Last October, Dr. Arianna D’Ottone Rambach contributed a guest post on QMSB, which shed light on the journey and significance of Quranic manuscripts originally from the Dome of the Treasury at the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. These manuscripts were transferred to Istanbul during World War I, and while some arrived at Topkapı Palace by 1911, the most valuable Quranic items are now part of the Şam Evrakı collection at the Türk ve İslam Eserleri Müzesi, which holds nearly 250,000 Qur’anic folios and bindings. Furthermore, Islamic documents from the Qubba are dispersed among various institutions including those in Cambridge, Oxford, Berlin, Cairo, and Damascus.
Rambach’s article brought to light three unpublished folios of the Amajur Quran at the Museum of Calligraphy and another in Kufic (B.II) script at the Syrian National Museum, which were once part of the Qubba’s collection and later integrated into other collections in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The current article aims to highlight the historical significance of the Amajur Quran and its impact on Quran manuscript studies and Arabic paleography.
1. Who was Amajūr?
Amajūr al-Turkī was the Abbasid governor of Damascus, serving under al-Muʿtamid from 256 AH/870 CE to 264 AH/878 CE. He was known for his administrative achievements and for donating a thirty-volume Qur’an to Tyre. Historical texts describe him as a “majestic, brave, and unjust” figure. His tenure ended with his death in 878 CE, succeeded by his son ʿAlī until Damascus fell to Aḥmad ibn Ṭūlūn.
2. The Amajur Quran
The Amajur Quran, endowed by Amajur, the Abbasid governor of Damascus, to a mosque in the city of Tyre in 262 AH/875–76 CE, is notable for its parchment support and angular Kufic script, typical of early Islamic manuscripts. Sheila Blair has estimated that the creation of this 30-volume set required the skins of some three hundred sheep to make the 3000 bi-folios, each measuring 13×40 cm.
Amajur’s endowment of a thirty-volume Quran in Kufic script to Sūr (Tyre) in 262 AH is documented by two surviving waqfiyyas, dated Shaʿbān and Ramaḍān 262 AH. This establishes the creation of the Amajur Quran in 262 AH, before 264 AH as per the terminus ante quem.
The paleographic community recognized the Amajur Quran in the early 20th century, with a folio reproduced by Bernhard Moritz in 1913, and a fragment identified at Cambridge University Library by D. S. Rice in 1955. The latter was part of a purchase from Edward Henry Palmer in 1878.
A significant advancement occurred in the 1980s when François Déroche discovered 242 folios of the Amajur Quran at the Museum. Déroche later published “The Qur’an of Amajur” in MME, 1990-1991.
3. From Tyre to Damascus?
It remains uncertain how the Quran traveled 65 miles from Tyre to the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, yet the movement of manuscripts during that era was not unusual.
The presence of the Amajur Quran in Damascus could be attributed to various reasons, including political changes, scholarly pursuits, or as diplomatic gifts, common practices that served to enrich the repositories of knowledge in major cities across the Islamic empire.
4. The Amajur Quran in World Collections
In this section, I will present the known fragments of the Amajur Qur’an. These fragments are located in several institutions including the Cambridge University Library, the Dār al-Kutub in Cairo, the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, and the Museum of Calligraphy in Damascus, each carrying the historical significance of the endowment by Amajur.
Cambridge University Library (Ms. Add. 1116): holds a Kufic Qur’an fragment with 37 folios, measuring 12.3 x 18.9 cm, displaying 3 lines per page from Surah ‘Al ‘Imran (3:62-89). A note indicates it was made a waqf (endowment) by Amajur. It was purchased from Professor E. H. Palmer in 1878 through E.E. Tyrwhitt Drake. Palmer, who visited Damascus around 1870, likely acquired it then.
In 1983, D. S. Rice linked this fragment to others in the Egyptian National Library, identifying them as part of the same mushaf (copy of the Qur’an) of Amajur. A study by F. Deroche in the 1990s further examined the collection.
The Dār al-Kutub in Cairo (Ms. 178/masāhif) contains a collectanea of three Kufic script Quran fragments, one of which measures 12 x 18.9 cm, also endowed by Amajur. Bernard Moritz first published one of these folios in 1913.
The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (EA1996.54), has a bi-folium measuring 12 x 38 cm from Surah ‘Al ‘Imran (3:55/57) with an endowment note from Amajur. It was donated by Ralph Pinder-Wilson in 1996.
The Museum of Calligraphy in Damascus displays three folios from Amajur’s Quran. Arianna Rambach documented them in 2003, and they were published on QMSB in 2020. The first folio includes Surah al-Baqarah (2:145).
At the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, an exhibited bi-folium from Surah ‘Al ‘Imran (3:49-50) is noted as an Amajur endowment. It was on display in 1985, but its current location is not confirmed.
The folio from the Amajur Qur’an previously thought to be in Tokyo is not an original but rather a reproduction. It was published by Bernard Moritz in 1913, which Nājī Zayn al-Dīn Maṣraf later illustrated in his work, mistaking it for an original and attributing it to Caliph Abu Bakr due to an oversight of the waqf note.
In closing, the journey of the Amajur Qur’an fragments through various collections provides a compelling narrative of cultural history and scholarly pursuit. As these pieces reside in institutions from Cambridge to Cairo, they offer a window into the Islamic world’s past and its scholarly dedication to preserving the Qur’an. Tracking the dispersion of these fragments helps us appreciate the art of calligraphy and the Abbasid era’s contribution to Islamic arts. Their story, linked by Amajur’s act of endowment, reminds us of the deep respect for knowledge and heritage that defines much of our history, inviting continued exploration and study.
B. Moritz, “Arabia”, in Encyclopedia of Islam (First Edition), Leiden, 1913, p.395, pl. IV. 2.
Blair, Sheila S. “Written, spoken, envisioned: the many facets of the Qur’an in art.” In The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam. I.B. Tauris, 2012.
F. Deroche. “The Qur’an of Amajur”, Manuscripts of the Middle East 5 (1990-1991), pp.59-65.
F. Déroche, The Abbasid Tradition. Qur’ans of the 8th to the 10th centuries AD, The Nour Foundation, 1992.
S. Blair, Transcribing God’s Word: Qur’an Codices in Context, Journal of Qur’anic Studies, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp. 72-97.
D. S. Rice, The Unique Ibn al-Bawwab Manuscript. 1955.
Edward G. Browne, A Hand-List of the Muhammadan Manuscripts, including all those written in the Arabic character, preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge (University Press) 1900, 145, 388.
The Unity of Islamic art. An exhibition to inaugurate the Islamic Art Gallery of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1405 AH/1985 AD. Riyadh: The King Faisal Foundation, 1985.
Alain F. Geroge, The Geometry of the Qur’an of Amajur: A Preliminary Study of Preportion in Early Arabic Calligraphy, Murqanas, vol. 20 (2013), pp. 1-15.