Bearing inventory number CBL Is 1558, the Chester Beatty Library’s so-called Ruzbihan Qur’an is surely one of the finest Islamic manuscripts in existence. It was produced in the city of Shiraz, in southwest Iran and, although undated, work on it was likely begun about 1550. By that date, Shiraz had been a major centre of book production for at least two centuries. Production was mainly commercial—with Shiraz manuscripts exported far and wide within the Islamic world—but fine manuscripts, the result of princely or other high-level patronage, were also produced there.
The calligrapher of the Chester Beatty Qur’an was Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘i al-Shirazi, whom Qadi Ahmad singles out as one of the four great calligraphers of sixteenth-century Shiraz. In his well-known treatise on calligraphers and painters, Qadi Ahmad underscores the high esteem in which these four calligraphers were held by telling us that most of the other renowned calligraphers, not only in Shiraz, but in all of Fars, Khurasan, Kirman and Iraq, were ‘mere eaters of the crumbs from their table’. Although a calligrapher of such high regard would have copied the text of numerous manuscripts over the course of his career, only five Qur’ans signed by Ruzbihan, including the Chester Beatty manuscript, have survived to this day, while another manuscript, a copy of the Qasida of Imam ‘Ali Riza, is also signed by him.
Ruzbihan copied the text of the Chester Beatty manuscript onto large sheets of highly burnished, slightly off-white paper, each measuring approximately 42.7 x 29 cm. The arrangement of the text on the page consists of a series of panels containing long lines of large-scale script (muhaqqaq in the upper and lower panels but thulth in the middle panel) and shorter lines of small-scale script (naskh). The lines of naskh script were copied in black ink, but the lines of muhaqqaq and thulth were copied in either blue or gold ink, with the placement of the blue and gold inks alternating from opening to opening, further complicating an already complicated arrangement of the text. For each type of script, the nib of the reed pen was cut in a specific manner, so each page is the result of using three different scripts, at least three different pens and three different colours of ink. The copying of the text was, therefore, an especially long and labourious task, as well as a costly one, for the large lines of script meant fewer words could be fitted onto each page and therefore more sheets of expensive paper were required: the large (and heavy) manuscript consists of 445 folios, or 890 pages.
Overall, the manuscript had survived the centuries well, except for one major problem: on each page, the text is framed by a series of thin bands and lines of gold and coloured pigments, including a corrosive, copper-bearing green pigment known as atacamite, which, over the centuries, had burned through the paper. As a result, on many folios, the paper was split along the green framing line, sometimes with the rectangular section of the text almost completely dislodged from the surrounding paper. This meant the manuscript could no longer be safely handled, and so, in 2012, it was decided to remove the manuscript’s binding to allow the folios to be conserved. Once all the damaged folios had been repaired (and before the manuscript was rebound), a lengthy period of research on the manuscript was undertaken, which culminated, in the summer of 2016, in an exhibition at the Chester Beatty and then, in 2018, in the publication of a book on the manuscript, entitled Lapis and Gold, Exploring Chester Beatty’s Ruzbihan Qur’an, by the Chester Beatty’s then Curator of the Islamic Collections, Elaine Wright.
With the folios loose, they could be much more easily and safely manipulated than if bound, and the resulting close study of the manuscript—often with the aid of a microscope—revealed many surprises, one of which was the discovery of omissions and errors in the text. Although it is often said that the act of copying out the text of the Qur’an is one of reverence, calligraphers are of course only human, and no matter how careful one is, small slip-ups are bound to occur, especially when the copying of the text was as complicated a matter as it was with the Ruzbihan Qur’an. Omissions most often occurred when the same word or phrase appeared in close sequence within the text, with the calligrapher omitting the second occurrence of the word or phrase. If the omission was caught, the omitted text was usually added by squeezing it between the existing lines of text, in a small hand. Actual errors—usually just a wrong letter or wrong word—could be fixed, if caught when the ink was still damp, by licking the paper to remove the ink; once the paper had dried, the correct letter or word was added.
