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11th century Qur'an

This elegant, detailed Qur'an is one of the earliest dated examples of naskhi script, the Arabic calligraphic hand which became one of the most popular styles for such manuscripts thanks to its legibility.

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11th century Qur'an

Qur’an, Iraq or Persia, 1036. Chapter 37, al-Saffat (The Ranked Fliers), verse 20 to Chapter 38, Sad (The Letter Sad), verse 35
BL Add. MS 7214, f. 52v
Copyright © The British Library Board

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.

How was the Qur'an written down?

Few could write in the seventh century. 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, about 650. This is the authoritative text of the Qur'an to this day.

What is special about this Qur'an?

This Qur'an is written on paper and penned in the cursive, proportional script known as naskhi. It was 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. This Qur'an is one of the earliest dated examples in this style of script.

The illumination in this Qur'an is both decorative and functional. Gold roundels within the text mark the end of each verse. Small palmettes in the margin are in the form of the Arabic letter ha' and indicate the end of a fifth verse, ha' having the numerical value of five in the Arabic alphanumeric system. The overlapping roundels mark the end of a 10th verse.