This 16th-century Qur'an from India gives a glorious example of 'carpet pages': rich, ornate abstract patterns whose mix of detail and large-scale effect is similar to that seen on high-quality carpets and rugs of the same culture. It is also an example of imaginative variations of colour for both text and background; in addition, it uses two varieties of script style for decorative impact.
Qur’an, India, 16th century. Chapter 18, al-Kahf (The Cave) verse 110 to Chapter 19, Maryam (Mary), verse 31
BL Add. MS 18497, ff. 118v–119
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What is the Qur'an?
The Qur'an is the central text of the Islamic faith. Islam takes its name from the Arabic word for 'submission' since believers must submit themselves to the will of God - in Arabic, Allah.
It is believed to be the actual word of Allah, as revealed by the archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad from around 610 until his death in 632. This marked the start of Islam. Muhammad is seen as last in a line of prophets stretching back to Abraham, from whom Judaism and Christianity also claim descent.
Abraham was the leader of a group of nomadic tribes in the Middle East some 4,000 years ago. He established a religion that departed from other beliefs in worshipping just one, all-powerful god. The revelations of Muhammad were seen as a cleansing of Abraham's tradition, which had grown corrupt in Judaism and Christianity.
This heritage is reflected in the content of the Qur'an, which has much in common with the Bibles of Jews and Christians. The word Qur'an comes from the Arabic verb meaning 'to read' as it is designed to be recited aloud.
What is special about this Qur'an?
The centre text pages of this Indian Qur'an are distinguished by their carpet page design. The text here is split up with alternating scripts in various coloured inks. The first, middle and last lines are written in muhaqqaq script, a popular style for large illuminated Qur'ans as its angular and cursive features giving the calligrapher an opportunity to combine fluidity with rigidity. These lines alternate in gold and blue on a white ground.
The two main panels of text are in black naskhi script on a gold ground with red and blue flowers. Naskhi is a cursive, proportional script, first developed in the 10th century by the Abbasid vizier and calligrapher Ibn Muqlah (886-940), and later perfected by Ibn al-Bawwab (d. 1022), the master calligrapher who continued his tradition. Naskhi became one of the most popular styles for transcribing Arabic manuscripts, being favoured for its legibility.
In this Qur'an the use of various colours for different scripts is purely for decoration and variety.
How else did Islam influence Indian visual arts?
With the advent of Islamic rule at the end of the 12th century, Islamic architectural elements began to be incorporated such as the use of abstract shapes instead of natural forms; inscriptional art using decorative lettering or calligraphy; inlay decoration and use of coloured marble, painted plaster and brilliantly glazed tiles. Religious buildings such as mosques and tombs, and secular buildings such as forts and palaces, often show these elements. Well-known examples include Shah Jahan's Taj Mahal in Agra, constructed in the 1640s as a monument to his dead wife; and the Red Fort in Delhi.