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Spanish Qur'an

This is a rare example of a Qur'an which survived the Christian reconquest of Spain - the expulsion of Islam from the peninsula under Ferdinand and Isabella, a process largely completed by 1492, when their recapture of Granada earned them the title 'the Catholic Monarchs'.

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Spanish Qur'an

Qur'an, Granada, Spain, 13th century. Part 39 of a Qur'an in 60 parts. Chapter 27, al-Naml (The Ant), verse 92 to Chapter 28, al-Qasas (The Narrative), verse 3
BL Or. MS 12523C, ff. 14v-15
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 did Islam reach Spain?

After the death of Muhammad, Islam spread quickly from its base in Arabia. During the period of the Umayyad caliphate that ruled from Damascus (661-750), it reached through Egypt to Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. It also expanded into the Iberian Peninsula, becoming the dominant power in Spain from 711.

By the 1100s, Muslim Turks were in control of Jerusalem. But through the 1100s and 1200s, Christian Europe fought to recapture it in a series of bloody wars, known as the Crusades. Through the late 1400s, Christians also fought to reclaim Spain, and by 1492 had expelled, or converted, the Muslims and Jews.

Where can we best see the legacy of the Muslim era in Spain today?

The magnificent palace at Alhambra, in Granada, is a monument to Spain's changes of rule over the centuries. It was built by the Muslim emirs in the 1200s, but when Ferdidand and Isabella oversaw the recapture of Granada in 1492, it was converted into a Christian court. Eventually neglect set in though, a process hastened by Napoleon's use of the place as a barracks. The palace would have ended up a derelict home for squatters, but in 1870 it was declared a national monument, and gradually restored. It is now one of the tourist jewels of Spain. The well-known guitar piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra ('Memories of the Alhambra') by Francisco Tarrega vividly evokes the cool symmetry of its shaded courts and its rippling fountains.

Many other places in southern Spain show the splendid architectural legacy of the Islamic age. Perhaps most notable is the grand mosque in Cordoba, which was converted into a church after the expulsions.


Architectural detail inside the magnificent Alhambra in Granada, southern Spain

What makes this Qur'an special?

Examples of early Andalusian manuscripts from southern Spain are rare, most having been lost during the later Christian reconquest. Qur'ans produced in Spain and North Africa were written on parchment in a style of script known as maghribi. This script, named after the province of Maghreb in North Africa, became the accepted script for copying Qur'ans and other texts in North Africa and Andalusian Spain.

A number of features differentiate the maghribi from other Arabic scripts, particularly in the way the letters fa' and qaf are written. Its vowel signs, as seen in this Qur'an, are usually penned in red or blue, with the letter hamzah (the glottal stop) also indicated by coloured dots.

The ornamental chapter heading here is in western kufic script, the regional version of kufic developed in Tunisia during the 10th century, and from which the maghribi script originated.