The information presented above is drawn from Parts 1-3 of Lapis and Gold, which, following a brief introduction, focus on Ruzbihan and his contribution to the production of the manuscript and then on the specific features of the manuscript that facilitate the reading and recitation of the holy text. The latter includes a discussion of the small devices that mark the end of each verse, which, though found in all copies of the Qur’an, are treated with a level of detail and precision absent in almost all other manuscripts of the time. The care lavished on these tiny devices is reflected, on a much grander scale, by the other, unusually fine illuminations found throughout the manuscript, which are the focus of Parts 4-5 of the book.
Indeed, although the manuscript is renowned for being in the hand of Ruzbihan, it is equally the combined quality, extent, complexity and diversity of its overall decorative program that sets the manuscript apart from almost all others of its time. Moreover, while the text was copied by a single individual, it is clear that a large team of highly skilled, but now anonymous artists and craftsmen was responsible for the decoration. Especially magnificent are the five fully illuminated, double-page openings—and one single page—that mark the beginning, middle and end of the manuscript. As in most manuscripts, illuminated headings mark the beginning of each sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, but those in the Ruzbihan Qur’an are much more varied in terms of both composition and palette than is typical for the sixteenth century. Close examination of these illuminations revealed that when painting areas with a gold ground, the artist first added the gold and then painted the coloured pigments on top of it. However, if the deep blue pigment made from ground-up lapis lazuli was to be used for the ground, then all the gold and coloured details—no matter how tiny—were painted in first and, then, the dark blue ground was painted in around them. This reversal of the process was necessary because of the nature of the blue pigment, which absorbs any colour painted on top of it.
In most manuscripts, the small vertical panels at either side of the short lines of naskh script are undecorated or, at best, are very simply decorated. But in the Ruzbihan Qur’an, each of these more than 3,500 panels is beautifully decorated. One of the two types of decoration used consists of that seen elsewhere throughout the manuscript, namely a gold ground overpainted with multi-coloured blossoms. The other—used for more than eighty-five per cent of the panels—is much more extraordinary. It consists of separate pieces of paper dyed in a wide range of often unusual colours and overpainted with tiny lotuses and other blossoms, mainly using thin wash-like pigments. So far, this technique of dying, over-painting with washes and pasting in place separate pieces of papers has not been seen in any other manuscript.
Curiously, the illuminations at the end of the manuscript exhibit a startling change in aesthetic, an obvious change of taste that can be seen in broad terms as a move from a more classical style of decoration (as used in the shamsas and frontispiece) to one in which earlier norms of beauty seem to be discarded, replaced by what often seems an almost discordant conglomeration of patterns and colours. In some cases, existing illuminations have been overpainted, but this was not a much later re-working of the illuminations for there are clear indications that the artists responsible were the same ones who produced all other illuminations in the manuscript. Moreover, once started, this re-working of the manuscript was soon halted, for only the final fourteen openings are either partially or fully affected.
What prompted the decisions to begin and then end the re-working of the illuminations is not known.
Lapis and Gold, Exploring Chester Beatty’s Ruzbihan Qur’an, by Elaine Wright (with an essay on pigments by Kristine Rose Beers) Ad Ilissum/Paul Holberton Publishing, London. 320 pages, 430 colour illustrations.
[Editor’s note: The book, Lapis and Gold, is available on Amazon or from the publisher. A complete digitized version of the Ruzbihan Qur’an (CBL Is 1558) can also be viewed on the Chester Beatty Library website.]
*Dr. Elaine Wright worked as Curator of the Islamic Collections at the Chester Beatty Library from 1998 to 2017, where she was responsible for the care, management and public display of the Library’s more than 6,000 Islamic manuscripts and single-page paintings and calligraphies.
Her main area of research is manuscript production in the Persianate world. In addition to Lapis and Gold, she is the author of Islam: Faith, Art, Culture, Manuscripts of the Chester Beatty Library (2009) and The Look of the Book: Manuscript Production in Shiraz, 1303-1452 (2012); she is also the main author of Muraqqa‘, Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library (2008).
