Early Qur'ans are important as evidence of the development of the written recording of Islam's holy book. This copy of the Qur'an in Arabic, probably from the ninth century, is copied onto vellum and uses an early script called kufic.
What is the Qur'an?
The Qur'an is the sacred book of Islam. According to Muslim belief, it contains the word of God as revealed through the archangel Jibril (Gabriel) to the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabic language. Muhammad is believed to be the last in the long line of prophets, stretching back to Abraham, from whom all Jews and Christians are also believed to descend. Muslim tradition has it that Muhammad received the divine revelation between the years AD 610 and his death in 632.
The text of the Qur'an is traditionally read aloud, as instructed in the very first revelation Muhammad received: 'Recite in the name of your Lord'. The word 'Qur'an' comes from the Arabic verb 'to recite'.
How was the Qur'an written down?
Few people in the seventh century were able to write. The revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad were originally committed to memory by the early believers. Following the Prophet's death in 632, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, instructed Muhammad's secretary, Zayd ibn Thabit, to record them in writing. The original compilation of the text was made from oral recollections, and from early transmissions written on fragments of parchment, papyrus, stone, camel bone, palm leaves and leather.
With the spread of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula, it became necessary to establish a standard text to preserve the sanctity of the message and to fix an authorised spelling for all time. This text was collated and codified by order of the third Caliph, 'Uthman ibn 'Affan, in about 650. This is the authoritative text of the Qur'an to this day.
What is kufic script?
The striking angular Arabic script known as kufic takes its name from the Iraqi town of Kufah, one of the earliest centres of Islamic learning, and where the script probably developed. Kufic, literally, helped to shape the Qur'ans it was written in: because the script's vertical strokes were very short but its horizontal strokes elongated, it was written on materials in a landscape (wide) format.
Kufic Qur'ans of the ninth and tenth centuries were also characterised by the use of red dots to represent the vowels of the text and short black diagonal strokes to distinguish different letters of similar shapes. In this copy, green dots denote the letter 'hamzah' (the glottal stop, as in a Cockney pronunciation of the word 'butter') and gold ornaments mark the end of each verse.