Two scholars from the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) recently discovered an open-air Mosque in Wadi Shireh, Jordan. Glenn Corbett and Firas Bqain were examining an archaeological site in Wadi Rum in the south Kingdom, which was being overlooked. On that site, a mosque is located from the times of the Umayyads, which dates back to the 7th to 8th centuries. It was found in a remote location of Wadi Shireh. Although both scholars were studying and researching the archaeological site for quite some time now, they were not the first to discover this mosque. Their researchers sought help from the research of late William Jobling of the University of Sydney, who was the first to identify this important archaeological site and the mosque. Corbett also mentioned in an article that they are not the first to discover or study the mosque located in Wadi Shireh. Corbett is Associate Director in ACOR and holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern archaeology from the University of Chicago. Jobling recorded the whole area in his research. He did not dig the area and just recorded what remained on the surface. There were early Islamic inscriptions on the surrounding site.
Corbett said in a statement that mosque inscriptions and the surrounding structures are all visible when walking through the wadi. Jobling’s Report about this mosque was a gem for the Arab and foreign scholars, and it attracted their attention. The centre of attention of scholar’s research was the Kufic inscriptions on the site, which were dating back to the month of Ramadan in the year 109 Hijri. These Arab and foreign Scholars then published articles in the Journal of Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam and Jordan Department of Antiquities and the University of Jordan’s journal Dirasat. Firas Bqain was one of these Jordanian scholars, and he is now an administrator in ACOR. He also wrote his master’s thesis on Shireh Mosque. Corbett and Bqain started working together in 2012 to attract the attention of academic scholars all around the world to this beautiful ancient Umayyad mosque of Wadi Shireh. They were interested in understanding how this mosque came to existence and what meaning the inscriptions hold. They also sought to understand the structure of the mosque and what importance it stays in a broader historical, archaeological, and environmental context.
Kufic inscription dated 109 AH. It reads: “In the name of God, the gracious, the merciful. O God, accept from ʿAbd al-ʿAlā bin Saʿīd his prayers and his fasting and keep him among his family, and support him in his [victory or travel] and make him virtuous, for you are[capable of all things]. May God bless him and grant him peace and peace be upon him and the mercy of God and his blessings. He wrote in Ramaḍān, year nine and one hundred.”
According to Corbett for the easy access of water, there were seasonal water pools located near the mosque. Also, the mosque’s Kufic inscriptions point towards its building and ascribed to Salamah Ibn Rawh. It is believed that the mosque was built by important figures of Judham and the dominant tribe of the Hisma that were allies of the Umayyads. The tribe of Hisma and Umayyads greatly benefited from this site by taxing the trade and pilgrimage caravans. This region was suitable for caravans to go through. The site acted like a seasonal way station for caravans. It served early Muslim travellers were journeying through Hisma to southern Jordan. The site appears to be heavily settled in early period. Because of the isolation and uniqueness of Wadi Shireh and the mosque that is in these barren lands of the Hisma, little can be said about their historical context. These archaeological sites need more research and investigation to understand more about the history and social culture of these sites.
The mosque’s foundation stone. It reads: “In the name of God the gracious, the merciful. This is the mosque of Salamah ibn Rawh. May God bless who prays [in it]“
The existing research gives us a hint that these barren lands ones were filled with civilization. The Shireh mosque is located in much larger Wadi Rabigh. Near Wadi Rabigh is Wadi Hafir and both Wadi’s are adjacent to each other. Wadi Shireh provided easy access to the caravans and travellers between these two Wadis (Valleys). Wadi Shireh was also a big source of natural water reserves in the shape of pools that retained water for several months through out they year. The Wadi was also engulfed in acacia trees which are a favourite food of camels and also was home to lush patches of vegetation and pasture. Wadi Shireh also acted as a station for the travellers. It provided a secluded and secure camping point. The Kufic inscriptions further support that the Shireh Mosque was mostly visited by travellers. The inscriptions make references to the travellers who visited the site and the mosque during their journey.
