This is part nine of an Egyptian Qur'an in 30 volumes. It is written in the style of Arabic script known as 'rayhani'. This manuscript, copied in the 14th century, was donated by a deed of waqf (religious endowment) to a mosque in Cairo by the Mamluk Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq (reigned AH 801-815 or AD 1399–1412).
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 was the Mamluk Sultanate?
It was the greatest Islamic empire of the middle ages, occupying lands from Egypt along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean 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 in struggles between Islamic rulers, in part to avoid the religious prohibition of Muslim fighting Muslim. Many Mamluks converted and, slaves no longer, were able to attain high positions. Eventually Mamluks took power in Egypt. After defeating the Mongol armies in 1260, they annexed strongholds across the eastern Mediterranean and took control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
What is special about this Qur'an?
The first opening of this Qur'an manuscript, part nine of a Qur'an originally in 30 volumes, contains all that remains of the double carpet pages and first page of text. The leaf that was originally between them has been lost. As in most Mamluk Qur'ans, the frame of the first text page is divided into three sections, the middle section containing the text within a flowing, cloud-like motif against a background of scrolls.
The general effect of the carpet page design is that of a rich tapestry, based on a 10-angled, star-shaped medallion with gold and white outlines extending to form a trellis of overlapping polygons, which alternate in gold and blue.
Its fine blue and gold illumination is functional as well as decorative: the gold rectangle on the left-hand folio marks the beginning of chapter VIII, the title of which is written in white in the eastern 'kufic' script often used in Mamluk Qur'ans. The almond-shaped ornament on the same folio marks the beginning of one-half of one of the 60 parts into which the Qur'an is divided for the purpose of recitation.
The mosque-like gold frame on the right-hand folio contains the word sajdah (prostration) in blue, instructing the believer to prostrate himself at this point during his recitation of the Qur'an. On the right-hand folio are the last two verses of chapter VII, al-A'raf (The Heights); on the left-hand folio is verse one of Chapter VIII, al-Anfal (The Spoils of War).