Note: The following content is the courtesy of al-Furqan Heritage Foundation (London). In November 2019, Al-Furqan hosted its 9th conference in Istanbul to which I, Ahmed Wisam Shakir, participated by presenting a paper entitled “Yemen’s Qurans: The Discoveries of Qur’anic Parchments in the Great Mosque of Sana’a”. The paper was praised by panellists and reflected on byAsmaHilali. Alllectures and discussion sessions were recorded and uploaded on YouTube.
Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation – The Centre for the Study of Islamic Manuscripts organised the 2nd international conference dedicated to the Qur’an manuscripts, titled “The Noble Qur’ān from Revelation to Compilation” (2)., which took place on Saturday and Sunday, 9-10 November 2019, in Istanbul, Turkey. Ten specialist researchers from different countries participated in this second conference. This conference was convened in response to the majority of recommendations made in the first conference on the same subject, held on Saturday and Sunday, 26-27 November 2017, at the same location. The majority of that conference’s participants had requested more in-depth studies and further discussion on the critical historical stage of compilation and transcription of the Qur’ān.
The first day was distinguished by two scientific sessions, which followed the opening session where Mr Sali Shahsivari, the Managing Director of Al-Furqan, delivered a speech on behalf of Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation. Mr Shahsivari welcomed the esteemed scholars and researchers participating in the conference, thanked them for enduring sleepless nights and tiring travel to prepare for and attend this conference, and praised their cooperation with the conference organising committee. He expressed his sincere wishes to all the participants for a pleasant and enjoyable time in Istanbul, and continued success in their scientific endeavours. He reflected on the fact that the conference coincided with an occasion dear to the hearts of Muslims, namely the birth of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. It also complemented the work of the first conference, and was a positive response to the recommendations of Al-Furqān’s Board of Experts. This body had advised that Al-Furqān Foundation focus attention on the Noble Qur’ān from the phase of revelation to that of collation and transcription. The conference also represented a worthy scientific effort added to the commendable work executed by Al-Furqān Foundation in the service of Islamic heritage.
Mr Shahsivari also emphasised that the conference aimed to pave the way for a substantial scientific project that challenges the specious arguments (shubuhāt) posed by some orientalists in their writings about the critical phase of compiling the Qur’ān.
Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Member of the Board of Directors of Al-Furqan, moderated the first scientific session, in which Dr Ghanim Qaddouri al-Hamad, Dr Adel Ibrahim Abu Shaar, and Dr Mohamad Khazir Salih al-Majali, each presented a scientific paper.
Dr. Ghanim Qaddouri al-Hamad’s paper explored the topic “Recording the Qur’ān in writing during the Prophetic era”. He emphasised the topic’s importance, and cited the misleading ideas persisting in the minds of researchers, most notably orientalists. This was because the majority of such workers lacked the texts, evidences, and emerging facts on the issue that would add weight to existing material found in Qur’ān history and sciences textbooks. Dr al-Hamad alluded to the opinions of scholars on the issue of Qur’ān writing during the Prophetic era, where some Companions, may God be pleased with them, had undertaken this duty. He considered that opinion was divided between two camps: one considered that written recording was complete, based on authentic Islamic traditions and reports, while the other considered this to have been only partial; the latter being embraced by orientalists and their like, despite such a claim lacking solid evidence to support it.
The first addressed the majority of opinions regarding the written compilation of the Noble Qur’ān.
The second addressed writing in the Prophet’s time, its instruments and system.
The third focused on the writing of the Noble Qur’ān by the scholars among the Noble Companions, directly supervised by the Prophet peace be upon him. Indeed, when the Prophet peace be upon him passed away, he had been satisfied that the Qur’ān was preserved to memory and also written down. Furthermore, the orthography of the Muṣ’ḥaf was also prey to the same phenomena of omission, interpolation, etc., as was common in Arabic orthography.