The Mosque is built in a rectangular shape the construction is double-wall and resembles its surrounding structures. It is aligned and oriented according to the cardinal directions which gives a sense of a planned and purpose-built structure which is perhaps authorized by local or regional authorities of Umayyad period to facilitate travellers. These types of simple structures were quite common in early Islamic period. The southern Wadi Arabah and nearby regions of Negev are also considered to be agricultural villages or industrial sites that were thought to be established by Umayyad people. According to the research the authorities built these settlements to expand their trading to southern Palestine and other zones that were near to the desert.
Wadi Shireh mosque due to its remote location has been the target of destructive digging in past few years. It is situated in an area which is far from the region’s main road and tourist camps. It is one of the most important heritage of Islamic history and should be preserved. Authorities, archaeologists and Islamic scholars should take measures to preserve this holy site.
Editor’s note: The content of this article is based on the scholarly publication of al-Bqāʿīn, Firas & Corbett, Glenn & Khamis, Elias. (2015). An Umayyad Era Mosque and Desert Waystation from Wadi Shīreh, Southern Jordan. Journal of Islamic Archaeology. 2. 93-126.
وادي العسيلة (أو شِعب خالد بن عبد الله بن أسيد) من أودية مكة المكرمة الشمالية الشرقية، يقع بين البرود والأبطح محاذيًا للشرائع من الجهة الشمالية الغربية، عرضه 2كم، وطوله 6كم، بدايته ريع النقراء ونهايته ريع أم السلم. يتميز هذا الوادي بوقوعه في منطقة طرق الحجاج القادمين من العراق والشام واليمن، ومن ثم فقد أولاه خلفاء المسلمين وسلاطينهم وأمراؤهم وأثرياؤهم عنايتهم واهتمامهم، حيث أمر الخليفة العباسي المقتدر بالله (295-320هـ) بحفر بئرين فيه، كما عمرت والدة المقتدر بئرين مع سقايات (برك) ومسجد. ثم في عهد قطلو بك الناصري في سنة 792هـ جددت آبار العسيلة بعد اندثارها.
ويعد وادي العسيلة من الأودية القريبة من مكة المكرمة، والنقوش كتبت على ثلاثة جبال فيه، هي: الوجرة الكبير، والوجرة الصغير، وجبل أبوسرة. وهذه النقوش التي يصل عددها إلى ستين نقشًا إسلاميًا مبكرًا، اثنان منها مؤرخان بعام 80هـ /699م، وواحد مؤرخ بعام 79هـ / 698م. وتحمل هذه النقوش أسماء شخصيات معروفة في صدر الإسلام مثل: صفية بنت شيبة بن عثمان، ومحمد بن عبدالرحمن بن طلحة، ومحمد بن عبدالعزيز بن جريج، وإسحاق بن إبراهيم وغيرهم، كما توجد بأسفل الوادي مما يلي مكة المكرمة مستوطنة أثرية مندثرة تتناثر على سطحها كسر فخارية وخزفية وزجاجية من عصور مختلفة وفيها بئران من الآبار الأربع المشار إليها آنفًاً.
في هذا المقال، نسلط الضوء على خمسة نقوش إسلامة محفورة على صخور وادي العسيلة، تتضمن آيات قرآنية مختلفة من سورة آل عمران والنساء وص وطه. أقدمها كتابات مؤرخة بسنة ٨٠هـ تركها عثمان بن وهران، يليه ما تركه أمية بن عبد الملك سنة ٩٨هـ، ونقش آخر غير مؤرخ تركه إسحاق بن إبراهيم. إن هذه المجموعة الإسلامية المبكرة هي ثاني أقدم مجموعة قرآنية في العالم إذ تأتي بعد نقوش قبة الصخرة المؤرخة سنة ٧٢هـ.
تاريخه: القرن الأول الهجري.
كاتبه: إسحاق بن إبراهيم.
موضوعه: آيات قرآنية من سورة آل عمران.
قراءة النقش: يا يها الذين امنوا اصبروا وصبروا وربطوا واتقوا الله لعلكم تفلحون وكتب اسحق ابن ابرهيم.
