An Unpublished Qur’anic Fragment from the Qubbat al-Khazna in the Syrian National Museum

by Arianna D’Ottone Rambach*

On the north-western side of the courtyard of the Damascus Great Mosque, there is an octagonal building standing on eight pillars, salvaged from the late-antique church of St. John the Baptist. The use of this structure as a treasury for funds (fig. 1) possibly started in Umayyad times, in 86 AH/705 CE, when the church was turned into a mosque. Indeed, this set a precedent for other regions and later periods: in 340/951-2, for example, al-Iṣṭakhrī wrote that in Ādharbayjān they deposit “the treasure in the Great Mosque after the Syrian fashion (‘alà rasm al-Shām). In Syria, in fact, they deposit the treasure in the Great Mosque in a little structure called bayt al-māl, covered with a leaden roof, closed by an iron door, and supported on nine (sic) columns”[1].

Fig 1: Qubbat al-Khaznah at the Great Umayyad Mosque. Photo by Arianna Rambach

As for Western sources, the earliest description of the domed octagonal building was made by Richard Pococke (1704-1765), who believed that it was a baptistery. Commenting on the plan of the Umayyad mosque, Pococke recorded, “There are a great number of mosques in Damascus, some of which were formerly churches, particularly the principal mosque, which was the cathedral church. […] A plan of the cathedral, and of the supposed buildings about it can be seen in the twenty-fifth plate. […] D is an octagon baptistery built on eight pillars[2].

The octagonal Bayt al-māl/Treasury, known in Western sources as the Qubbat al-khazna/storage dome), functioned first as a strongroom and later as an archive and library as well as a repository for written documents. It is not known when the transition from Treasury to storage room took place, but the different names given for the very same building—Bayt al-māl and Qubbat al-khazna—–reflect the two different functions of the structure at two different stages[3].

The custom of keeping both documents and books in a special place was part of the ancient Jewish tradition, the Cairo Genizah being a well-known example of this practice. In the Middle East, this tradition was also maintained by Christian and Muslim communities[4]. The Damascus Qubba is thus an ‘Islamic’ strongroom—also given its location within the walls of a mosque—and it held a large quantity of multilingual, and multigraphic, manuscript evidence representing a wide variety of religions, cultures, languages and alphabets.

There are as many as 200,000 manuscript fragments in the Qubba collection, although it is difficult to give a precise figure for various reasons: most of the fragments are currently in Istanbul, while others are still kept in Damascus, but at different sites, namely the National Museum and the Museum of Calligraphy. The whereabouts of a number of manuscripts is, however, unknown.

A forthcoming book, entitled The Damascus Fragments: Towards a History of the Qubbat al-khazna Corpus of Manuscripts and Documents, edited by the writer together with Konrad Hirschler and Ronny Vollandt, will present the manuscript evidence from the Damascene Qubba as an organic corpus.

A 9th century Qur’anic fragment from the National Museum of Damascus

Both the Syrian National Museum and the Museum of Calligraphy hold folios of ancient Qur’ans, originally part of the Qubbat al-khazna collection, which are datable from between the middle of the 2nd century AH/second half of the 8th century AD to the 5th/11th century. I have already had occasion to study and illustrate various Qur’anic fragments from both these museums[5]. I will limit myself here to mentioning the three folios of the Qur’an of Amajūr, which have never hitherto been illustrated. I was able to document these after seeing them displayed in one of the showcases in the Museum of Calligraphy in Damascus (fig. 2).

Fig 2: Three folios from Amajur Quran at the Museum of Calligraphy in Damascus. Photo by Arianna Rambach

The close connection between the Qubbat al-khazna and the Qur’anic fragments seems to have inspired Ottoman cabinetmakers to create a particular type of Qur’an box (fig. 3)[6]. The link between the Qubba, in which the manuscript fragments of the Damascus genizah-like deposit were kept, and the Ottoman wooden box created to contain a copy of the Qur’an that was moved to the Türk ve İslam Eserleri Müzesi in 1911 – just a few years before the arrival of the Damascus papers (Şam evrakı) in Istanbul (1917) – seems a remarkable case of mise en abîme.