The third paper titled “The truth of ‘Uthmān’s (may Allah be pleased with him) action in abrogating Qur’ān copies”by Dr. Mohamad Khazir Salih al-Majali, examined the issue of ‘Uthmān, may Allah be pleased with him, ordering for the Qur’ān – collated during the times of both the Prophet and his successor, Caliph Abū Bakr peace be upon him – to be transcribed once more, in such a way that took into consideration all the established facets of reading. This was performed by a committee composed of the most knowledgeable Companions on the Qur’ān. He then instructed copies of this Muṣ’ḥaf to be sent to all the territories, in the company of one or more teachers, and subsequently, destroyedall other Qur’ān copies.
This session witnessed rich discussion, focusing on the necessity of distinguishing between the three phases of compilation of the Muṣḥaf, namely the time of the Messenger, peace be upon him, the time of Caliph Abǖ Bakr al-Ṣiddīq, and finally, its re-issue by ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān. In addition, discussion also stressed the need to examine and authenticate the chains of narration (sanad) and content (matn) of reports describing this phase, to enable sound scientific conclusions to be drawn. At the same time, granting due attention to the Qur’ān script (rasm), orthography and diacritics, and confronting all the specious claims made in this regard.
Dr. Ghanim Qaddouri al-Hamad presided over the evening session, comprising the presentation of three papers.
The first by Dr Iyad Salim Salih al-Samarrai was titled“Qur’ān manuscripts and their role in confirming uncommon narrations relating to orthography, pointing and diacritics”. He alluded to the importance of studying history of Qur’ān orthography and script, and the methodological foundations on which this was established. He mentioned the most prominent diacritics and dotting (i‘jām) marks used in Qur’ān manuscript copies examined by eminent scholars of this science in the past, and described in their authored works. These marks are absent in the orthography of current Qur’ān copies, and as such many researchers and persons interested in the Noble Qur’ān and its sciences are unacquainted with them.
The second paper was presented by Dr Karim Ifraq, titled “History of compilation of the Noble Qur’ān: A comparative codicological study of early Qur’ān copies”. He attempted to refute some of this specious arguments raised by orientalists about the compilation phase of the Noble Qur’ān. For this purpose, he presented a set of traditional, transmitted textual (naqlī) and rational (‘aqlī) proofs, as well as material evidence extracted from comparing between the oldest copies of the Noble Qur’ān; these establish evidence that Qur’ān compilation was free of these specious claims, as well as affirm the fact that Allah, the Almighty, had protected it from change.
The third presentation was given by Dr Ahmad bin Mohammed Al-Dubayan, titled “Methodological criticism of the theory of Syriac and Aramaic texts in the Noble Qur’ān”. He began by summarising the majority of orientalist studies relating to the Noble Qur’ān, and refuted some of the orientalist studies based on the hypothesis that foundational texts existed within the Noble Qur’ān that originated from the books of older religions, Judaism and Christianity especially. He explained that this was a purely philological hypothesis, lacking in historical, archaeological, and scientific evidence, and betrays a large gap in understanding the language commonalities between Semitic peoples.
This session was followed by rich discussions and scientific responses, mostly focused on the necessity of subjecting archaic Qur’ān manuscripts to proper codicological studies, then examining them in light of Muṣ’ḥafscience, extracting the canonical readings (qirā’āt), script, vocalisation marks and diacritics, text divisions, and verse count. Moreover, to review orientalist writings on the compilation phase of the Noble Qur’ān, and prepare robust scientific responses.
On the second day of the conference, two sessions were convened:
The morning session was presided over by Mr Sali Shahsivari, Managing Director of Al-Furqān, where three papers were presented.