خطه: حجازي. تاريخه: 98هـ. كاتبه: أمية بن عبد الملك. موضوعه: آيات قرآنية من سورة الطلاق، وآخره دعاء بدخول الجنة. قراءة النقش: ومن يتوكل على الله فالله حسبه والله بالغ امره وقد جعل الله لكل شيء قدرا وكتب امية بن عبد الملك لسنة ثمان وتسعين وهو يسأل الله الجنة.
خطه: حجازي. تاريخه: 80 هـ. كاتبه: عثمان بن وهران. موضوعه: آيات قرآنية من سورة النساء. قراءة النقش: الله لا إله إلا هو ليجمعنكم الى يوم القيامة لا ريب فيه ومن اصد ق من الله حديثا وكتب عثمن بن وهرن في سنة ثمانين.
خطه: حجازي. تاريخه: 80هـ. كاتبه: عثمان بن وهران. موضوعه: آيات من سورة ص. قراءة النقش: يا داود إنا جعلنك خليفة في الأرض لتحكم بين الناس بالحق ولا تتبع الهوى فيضلك عن سبيل الله إن الذين يضلون عن سبيل الله لهم عذاب شديد بما نسوا يوم الحساب وكتب عثمان بن وهران في سنة ثمانين.
خطه: حجازي. تاريخه: 80هـ. كاتبه: عثمان بن وهران. موضوعه: آيات قرآنية من سورة الواقعة. قراءة النقش: سدر مخضود وطلح منضود وظل ممدود وما مسكوب وفكهة كثيرة لامقطوعة ولا ممنوعة وفرش مرفوعة انا انشئنهن انشاءا فجعلنهن أبكرا عربا أترابا لا صحب اليمين ما أصحب اليمين ثلة من الأولين وثلة من الأخرين وكتب عثمن بن وهرن.
موسوعة المملكة العربية السعودية.
سعد بن عبد العزيز الراشد، كتابات إسلامية من مكة المكرمة، مكتبة الملك فهد الوطنية، 1995.
ناصر بن علي الحارثي، نقوش إسلامية مبكرة بوادي العسيلية بمكة المكرمة، مجلة عالم المخطوطات والنوادر، 1997.
In my recent scholarly visit to Dubai, I came across an interesting ‘Kufic’ Quran fragment, probably from the 4th or 5th-century A.H. The fragment is consisted of seven folios and is kept today at Jumaa al-Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage.
There is almost no information regarding the origins or the history of ownership of this 7-folia Quran, except a small note that appears in the electronic catalogue, stating it was donated to the Emirati institution by an Iraqi professor.
Although the fragment is incomplete and relatively late, it still shares some exciting features in terms of mechanical errors made by the scribe while transcribing the Quranic texts, and the technique he used to correct these errors.
The current article aims at giving a brief description of the manuscript in hand and show a couple of illustrated examples of scribal errors and how they were corrected.
Description of the manuscript
7 consecutive Quranic leaves, written in dark brown ink on a landscaped parchment, 25 lines to the page. Red dots are used to indicate the vowels, and no diacritical points. Verses are not separated by circular dots or dashes, and the 10th-verse marker takes the shape of two crossed lines. Surah headings are added in red ink. The fragment has parts of surahs Ghāfir (Q40), Fuṣṣilat (Q41), al-Shūrā (Q42), al-Zukhruf (Q43), al-Dukhān (Q44), al-Jāthiyah (Q45), al-Aḥqāf (Q46), Muḥammad (Q47), al-Fatḥ (Q48), and al-Ḥujurāt (Q49). Traces of moisture, cuts, lacuna, and modern restoration were detected.
There are some formulas and phrases written on the top of some pages, such as “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful” and “May Allah’s peace be upon the messenger Muhammad”, and marginal writings to identify the juz’ and hizb.
Scribal errors and corrections
I counted several cases in the remaining leaves where the scribe, accidentally, committed mechanical errors and then corrected them either by crossing out the extra word/phrase using red ink or by writing the omitted word/phrase in the body text or margins. In all cases, he always indicates it by drawing a correction mark that looks like an arrow pointing towards the place of error/correction in the parchment.
