catalog

Unfortunately the Arabic Book Center in SF has finally closed down after being open for more than 10 years and after changing hands at least three times that I am aware of.

The most recent owner, Salem Wali-Ali, is still selling his remaining inventory by mail. He can be reached at
and the URL for his Web page is = Arabic Artext.
Some of the titles that were available when the store was open are shown below.
  • Arabic Literature (8859-6)
  • Arabic Literature (CP-1256)
  • Children's Books(8859-6)
  • Children's Books(CP-1256)
  • Critical Works (8859-6)
  • Critical Works (CP-1256)
  • Cuisine(8859-6)
  • Cuisine(CP-1256)
  • Dictionaries(8859-6)
  • Dictionaries(CP-1256)
  • History(8859-6)
  • History(CP-1256)
  • Political Science (English)
  • Syntax & Grammar (8859-6)
  • Syntax & Grammar (CP-1256)
  • Various Non-Fiction(8859-6)
  • Various Non-Fiction(CP-1256)

  • Arab News Folder

    Al-Moharer International - Home Page
    Al Manar Television
    AlHayat Home Page
    Asharq Al Awsat Home Page
    Arabic : Arabic Newspapers and Magazines
    An-Nahar, the Lebanese Nwespaper This site supports ISO-8859-6, the Arabic code page used by Macs and Unix. Text is also presented in PDF format.
    SRM Home Page

    Arab TV and Radio on the Web

    LBC TV news Live
    ANA Radio Live
    The Arab Corner: Arab TV & Radio
    Tunisia National Radio, The News
    Tunisia National TV, The News

    Arabic Language Institutes

    ALIF program
    International Language Institute in Egypt I have studied Arabic under a lot of different folks, and I must say that these guys are the best when it comes to teaching Arabic.
    Yemen Language Center International Office Main Site

    Arab film links

    Welcome to August Light Productions
    Arab Film Festival:All Films
    Arab Film Distribution Home Page
    Arab Film Festival 1998

    Teaching Arabic Links

    ATLAS Symposium
    Languages and Linguistics
    Al Kitaab I
    American Association of Teachers of Arabic

    Arabic SW support on WWW

    Arabic Home Page
    Arabic ISO 8859-6 Web page links
    Ayna? - How to view Arabic pages (MAC)
    Diwan: Arabic Software for the Mac
    KnowledgeView home
    Language Systems for Arabic and Islamic Software
    Nicholas Heer's Home Page
    This is the Sakhr Software Company Web site in Egypt.
    Welcome to ayna -
    Xerox Research Centre Europe: Arabic Input

    Islamic Sites

    The Whole Dunya Bookstore: All the Knowledge That Fits

    Palestine Stuff

    Law Society Home Page
    Welcome to Palestine!
    Center for Research & Documentation
    PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs - JerusalemPASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
    ICAS MEPP Page
    PalEcon: Home Page
    Palestinian Research Institutes and Centers
    PDIN/PRRN Bulletin Board
    Personnel of the United Nations Development Programme
    Personnel of the United Nations Development Programme
    Gush Shalom - recommended links
    Hebron Home Page

    Iraq Activism

    Iraq Action Message Board
    ADC Ann Arbor
    Depleted Uranium Report
    Medicine for Iraq
    International Action Center Homepage
    Salam Review
    Human Rights Page
    Iraq's WWW Sites
    Iraq Action Coalition

    Berber language and culture on the Web

    TAMAZIGHT, un rpertoire de sites amazighes
    Berber Culture Directory

    University Mid-East Sites

    ACSweb American University in Cairo
    Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies (CMENAS)University of Michigan
    MIT Arab Student Organization's Home Page

    Arabic Bookstores

    Arabic Book Center
    Leila Books
    Schoenhof's - Languages
    Smitskamp Oriental Antiquarian Booksellers Homepage

    Various Other Links

    Al Jadid - Arabic Culture
    American Institute for Yemeni Studies
    Arabia. On. Line:
    Directory of /public/heer/atexts
    Directory of /public/heer/charset
    Encyclopaedia of the Orient
    Images of Morocco
    Introduction to the Francophone Literature of the Maghreb
    Lawrence of Arabia Factfile - Home Page
    Qalam Index
    Welcome to Arabnet
    Vellum Gallery: links of interest to Calligraphers
    Welcome to Leb.Net