Professor Mohamad Kharubat presented the paper titled “Orientalists and the Qur’ān canonical readings from the book ’The History of the Qurʾān’ by Theodor Nöldeke”. He chose this work as representative of orientalist writings on the Qur’ān, given that it is the oldest, most prominent and renowned. It covered the issues of compilation and transcription, order of chapters (sūrah), canonical readings, script or rasm, among others. Professor Kharubat concluded that it contained many spurious claims in concepts and terminology, and random comparisons between the Qur’ān copies attributed to the Noble Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. However, it still exerted a significant influence on the majority of studies that followed; indeed, it also influenced some Arabic studies of the Noble Qur’ān.
The second paper by Dr Ahmad Wisam Shakir titled “Yemen’s Muṣḥaf copies: The discoveries of Qur’ān parchments in Sanaa Grand Mosque” presented the most important manuscript finds in the period from 1965 to 2018 CE. The majority were Qur’ān parchments, of which he prepared a descriptive study, and illustrated the processes taken to classify, conserve, treat, preserve and catalogue them. He then presented a general overview in terms of the script and colours used in the writing and decoration, etc. He also discussed and refuted the controversy raised in the West alleging that these finds contradict the current Qur’ān text.
Dr Ahmad Muflih al-Qudat delivered the third paper titled “Response to the ‘Corpus Coranicum’ project: Reflections on the terms ’Qur’ān’ and ’Book (kitāb)’ ”. He attempted to describe the Corpus Coranicum project in its origins, history and aims through two terms: the first being the given term “Qur’ān”, which indicates preservation through memorisation, by unbroken chain of narrators (sanad muttaṣil), and robust correct rendition; the second being the given name “Kitābor Book”, meaning compilation and writing of the Revelation in the Prophet’s time, and in the time of the two Caliphs, Abū Bakr and ‘Uthmān, may Allah be pleased with them. He refuted the thesis of those who proposed reading the Qur’ān by meaning, by highlighting the importance of verbal transmission of the Noble Qur’ān, and that variances in readings were explicitly and authentically attributable to the Prophet, peace be upon him.
This presentation was followed by a contribution by Dr. Asma Hilali, who attempted to evaluate the scientific studies conducted on the Yemen manuscripts. She mentioned some of the obstacles that impeded such studies, and presented her experience in studying Yemenite parchments, focused on the “upper text” (accepted) and the “lower text” (erased). She concluded in her study that there were only slight differences in the ”lower text”, such as order, extra letters, or other; And that these errors were probably the reason why the text was erased. At the end of her presentation, she expressed her wish that the Yemenite parchments would be digitised, in order to ease the work of interested researchers and scholars.
This was followed by intensive discussion and scholarly responses, mostly centred on the reasons why specious arguments existed in orientalist books and studies. Moreover, the need to re-examine these works using a refined methodology, and prepare robust scientific responses by expert scholars.
The evening session was presided over by Mr. Mohamed Drioueche, Head of Projects and Publications at Al-Furqan, and was distinguished by a lecture delivered by Dr. Abdallah Abdul Rahman al-Khatib, titled “Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān: Reflections on the problematic issues of objectivity, bias, and knowledge perspective”. The researcher began by mentioning an established fact relating to the dominance of western colonial bias in Qur’ān studies. This had purposely ignored all Islamic methodologies of transmission and compilation. He then introduced the work, Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān, from the methodological and objective perspective, with examples extracted from within. He concluded by presenting critical perspectives into some of its older, but repeated content, that had simply been repackaged. He concluded that the Encyclopaedia presents the western view of Qur’ān studies, and completely neglects the Islamic perspective of the topic. This in itself was sufficient to judge it as lacking objectivity.
The lecture was followed by an open session with Dr Ghanim Qaddouri al-Hamad, Dr Ahmad bin Mohammed Al-Dubayan, and Dr Karim Ifraq.
Dr Ghanim emphasised the importance of the project to re-examine the canonical readings in light of dotted Qur’ān copies from the first three centuries. He advocated establishing a database dedicated to the canonical readings through the centuries, while quite urgently following, translating, and scientifically refuting all that has been written by Orientalists. He suggested that the forthcoming conference address scientific studies relating to the origins and evolution of Arabic script and orthography, on the basis of archaic material evidence.