Here are some examples:
In Q41:22, the scribe omitted ولا أبصاركم ولا جلودكم and then added it in the margin in brown ink.
In Q42:16, the scribe omitted بعد and then added it in red ink over the line.
In Q43:69, the scribe repeated وكانوا مسلمين twice (dittography) then crossed it out lightly using red ink. The extra phrase is still legible as if he highlighted it.
This final error is striking. In Q41:24, the scribe wrote يحق الله الحق بكلمته instead of يحق الحق بكلمته (called contamination). He then crossed out the extra الله with red ink. Clearly, the scribe confused this verse ending with a similar verse in Q10:82 where it says ويحق الله الحق بكلمته ولو كره الكافرون. This example implies that the scribe was not merely copying from a written exemplar, but orality, too, played a role in the transcribing process of the Quranic text.
‘Serendipity’ is a word coined by the English author and politician Horace Walpole in the mid-18th century. In a letter sent to his friend Sir Horace Mann in 1757, Walpole expressed his admiration of a Persian fairy tale about the adventures of The Three Princes of Serendip who “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” Thus, gradually, the word had become known in the Western literature to indicate the role coincidence plays in the discovery of unexpected things, or as modern dictionaries put it: “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”
I learned about this word lately when interviewed Alba Fedeli–a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham–to discuss digital philology and Quranic manuscripts. When I asked her: “How your interest in Quranic manuscripts came about?” she stated that, despite her enthusiasm for manuscripts since childhood, serendipity remained an influential factor in finding what would be her new career. It was the late Italian Arabist Sergio Noja Noseda (1931-2008) who inspired her to study early Quranic manuscripts and involved her in his projects without prior planning from her side. Furthermore, young Noseda was fascinated too by the Giorgio Levi Della Vida’s (1886-1967) Frammenti coranici in carattere cufico [i.e. Quranic Fragments in Kufic Characters] (1947), of which he would spend long hours navigating through its pages that extensively describes a number of ‘Kufic’ Quran fragments kept at Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
The present article aims at introducing the reader to the life and works of an Italian scholar who specialized in Islamic law, Arabic language and literature, Islamic civilization, and above all was one the most prominent contributors to Quran manuscript studies in the late 20th century, as evident from his Sources de la transmission manuscrite du texte coranique series.
Sergio Noja Noseda (1931-2008): His Live and Works
Sergio Noja Noseda was born in Pola, Italy on 7 July 1931. After completing his university studies, he enrolled in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. In 1964, he published, in collaboration with Giovanni Galbiati (1888-1966), an Arabic legal manuscript accompanied by Italian translation, entitled Aḥkām al-ʻAtīqah wa hya qawānīn lil-Naṣārī min al-ʻArab: Precetti e canoni giuridico morali per Arabi cristiani. And later on, he published an unknown copy of an apocryphal Arabic gospel attributed to Thomas.
In 1967, Noja was appointed lecturer at the University of Turin, where he taught Islamic law for a decade. At the time, he published an Italian translation of parts from Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Detti e fatti del Profeta dell‟Islam, raccolti da al-Buhari (Turin, 1983); a catalogue of oriental manuscripts kept at Turin University National Library: Fihris al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʻArabīyah wa-al-Turkīyah wa-al-Fārisīyah fī al-Maktabah al-Waṭanīyah (Turin, 1974); and a catalogue for the Arabic manuscripts in the Royal Library: Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the Royal Library of Turin (Rome, 1984).
Despite being passionate for Oriental manuscripts, Noseda focused his attention on the history of Arabs and Islamic civilization. To this purpose, he published a modern biography of Prophet Muḥammad in Italian, which was distinguished by the employment of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry and the representation of extant archaeological excavation from Arabian Peninsula before Islam. Therefore, It was admired widely inside and outside Italy. The biography was succeeded by the publication of four titles in a series dedicated to the ‘History of Muslim communities’ which comprehensively covers a wide range of historical periods from Arabs before Islam to the withdrawal of Russian military troops from Afghanistan in 1988.
The series included the following titles:
1. ‘Muhammad the Prophet of Islam’ (1990).
