An image of an open Qur'an manuscript

Islam introduction

An overview of articles and British Library resources relating to Islam.

The Qur’an

Islam’s main sacred text is the Qur’an. According to Muslim tradition the Qur’an is the actual word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabic language through the intermediary of the Archangel Gabriel. From about 610 until his death in 632, the Prophet Muhammad received the divine revelations first at Mecca and subsequently at Medina, to where he had emigrated in 622. The Qur’an consists of 114 surahs, or chapters. The text is traditionally read aloud, as Muhammad was instructed in the first revelation he received: ‘Recite in the name of your Lord’ (Surah 96. 1). The word Qur’an comes from the Arabic verb meaning ‘to read’.
After Muhammad’s death, his secretary, Zayd ibn Thabit, compiled the revelation into a book, and the text was later collated and definitively codified by order of Caliph ‘Uthman in 651. This is the text used in all Qur’an manuscripts, although the styles of calligraphy and illumination depend on the place and date of production.

Contents

Articles

The Qur’an

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. 

Sources of wisdom and authority in Islamic sacred texts

In this article Dr Mustafa Shah outlines some of the most important textual sources of wisdom and authority in Islam, in both Sunni and Shi‘a traditions. Among them are hadith, sunnah, shari‘ah, tafsīr and kalam

Illumination of the Qur’an

Dr Colin Baker introduces Islamic illumination, looking at its function and common features, and illustrating its historic development with sumptuous examples from Qur’ans around the world. 

Calligraphy of the Qur’an

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. 

Prayer in Islam

Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam. This article by Dr Amjad Hussain explains common features of Islamic prayer, such as the call to prayer, daily timings and the direction of prayer. He also explores the linguistic, geographic and sectarian diversity of prayer in Islam. 

Islamic pilgrimages and sacred space 

Hajj is the most well-known pilgrimage in Islam. Here Dr Sophia Arjana discusses its role in the religion, whilst also looking at Shi‘a and regional pilgrimages, sainthood and sacred space in Islam. 

Prophecy and revelation in Islam

Muhammad is the Prophet of Islam. Professor Walid Saleh explains the role of prophecy in Islam, discussing the primacy of the Prophet Muhammad and his life, as well as exploring other biblical and Arabian prophets present in the Qur’an, and the tradition of literature about them. 

Sufism

Dr Alessandro Cancian explores Sufism, Islamic mysticism. He charts its development as a historical phenomenon, its terminology and literature, as well as delving into the aim of the Sufi spiritual path and the importance of spiritual masters and the Qur’an. 

Women in Islamic sources

Dr Raana Bokhari Shah explores the presentation of women in Islamic sources, including their role in the scripture and contribution to Islamic sources, both Sunni and Shi‘a. She finishes by reflecting on the role of women in modern Islamic societies and offers some modern interpretations of the role of women in Islam. 

Islam film

Our film on Islam explores four of the five pillars of Islam – the Muslim profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), charity (zakat), and fasting during Ramadan (sawm) – and how Muslims in Britain follow them today. 


Further resources on Islam at the British Library