Dr Al-Dubayan impressed upon the necessity of completing the important and grand project started by Al-Furqān Foundation through the previous two conferences. He hoped this would open the door for other specialised scholars to deepen and enrich studies on the topic. Furthermore, he highlighted the necessity of directing the younger generation to the original sources and scientific studies that are necessary references in the Quranic studies, so that they are not affected by the orientalists’ distortions and malady.
Dr Karim Ifraq thanked Al-Furqān Foundation for this distinguished conference, covering a large gap in this fine scientific discipline, requiring coordinated and intensive efforts to refute all the specious arguments posed by orientalists.
Dr Abdallah Abdul Rahman al-Khatib emphasised that work in this domain must be as a collective, and within the framework of a specialised organisation supervising the preparation of a scientific encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān, which presents the Islamic perspective in both Arabic and world languages.
This was followed by an open discussion session, focused on the necessity of understanding the orientalist methodology and discourse to successfully respond. It was also emphasised not to underestimate the efforts that had been undertaken in this domain. Yet, in parallel, it was necessary to continue work through further coordination and unified efforts.
Finally, the recommendations of the conference were read out. In the closing speech, Mr Mohamed Drioueche, thanked all the participating scholars, and all those credited with the conference’s organisation, headed by His Excellency Ahmad Zaki Yamani, Chairman of Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, and his son, Mr Sharaf Zaki Yamani, as well as all those who had contributed in small or large part to the success of the conference.
The conference concluded – as it had begun – with a recitation of verses from the Noble Qur’ān.
The conference delegates agreed on the need for:
1- Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation to continue working tirelessly in the critical civilizational domain of defending the Muṣḥaf, i.e. the written copy of the Noble Qur’ān—Muslim’s holiest book, by organising a third conference, addressing areas additional to those raised in the previous two, namely the origins and evolution of Arabic orthography, by commissioning scholars to present detailed studies in surveying, reviewing, and following-up biased writings against Qur’ān manuscript copies, in orientalist studies or projects (e.g. Corpus Coranicum, and Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān), and to subject these to scrutiny and criticism, in highlighting errors and uncovering the “specious arguments (shubuhāt)” framed within such works.
2- Support to be given to studies focusing on Qur’ān manuscript copies. convening conferences, training courses, symposia, and workshops related to these; establishing a research journal specialised in Qur’ān manuscripts, and organising exhibitions to promote this area. Moreover, setting a plan for analytical cataloguing, and imaging of Qur’ān manuscripts, along with a description of their scientific, historical, and aesthetic value, and making such resources available to scholars and researchers.
3- Serious consideration to be given to institutionalise the collective effort of Muslim scholars with the goal of authoring an encyclopaedia of Qur’ān manuscripts, which provides an appropriate description of such manuscripts in European world languages.
4- Work to establish the science of the Muṣḥaf, as one of the sciences of the Noble Qur’ān, in particular, and key Islamic sciences, in general, by offeringMuṣḥafstudies within the higher education context, both in academic teaching and scientific research.
5- Work to establish an international scientific organisation to act as an umbrella for centres, academies, institutes, and leading experts in the Noble Qur’ān sciences, and to include the science of theMuṣḥaf, in the same vein as the international scientific academy for Quranic andMuṣḥaf studies, where Qur’ān manuscripts from the world’s libraries and museums are collected. This would be supervised by expert scholars specialised in the areas of exegesis, Quranic sciences, canonical readings, and Noble Prophetic tradition (ḥadīth); their task is to gather all the narrations from the different heritage sources relating to the compilation of the Noble Qur’ān, and then study and scrutinise the chains of narration (sanad), to arrive at the most correct of statements in this area. Thereafter, studying the body (matn) of these traditions, and properly ordering the sequence of events; hoping that Al-Furqān Foundation will undertake this task. Moreover, to consider establishing a prize centred on the manuscript Muṣḥaf and refutation of the specious arguments promoted by orientalists. Also publishing valuable studies and papers in this domain.
