Where collecting is concerned, the Qur’an is a multi-faceted text that has taken many forms since its arrival in the Muslim world over a millennia ago. Unlike other holy scriptures that are accepted as divinely inspired, the Qur’an is believed to be the literal word of God (as it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad) and the scripture and physical properties of the inscribed codex therefore carry a certain spiritual significance that sets it apart from all other texts. The culmination of this belief and the development of book production through the ages have resulted in a vast array of magnificent manuscript Qur’ans, and today we'd like to share a few examples from our shelves.
We begin with a leaf from an Abbasid Qur’an copied in a fine scribal Kufic script, produced in the Abbasid territories of North Africa or the Near East in the early 10th century AD.
Early manuscript Qur’ans are commonly copied on vellum using the early forms of calligraphy, such as the Kufic script displayed here, that are bold and angular in nature. The elegant highly stylised scripts from this period were designed to reflect the beauty of the unadorned written word.
The Qur’an is often divided into sections to facilitate study and the learning of the text by heart. One of the most common divisions is into 30 equal parts for the ease of reading of the entire text in one calendar month (particularly during Ramadan); each of these sections is called a Juz’.
Our next highlight is a group of 5 Qur’anic Juz’ from the Qajar period in Persia. Each of these volumes opens with a magnificent illuminated head-piece adorned in gold and polychrome decorations, features indicating production for a wealthy and high ranking individual in the courts of Qajar Persia.
When dealing with a single-volume Qur’an, the opening two surah (chapters) are typically illuminated in gold as a symbol of opulence, wealth and grandeur whilst providing a gateway into the holy text.
However, there are some branches of Islam that consider the use of gold in the Qur’an taboo (haram); this is a characteristic mostly associated with tribes from the Arabian peninsula and lower Levant and Qur’ans produced for patrons from these regions are typically void of gilt and polychrome decorations. We have one such example, whereby the opening frontispiece illumination has been carried out in copper instead of gold.
Historically, scribes following Islamic manuscript traditions were awarded a much higher social ranking than their Western counterparts, due to the divine nature of the Qur’anic scripts they were copying. Islamic scribes elevated the genre of calligraphy into an art form that has continuously been elevated and enhanced through the centuries, with many styles of calligraphy emerging from different regions across the Islamic world.