This lavishly illuminated Royal Qur'an was commissioned by the Il-Khanid Sultan, Uljaytu (r. 1304-17). It was beautifully calligraphed by 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Husayni and, at 72cm by 50cm, it is large even by the standards of grand imperial Qur'ans of the time.
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 a 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 that Muhammad received: 'Recite in the name of your Lord'. The word 'Qur'an' comes from the Arabic verb 'to recite'.
Who was Sultan Uljaytu?
The commission certificate of this Qur'an traces Sultan Uljaytu's ancestry back to Genghis Khan. His tomb is all that is left, in modern day Iraq, of Sultaniyya, a city established by Uljaytu's father in the 1280s. The tomb itself was begun during Uljaytu's lifetime and was intended as a shrine to the Shia saints Imam Ali and Imam Husayn - he was a recent convert from Sunni to Shia Islam.
What characterises this Qur'an?
The text, within a central panel and a rectangular frame, is written in gold muhaqqaq script with vowel signs in black ink. Muhaqqaq was a popular script for larger Qur'ans of the Mamluk and Il-Khanid periods, its angular and cursive features giving the calligrapher an opportunity to combine fluidity with rigidity.
The inscription in the top panels records that this particular section of the Qur'an is volume 25 of a 30 volume Qur'an, while the lower panels contain part of the 'throne verse' (chapter 2, verse 255). This is one of the few complete parts of this multi-volume set to have survived intact.