Late ‘Kufic’ Quran fragment, scribal errors, and ways of correction

By Ahmed Shaker

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

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Late Kufic Quran fragment at Juma al-Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage, Dubai, UAE. All photographs/excerpts of Ahmed Shaker

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.

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erratum at Q41:22

In Q42:16, the scribe omitted بعد and then added it in red ink over the line.

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erratum at Q42:16

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. 

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.erratum at Q43:69

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. 

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erratum at Q41:24

Last updated on October 22, 2019