    A word about Arabic Characters on the Internet

    I guess people who aren't well-versed in the ins and outs of Arabic Web-browsing might need a little word of explanation. There are two incompatible character-set standards in general use today for Arabic in the world of personal computing. One is ISO 8859-6, which is sort of based on what we used to call ASCII, with an agreed upon 8-bit mapping for values between 128-255 which correspond to specific Arabic symbols. This character-set mapping was agreed upon by the UN standards committee which is currently called the International Standards Orgnization. It has a vague resemblance to the 7-bit mapping that had been agreed upon by the now disbanded UN committee CCITT (Commite Consultatif International pour Telephone et Telegraph?) in its proposed standard for Arabic Interchange characters defined in the document CCITT-52. By flipping on bit-8 of each Arabic character in your file you can transfer your CCITT-52 characters into ISO-8859-6, more or less. From perusing the literature I'm not even sure if CCITT-52 ever saw much use.

    The ISO 8859-6 character set is the one used by Unix systems and by the Macintosh Arabic Language kit. As long as you have Arabic support on your computer AND you are using a Macintosh or Unix, you can view ISO-8859-6 Web documents by selecting an Arabic font inside of Netscape and things will, more or less, be alright.

    Microsoft with its killer market share, however, chose not to follow the ISO-8859-6 character set and invented one of their very own, which they called CP-1256. I find this rather puzzling. They followed the ISO 8859-n (5 or 7, I think) character for Hebrew, but they invented their own, CP-1251, for Cyrillic and their own non-standard character mappings for a couple of other non-Latin alphabet orthographies. My only guess is that they were trying to make it a bit more difficult for folks in those countries who might want to use a non-Windows-based machine. What with Microsoft's current bail-out of Apple, I don't know how much weight I can give to this explanation.

    Using Windows you can with either Netscape or the Microsoft Windows 95 browser (I forget its name) read any Arabic documents created with the CP-1256 Arabic character set, by selecting your Arabic font under the appropriate Options' menu. Sakhr Software in Egypt has a plug-in for Netscape and their own browser I believe, which will let you read the ISO-8859-6 Arabic character set using the Windows operating system on an Intel processor based machine. There are some other browsers for Windows which can read ISO-8859-6, but unfortunately neither your vanilla Netscape nor the Microsoft browser will display Arabic documents written using ISO-8859-6.

    So, now we have two different and incompatible (Arabic diglossia in the world of DataCom?) character sets for Arabic on the Web. As a Macintosh user, I put most of my stuff up using 8859-6, and then use a little utility to convert my 8859-6 into Microsoft's CP-1256 character mapping. This means that I don't get to see my CP-1256 documents and that makes it difficult for me to catch any mistakes. At this point in time I don't see any choice but to put up all documents in both formats and let the user choose which format they are using. The other choices which people have opted for are to:

    1. scan their Arabic documents as JPG files. This side-steps the issue of which character set to use, but these image files are large and take a long time to download. Another major drawback is that you cannot search these files for text strings.
    2. put their Arabic documents onto the Web as Adobe Acrobat image files (PDF). Again the images take a long time to download, cannot be searched and to top it all off you need to have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, which goes through about three SW revision releases a year.
    3. create java applets to display their Arabic documents. My version of Netscape Navigator (3.01) on the Macintosh, does not display any of the implementations of this that I have seen. My version of Netscape Communicator, runs out of memory (32 megabytes), before it can download the entire applet, which causes my machine to crash. I don't consider this an option which is usable to me.
    To make things worse, in my not so humble opinion, there is a third character set in the works called Unicode which is not compatible with either of the current character sets. Unicode is also a 16-bit character mapping which will double the size of all character transfers, if not the size of all data files. I think most users do not want to be forced to convert all of their existing character data and double their disk usage at the same time. Unicode has been stalled in various talk-only committees for about 5 years now. Interestingly enough, all three of these character sets preserve the Latin character mapping originally used by the ASCII standard.

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