2. ‘The Expansion of Islam: From the Death of the Prophet to the Mongols (632-1258)’ (1993).
3. ‘The Age of Islamic Inertia: From the Fall of Baghdad to the Fall of Napoleon in Egypt’ (1994).
4. ‘Modern Islam: From Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt to the Withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan’ (1995).
In 1976–based on a recommendation from Francesco Gabrieli (1904-1996)–Noseda was assigned professor of Arabic language and literature at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. And in 1991, he was elected member of the Lombardo Academy of Sciences and Literature, following a nomination from Cardinal Martini (1927-2012) for Noseda to fill the position of Trustee of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.
In 1998, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic–the highest granted award in the fields of arts, literature, and economics in Italy. In the same year, he founded the Ferni Noja Noseda Studi Arabo Islamici (Lesa) with the aim of publishing and distributing classical Arabic literature and Islamic studies publications in Italy. Moreover, the foundation was known for its efforts in reproducing the earliest extant witnesses of the Quranic text (i.e. fragments, codices, papyri) as facsimile editions. Therefore, the foundation launched the Amari Project; which will be discussed in details in the next section.
The Amari Project (1998-2001)
Among the goals of the Ferni Noja Noseda Studi Arabo Islamici was to publish the most valuable and oldest Quranic manuscripts in today’s libraries as full-scale replicas. Hence, the Amari Project was launched in the late 20th century in remembrance of Michele Amari (1806-1889). Amari, who was a fugitive from the Bourbons in Naples, found refuge in France. As Orientalist and Sicily historian, he was interested in studying Arabic language and collecting every historical or geographical reference to the island of Sicily that could be found in the Arabic manuscripts acquired by the Royal Library (now Bibliothèque nationale de France) in Paris. The library, in turn, sponsored and assigned him with the task of classifying the manuscripts of the Arabic department.
The manuscripts Amari worked on included a substantial number of ancient Qurans as part of the Jean-Louis Asselin de Cherville’s (1772-1822) collection. Many of these Quranic manuscripts–purchased by then Royal library in 1833–were acquired from the Mosque of ‘Amr in Al-Fusṭāṭ during Napoleon’s campaign to Egypt.
The Amari Project–in honorary of Michele Amari–was officially inaugurated in 1998. In collaboration with François Déroche, Noseda published the first volume of the Sources de la transmission manuscrite du texte coranique [i.e. Sources of the handwritten transmission of the Quranic text] series, entitled: Les manuscrits de style hịǧāzī. 1, Le manuscrit arabe 328 (a) de la Bibliothèque nationale de France. Written in the so-called Māʼil script (i.e. cursive), this Qur’anic manuscript is considered one of the oldest Qurans in the world today. The edition has reproduced the first 56 folios; that is BnF Arabe 328a. However, in 2009, Déroche was able to identify more dispersed folios at the National Library of Russia (Marcel 18; 18 folios) Which–based on codicological and paleograhical criterias–found resemble to the same manuscript in Paris, raising the number of folios to 98, which represent about 45% of the Quranic text. Other corresponding folios, though minimal in quantity, were located too at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vat.Ar.1605; 1 folio), and The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London (KFQ 60; 1 folio). The new Latin designation, which brings all the scattered folios together, has become known as Codex Parsino-Petropolitanus.
in 2001, Noseda and Déroche published the first part of the second volume of the series, entitled Les manuscrits de style ḥiǧāzī. 2, tome 1, Le manuscrit Or. 2165 (f.1 a 61) de la British Library. The manuscript, Or. 2165, is the British Library’s oldest Quran in Māʼil style, and dated to the 7th or 8th century CE. In full, it has 121 folios, but the facsimile edition included the first 61 folios only. The rest of the 60 folios were scheduled for a future publication, but have never been released since. On the provenance of Or. 2165, Noseda tells us that historical information about this Quranic fragment is almost ‘non-existent.’ However, there is a note that appears in the flyleaf at the end of the manuscript, reading: «Br of the Rev. Greville J. Chester 29 April 1879». In fact, Greville John Chester (1830-1892) was a clergyman and manuscripts collector, who was interested in natural history, archaeology, and Egyptology. He would travel almost every winter outside the country, where Egypt is his favourite destination. Based on this observation, it is likely that he acquired this manuscript from Egypt, and then presented it to the British Library who made the purchase in 1879. As in the case of Codex Parsino-Petropolitanus, other scattered folios of the same manuscript, Or. 2165, were located at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (BnF Arabe 328e; 6 folios), and Dār al-Āthār al-Islāmīyah, Kuwait (LNS 19 CA; bi-folium). Therefore, the number of folios extended to 128. Furthermore, Ms. Or. 2165 and its affiliated folios, represent about two-thirds of the Quranic text.