6- Grants/stipends to be provided to academic scholars and researchers to allow them leave to study Qur’ān manuscripts, and the different facets of highly valuable manuscripts relating to the Qur’ān and its sciences, whether historical, scientific, or technical. It is recommended that Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation or other key academic body adopt this initiative.
7- Muslim countries to launch a project for studying Islamic archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere, and to document these sites from Islamic heritage sources; moreover, to instruct young persons at university to present academic dissertations in this area.
8- Muslim countries to sponsor a comprehensive scientific project to gather the Qur’ān heritage from world museums and libraries, and to establish specialist laboratories to assure the results of analyses and carbon dating undertaken on Qur’ān manuscripts. In parallel, enabling academics, scholars and researchers to study these manuscripts in different aspects, historical, scientific, or technical.
9- Reviewing the work Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān, and providing the Islamic perspective by soliciting contributions from Muslim scholars renowned for their fairness, moderation and knowledge.
10- Refuting the claims that the old Qur’ān manuscripts found recently in Sanaa indicate the evolution of the Qur’ān over a long period.
11- Establishing common ground for serious collaboration with Western researchers in the domain of old Qur’ān manuscript copies, as well as benefiting scientifically from European projects relating to digitising Qur’ān copies and make these freely available on the internet.
12- Brokering scientific partnerships, and dispatching delegations to libraries and museums around the Islamic world to enable imaging and cataloguing Qur’ān manuscript copies, and to publish these catalogues and images to the benefit of researchers in this area.
13 – Staying abreast of new studies and papers on Qur’ān manuscript copies issued in foreign languages (English and French specifically) by leading experts, and publishing scientific series comprising these works, translated into the Arabic language.
Over the past thirty years, research on Quranic manuscripts has made considerable progress. Fundamental works on codicology, palaeography and dating of early Quranic manuscripts have been done, although mainly on those manuscripts originally came from the Western side of the Islamic World such as al-Fusṭāṭ (Old Cairo), Damascus, and Sanaa (Yemen). To have a complete image of the Quran’s textual history, however, it is necessary to include also Quranic manuscripts kept in the collections in the Eastern side of the Islamic world. Quranic manuscripts from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia are rarely taken into account by scholars, which is mostly due to the difficulty to have access to them. In the case of Iran, as the existing though incomplete and outdated catalogues show, the number of Quranic manuscripts and fragments kept in Iranian libraries, museums and even in private collections is considerable. Based on the available catalogues as well as the information that we were able to obtain during our exploratory trips, hundreds of Quranic manuscripts and fragments before the 4th Century CE are kept in several collections in Tehran, Qom, Mashhad, Isfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz, etc. The actual number of Quranic manuscripts from the first four Islamic centuries is most likely to be significantly higher, although it has been challenging to estimate due to lack of available or updated catalogues.
Thanks to the support of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany, Irankoran can approach to previously inaccessible collections. This source material offers a new perspective on the textual history of the Quran, for it is the first time that Quranic manuscripts from the Eastern part of the Islamic world are going to be systematically scrutinised.
Irankoran is using and completing the work of the project Corpus Coranicum of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW). Since 2009, Corpus Coranicum has published the first digital comprehensive online catalogue of early Quranic manuscripts, mainly based on the Western part of the Islamic world kept in European collections. It has also developed a system for digital transliteration of Quranic manuscripts.
In the course of the project Irankoran, images of Quranic manuscripts from Iranian collections, together with their metadata, are recorded in an online digital catalogue, “Bibliotheca Coranica Iranica”, according to the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). This online catalogue will present a prototype that will be used by other (previously unavailable) Iranian collections and will help develop more manuscript collections online. The publication path also ensures the accessibility of the data and results obtained in the Islamic world.