Fig 3: old picture of a Qubba-shaped Qur’an box

The aim of this paper is to present a further unpublished Qur’anic fragment from the National Museum of Damascus (Inv. Nr. ‘Ayn 718)[7] containing the final verses of the Sūrat al-nūr (24, vv. 61-64) and the beginning of the Sūrat al-furqān (25, vv. 1-3). This parchment fragment can be dated to the 9th century based on palaeographical grounds (Style B.II). The text, comprising 16 lines of script per page, is written in black ink with red dots indicating the vocalization (fig. 4)[8]. The title of the Sūrat al-furqān and the number of its verses (sab‘ūna wa-sitt: 76)[9] is written in gold and outlined in ink (fig. 5), although the verses are not divided like the majority of the fragments belonging to this style[10]. Among the main features of the script, it is possible to note the following:
– The extension of the retroflex yā’/alif maqṣūra below the line (fig. 4, line 10: ḥattà and fig. 5, line 7: shay’);
– the short lower hook of the independent alif;
– The vertical body of the nūn with a short perpendicular lower stroke at the end of a word;
– The initial form of the ‘ayn with the hook that begins with an oblique stroke to the left (similar to C.Ia style)
– The hā’ in medial form that is connected to the following letter with a stroke from its pointed top (fig. 5, last line: li-anfusihim);
– The qāf in the final position taking the form of a U that points towards the right in relation to the head of the letter.

For comparison, it is useful to bear in mind fragment KFQ13 and KFQ 14 of the Nasir Khalili Collection (London) and the Paris fragment, Bibliothèque nationale, MS Arabe 340f.

[Editor’s note: The calligraphic style in Inv. Nr. ‘Ayn 718 (illustrated above) matches several Quranic manuscripts from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (TIEM no. 457 and 458); Walters Art Museum (MS. W.552); and one Quranic folio previously held at King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies. This last example is identical to Inv. Nr. ‘Ayn 718 and likely belong to the Qubba collection. In both folios, black ink is used for the Quranic text, red ink for vowels, and each page has 16 lines]

*Dr. Arianna D’Ottone Rambach is Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at Sapienza University of Rome, where she teaches Arabic and Arabic Palaeography, Codicology and Numismatics. Her main field of research is Arabic written culture, from papyri and manuscripts to coins and inscriptions. She is the author of La storia di Bayāḍ e Riyāḍ ( 368): una nuova edizione e traduzione (2013); Collezione di Vittorio Emanuele III: Monete arabe (2017), The Qur’ān Encrypted. A Unique Qur’ānic Manuscript in Cipher, “Journal of Islamic Manuscripts” 11, 2 (2020), pp. 133-176 and the editor of Palaeography Between East and West (2018).

[1] “وبيت مالهم في مسجد الجامع على رسم الشام فانَّ بيوت أموال في الشام في مساجدها وهو بيت المال مرصص السطح وعليه باب حديد وهو على تسعة اساطين” Al-Istakhrī, Kitāb masālik al-mamālik/Viae Regnorum: description ditionis moslamicae, edited by M.J. De Goeje, Leiden, Brill, 19272, p. 184. For the English translation, see Keppel A.C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture. Umayyads. A.D. 622-720, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969, 2 vols: vol. I, 201-202.

[2] Richard Pococke, A Description of the East and Some Other Countries Vol. II, part I: Observations on Palestine or the Holy Land, Syria, Mesopotamia, Cyprus and Candia, London: Bowyer 1745, 120 and pl. XXL. On Pococke, “one of the first true exponents of the informed ‘travel writer’ tradition”, see Ross Burns, Damascus: A History, London and New York, Routledge, 2005, 62; see also Claire Gallien, Edward Pococke et l’orientalisme anglais du XVIIe siècle: passeurs, transferts et transition, “Dix-septième siècle” 268 (2015/3), 443-458.