The Amari Project aims to:
1. enable scholars and researchers to access the most valuable and oldest witnesses of the Quranic text (i.e. fragments, codices, papyri) from world’s libraries by reproducing them in full-scale replicas; which would make the comparison with other Quranic manuscripts possible.
2. Attach a CD-ROM with each volume containing the actual transcription of the Quranic text as presented in manuscripts, in computerized Naskhi script; that would facilitate the electronic comparison between the modern printed Qurans and the early Quranic manuscripts.
Among the other objectives of Amari Project was the compilation and reprinting of articles–now hard to find or out of print–written by leading philologists and manuscript experts. The first and second volumes had already included essays by Gotthelf Bergsträsser, Otto Pretzl, Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, and Michael Amari. Their writings represent the core of this type of scholarship in the West From the nineteenth century until the first half of the twentieth century.
Unexpected Death and Resumption of the Project
On 31 January 2008, professor emeritus Noja Noseda died in a sudden traffic accident in the city of Lesa. He was very active then. On the one hand, he and his team, who travelled to Yemen on numerous occasions, obtained a license from the Yemeni officials to photograph and publish three early Quranic fragments from the trove of Ṣanʿāʾ. These fragments would have been published as part of Sources series.
On the other hand, the third volume of Amari Project, which was a combination of early Quranic fragments from various libraries, was ready to be printed. Moreover, He even completed the second part of volume two, which would have included the folios (62-121) of the British Library’s oldest Quran–Or. 2165.
With the death of Noseda, the Amari Project, as well as the works of the Ferni Noja Noseda Studi Arabo Islamici, were suspended. As for the status of the project after his death, his pupil, Dr. Alba Fedeli, told me that the work has been transferred to the German-French team, represented by the Corpus Coranicum project in Berlin. Moreover, in 2011, Brill announced a new series entitled “Documenta Coranica” (i.e. Quranic documents); edited by François Déroche, Michael Marx, Angelika Neuwirth, and Christian Robin. The new German-French series will publish the most valuable and oldest Quranic witnesses (i.e. fragments, codices, papyri) in the form of replica, accompanied by essential comments and marginalia. The first volumes, currently being prepared, include the early Quranic fragments from the trove of Ṣanʿāʾ, and a complete edition of the British Library’s oldest Quran–Ms. Or. 2165.
In commemoration of his memory, his friend Efim Rezvan produced a short film titled “From Russia with Love: In Memory of Professor Sergio Noja Noseda”. Noseda, says Rezvan, was proud of his successful attempts to establish academic ties between Arab Muslim scholars and their Western counterparts to study the traditions of early Qur’anic manuscripts. To this purpose, the International Center for Research and Cataloging of Ancient Arabic Manuscripts was established and two scientific sessions were held in Cairo in 2006 and 2007.
There is no doubt that the growing field of Quranic manuscript studies has lost a fine scholar and a prominent contributor. After decades of stagnation, Noseda was able to revive the studies conducted on early Quranic manuscripts and fragments. Without Amari Project, it would not have been possible to observe the presence of Quranic manuscripts in the academic works that dealt with the Quran, its compilation, and textual transmission.
*This is the English modified edition of an article I previously published in Arabic on April 30, 2017, entitled ‘al-Mustaʻrib al-Īṭālī Sergio Noseda Muḥaqqiq al-Maṣāḥif al-Ḥijāzīyah’ [link]. For citations and references, see the Arabic article for now [A.S.]