2. Digital editions
In addition to the digitalisation of the Iranian of Quranic manuscripts, which makes them accessible to other scholars all over the world, the project aims at preparing digital editions of early Kufic Quranic manuscripts which cover three aspects of the text: (a) spellings of the Quranic text (rasm), (b) variant readings (qirāʾāt), and verse numbering (ʿadd al-āy) in the manuscript. In order to perform this idea, a digital database has been developed where for each word of the Quran, all three information can be recorded.
All early Kufic Quranic manuscripts are planned to be transliterated into a typical Arabic typeface (naskh). Letters are written the same way as they appear in the manuscript, usually without, though sometimes with, diacritical dots. In the transliteration, vowel signs are not represented. These digital transliterations display different levels of readability, variant spellings (in comparison to other early manuscripts and modern prints like the Cairo edition), and modifications (corrections, over-writings, additions, and erasures) in the manuscript. To carry this out, Irankoran is following the transliteration system developed by the project Corpus Coranicum in a modified, adapted way in the presentation of modifications in the manuscript.
3. Variant readings
Irankoran also confronts the statements of the Islamic scholarly literature on the variant readings of the Quranic text with the readings as they appear in the early manuscripts. The main question is to what extent the seven readings of the Quran, canonised by the Baghdadian scholar Ibn Muǧāhid (died 936), can assert themselves in early Quranic manuscripts some of which predate his time.
4. Verse numbering
Almost all Quranic manuscripts from early period represent special signs for separating and sometimes numbering the verses. Since we have differences in numbering the Quranic verses which traditionally assumed to be originated from different locals and regions, one would expect that these differences appear in the Quranic manuscript as well. Again, the goal here is to assess the Islamic traditions on verse numbering through registration of the data in each manuscript into the database, and then a detailed survey of them.
5. Dating manuscripts
Dating of the manuscript plays a central role in understanding the history of the Quran. Unfortunately, early Quranic manuscripts usually have no colophon, most probably because the first and/or the last pages of the manuscript are usually exposed to damages. Of course, sometimes one finds pseudo-colophons which later inserted into the last page of manuscripts claiming attribution to the Shīʿī Imāms. Interestingly on the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran, at least one codex is kept that is attributed to Caliph ʿUthmān, in the city of Negel in Kurdestan, which seems very difficult to have access.
Since the paleographical classification of script styles can only provide a relative chronology for early Quranic manuscripts, dating based on radiocarbon analysis (C-14 analysis) seems to be useful. The radiocarbon measurements are carried out in cooperation with the Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics Isotope Laboratory (ETH Zurich).
Irankoran is an interdisciplinary research project for it incorporates the philological analysis of the Quranic manuscripts and scientific dating through C-14 analysis. The results of Irankoran will be published online. Because of its digital dimension, the main goal is to encourage its academic audience of the value of digital publication and to convince the authorities in libraries and collections who still have problems to accept the idea, as it is the case in Europe, in the United States of America, and also often in the Middle East, to put their heritage online.
*Dr. Ali Aghaei is a research fellow at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy ofSciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the head of IranKoran project fundedby the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany.
Codex Amrensis 1, the first volume of the seriesDocumenta Coranica contains images and Arabic texts of four sets of fragments (seventy-five sheets) of the Qurʾān codex, once kept in the ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ Mosque at Al-Fusṭāṭ, and now in the collections of the National Library of Russia, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha and the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art. It includes an extensive introduction, the facsimile of the original, and the full text with annotations.The manuscript, copied during the first half of the 8th century and written inḥiǧāzīscript, contains diacritical signs for about 20% of the letters, without any signs for short vowels. It varies from today’s reference editions of the Qurʾān in verse numbering and has a different orthography. Essential reading for students and scholars of the history of the Qurʾān and its written transmission.
*Courtesy of Brill. This work, along with Sana’a Palimpsest by Asma Hilali, was recently reviewed at JAOS; see Sinai, Nicolai (2020). Beyond the Cairo Edition: On the Study of Early Quranic Codices, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 140, 1, pp. 189-204.