[3] On the history of the Qubbat in Arabic sources, see Saʿīd Ḍ. Al-Joumani, Taʾrīkh Qubbat al-māl, aw Qubbat ʿĀʾisha, aw al-qubba al-gharbiyya fī-l-Jāmiʿ al-Umawī bi-Dimashq, in The Damascus Fragments: Towards a History of the Qubbat al-khazna Corpus of Manuscripts and Documents, edited by A. D’Ottone Rambach, K. Hirschler and R. Vollandt (eds), Beirut, Orient-Institut Beirut, 2020 (Beiruter Texte und Studien, 140) (in press).

[4] For example, the 1975 discovery of a room at St Catherine on Mount Sinai that had been sealed since the eighteenth century, containing another third of the library’s holdings – known since then as the ‘New Finds’ –, occurred just two years after the chance discovery of the manuscript fragments in Ṣan‘ā’ (Yemen) in 1973.

[5] See Arianna D’Ottone, Frammenti coranici antichi nel Museo nazionale di Damasco, in Dirāsāt Aryūliyya: Studi in onore di Angelo Arioli, edited by G. Lancioni and O. Durand, Roma, Nuova Cultura, 2007 (La Sapienza Orientale, III), pp. 217-239; Paolo Radiciotti and Arianna D’Ottone, I frammenti della Qubbat al-khazna di Damasco. A proposito di una scoperta sottovalutata, “Nea Rhome” 5 (2008), pp. 45-74: esp. pp. 65-74 and figs. 1-7; Arianna D’Ottone Rambach, Frammenti di manoscritti arabi: una conoscenza frammentaria, in Frammenti di un discorso storico. Per una grammatica dell’aldilà del frammento, edited by C. Tristano, Spoleto, Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2019 (Palaeographica: Collana di studi di storia della scrittura, 8), pp. 261-284 and plates I-II: esp. pp. 276-281 and plates I-II.

[6] See Federica A. Broilo. Ottoman Woodwork: Some Little-Known Quran Boxes from the Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi in Istanbul (16th-17th centuries), in Thirteenth International Congress of Turkish Art. Proceedings, edited by Dávid Géza and Ibolya Gerelyes, Budapest, Hungarian National Museum 2009, pp. 135-143: 140-141.

[7] The image of the fragment presented in this paper was taken from among the previously published photographs of other fragments from the National Museum; see supra. The inventory number is recorded in ink in the right-hand corner of the verso of the folio.

[8] A similar fragment, illustrated in the concise guide to the museum, no. A 344-345 datable to the 4th/10th century, has 15 lines per page; see A. Al-Ush, A. Al-Joundi and B. Zouhdi, A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, [Damascus], Publication of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, [1975], p. 210, no. 3 and fig. 85.

[9] The changes in how the āyāt (verses) were numbered in ancient Qur’anic fragments has not yet been studied in depth. Different ways of numbering the verses are found in these fragments, with both the abjad system and numerals attested. In the fragments in which numerals are used, one sees that units can precede – as expected – or follow – as in this case – the tens.

[10] There are 15 lines of script on the verso of this fragment, although some blank spaces, corresponding to a line of script, are also left in order to separate the end of Sura 24, as well as the title of the Sūrat al-Furqān and the number of its verses (lines 1-7), from the beginning of the Sura 25 text (lines 8-15).

Lapis and Gold, Exploring Chester Beatty’s Ruzbihan Qur’an

by Elaine Wright*

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.

Fig. 3. A folio before conservation, showing the damage caused by the pigment atacamite

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.

Fig. 4. One of more than 6,000 verse markers in the manuscript

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.

Fig. 6. A detail of f. 185a, showing a vertical panel consisting of a separate, dyed and pasted-on piece of paper

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).

Al-Furqan Heritage Conference: The Noble Qur’ān from Revelation to Compilation (2)

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 by Asma Hilali. All lectures 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. Sali Shahsivari

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.

Dr. Adel Ibrahim Abu Shaar’s paper addressed “Writing the Noble Qur’ān in the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him”. Given that so much hinged upon it, this is a sensitive period requiring authentication of reports, and verifying the credibility of statements. He therefore subdivided his paper into three main areas of enquiry:

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.

Ahmad al-Dubayan

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 Mosquepresented 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.

Ahmed Wisam Shaker

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.

Asma Hilali

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.

Conference Recommendations

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.