This seven-volume Qur’an was produced in Cairo for Rukn al-Dīn Baybars, who later became the Mamluk Sultan Baybars II. It is the earliest dated Qur’an from the Mamluk period.
Who were the Mamluks?
The Mamluk Sultanate was the greatest Islamic empire of the Middle Ages, occupying lands from Egypt to Syria and across the Red Sea. In Arabic, mamluk means ‘owned’ and was used to describe non-Muslim slaves brought to Egypt to serve as soldiers (to avoid the religious prohibition of Muslim fighting Muslim). Many converted and, like Baybars, obtained high positions. The Mamluks eventually took control in Egypt and later the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Who was Sultan Baybars II?
By the time he commissioned this opulent Qur’an, Baybars had risen to one of the top administrative posts in the Mamluk Sultanate. As the equivalent of chief-of-staff to the sultan, he wielded considerable power. When the Sultan Nasir Muhammad was deposed in 1309, he used his power to seize the throne as Baybars II. His triumph was short lived and he ruled for less than a year.
Sultan Baybars II was a staunch defender of Islam. He legalised apostacy, yet he was also the first to allow Franciscan monks to set up small communities in the Holy Land.
Who made this manuscript?
The manuscript is handwritten in gold, in a form of thuluth, a cursive Arabic script that was usually reserved for ornamental headings. Thuluth is characterised by curved letters with barbed heads, often linking and intersecting in complex flowing forms. Its use throughout a whole Qur’an is very rare and is an indication of the high status of this commission. Each volume has an intricate frontispiece combining geometric patterns with ornamental script. It took around two years to complete, and was finished in 1306 (705 in the Islamic calendar).
The text was copied out by a highly talented calligrapher called Muhammad ibn al-Wahid. This Qur’an is the only known surviving example of his work. Lavish decoration was added by a team of artists headed by the master illuminator Abu Bakr, also known as Sandal.
We explore a a digital version of Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an on our award-winning Turning the Pages™.
- Full title:
- Volume one of a seven-volume Qur’an commissioned by Rukn al-Dīn Baybars, later Sultan Baybars II
- Manuscript / Illuminated manuscript
- Muhammad ibn al-Wahid [calligrapher], Abu Bakr [master illuminator], also known as Sandal
- Usage terms
Public Domain. Please consider cultural, religious & ethical sensitivities when re-using this material.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 22406 - Add MS 22412
- Article by:
- Mustafa Shah
- Sacred texts, Islam
The Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam, is believed to be the Word of God as revealed to the Prophet. Here Dr Mustafa Shah describes the historical context of its revelation, its transmission and codification and its shared spiritual heritage with the other main Abrahamic faiths.
- Article by:
- The British Library
An overview of articles and British Library resources relating to Islam.
- Article by:
- Colin F Baker
- Islam, Illuminated texts
Arabic calligraphy is a form of reverence for the Qur’an. Dr Colin Baker outlines the development of qur’anic calligraphy, from some of the earliest existing Qur’ans. He also explores geographic variations in scripts alongside developments in Arabic grammar, changing mediums and Qur’an formats.