The Qur'anic Manuscripts In Museums, Institutes, Libraries & Collections

Islamic Awareness

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First Composed: 15th June 2000

Last Modified: 7th August 2000

The Museums, Institutes & Collections described below contain the Qur'anic manuscripts from 1st century of hijra onwards. The readers are advised to go through the cited publications to obtain more information about the nature of the Qur'anic manuscripts.

Maktabat al-Jami al-Kabir (Maktabat al-Awqaf), The Great Mosque, San‘a', Yemen.

The Great Mosque of San‘a', established in 6th year of hijra when the Prophet entrusted one of his companions to build a mosque. It is considered to be the first mosque in Yemen and among the oldest in Islamic world. The mosque was extended and enlarged by Islamic rulers from time to time. The manuscript collection (ca. 7,000) of the Great Mosque is housed in three libraries in the mosque complex. The first to be established was Al-Maktaba al-Sharqiya which was completed during the reign of al-Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din (1904-1948). The second to be established was Al-Maktaba al-Gharbiya which houses the manuscripts and books of Al-Hay'a al-‘Âmma li-l-Âthar wa Dur al-Kutub. Both these libraries are located in the southern side of the msoque. The Maktabat al-Awqaf, the main modern library, is housed on the second floor in the new three-story building of the Great Mosque of San‘a'. It contains some of the rarest Islamic manuscripts in the world, including rare manuscripts of the Qur'an. Subjects include theology, jurisprudence, Qur'anic sciences, tafsir, terminology of hadith, sirah, sciences of the Arabic langauge, lexicography, literature, poetry, history, politics, philosophy, logic, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and agriculture. Among the manuscripts in the collection is a copy of the Qur'an reputed to be in the handwriting of Al-Imam ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Zayd Ibn Thabit and Salman al-Farsi, in two parts, each of 150 pages, in large unpointed Kufic script.

In 1385 H/1965 CE heavy rains fell on San‘a'. The Great Mosque was affected and the ceiling in the north west corner was damaged. During the survey, the workers discovered a large vault full of parchment and paper manuscripts of both the Qur'an and non-Qur'anic material. The dig at the Great Mosque in San‘a', Yemen, had found a large number of manuscripts of the Qur'an dating from first century of hijra.

The UNESCO, an arm of the United Nations, had compiled a CD containing some of the dated San‘a' manuscripts as a part of "Memory of the World" programme. In this CD there are more than 40 Qur'anic manuscripts which are dated from 1st century of hijra (in both Hijazi and Kufic scripts), one of them belonging to early 1st century. More than 45 manuscripts have been dated from the period 1st / 2nd century of hijra. A few examples of the manuscripts from 1st, 1st/2nd, 2nd and 2nd/3rd centuries of hijra can be seen at this website.

A few more examples of the 1st and 1st / 2nd century Qur'anic manuscripts from San‘a' can be found in the book Masahif San‘a'. This book is a catalogue of an exhibition at the Kuwait National Museum, with articles by Hussa Sabah Salim al-Sabah, G. R. Puin, M. Jenkins, U. Dreibholz in both Arabic and English. World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts covers the catalogue of manuscripts at the Great Mosque published in various books.

[1] Memory Of The World: San‘a' Manuscripts, CD-ROM Presentation, UNESCO.

[2] Masahif San‘a', 1985, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah: Kuwait.

[3] Geoffrey Roper (ed.), World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts, 1992, Volume III, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation: London, p.p. 664-667.

Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya (Egyptian National Library), Cairo, Egypt.

The manuscript collection in Dar al-Kutub is regarded as one of the largest and most important in the world. The total number of manuscripts in this library are 50,755 out of which 47,065 are in Arabic, 996 in Persian and 2,150 in Turkish. It contains priceless and rare manuscripts from the Islamic heritage, especially from the first four centuries of hijra, as well as extremely rare illustrated manuscripts unmatched anywhere else in the world. There is a high proportion of manuscripts copied in the early centuries of Islam. It holds two of the earliest dated Qur'anic manuscripts dating from dating 102 AH / 720 CE and 107 AH / 725 CE.

Dar al-Kutub has 50,755 manuscripts from which 47,065 are in Arabic, 996 in Persian and 2150 in Turkish. The manuscripts cover nearly all subjects. A complete reference of catalogue of the manuscripts can be seen in:

[1] G. Roper (ed.), World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts, 1992, Volume I, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation: London, p.p. 212-218.

[2] B. Moritz, Arabic Palaeography: A Collection Of Arabic Texts From The First Century Of The Hidjra Till The Year 1000, 1905, Publications of the Khedivial Library, No. 16, Cairo, See Pl. 31-34 and Pl. 1-12 for 102 AH / 720 CE and 107 AH / 725 CE, respectively.

[3] T. W. Arnold & A. Grohmann, The Islamic Book: A Contribution To Its Art And History From The VII-XVIII Century, 1929, The Pegasus Press, p. 22.

Âstan-i Quds-i Razavi Library, Mashhad, Iran.

This library has one of the oldest (established in 861 AH/1457 CE) collection of Islamic manuscripts in the Muslim world and the most important in Iran.It has about 29,000 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Of the 29,000 manuscripts it possess, 11,000 are manuscripts of the Qur'an, thus making it the largest Qur'anic manuscript collection in the world. It is also important in that it contains a large number of magnificent, old and illuminated Qur'anic manuscripts, including several old Kufic Qur'anic manuscripts written on deer skin, other with marvellous illuminations from 3rd century hijra (9th century CE) onwards, and some written by famous calligraphers. The manuscripts are catalogued in various publication as can be seen in the reference below.

[1] G. Roper (ed.), World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts, 1992, Volume I, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation: London, pp. 481-486.

Islamic Museum, Jerusalem, Palestine.

This museum was established in 1923 by the Islamic Legal Council in Palestine. The manuscript collection of the Islamic Museum consists entirely of masahif of the Qur'an, numbering 644, donated over centuries to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Some were presented by rulers and private individuals, and others have been donated by such Palestinian cities as Hebron and Nablus.

The Qur'anic manuscripts vary in type, age and size. Many are rab‘at (i.e., they were copied in thirty fascicles and stored in a chest, or rab‘a). The oldest is Kufic, from the end of the second century after hijra, while the most recent is a copy from the thirteenth century after hijra. Sizes range from 16 x 11.5 cm. to the massive second volume of the Qur'an of the Mamluk Sultan Qa't Bay (r. 872-901/1468-1496), which measures 110 x 90 cm. and is 15 cm. thick. The majority of the Qur'anic manuscripts are splendidly illuminated and decorated , the exceptions being for the most part the copies of the late Ottoman period.

One of the most important manuscript in this collection is the Kufic copy of the second half of the Qur'an, the transcription of which is attributed to Al-Hasan b. Al-Husayn b. ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. The pages in this manuscript are beautifully illuminated, with each surah heading bearing its own distinct style of decoration; the covers are also decorated on both sides, but are of the Mamluk period.

The museum also hold an important collection of 883 documents (855 Arabic; 28 persian) from the the 8th/14th century. The complete reference of catalogue of the manuscripts in this museum can be seen in:

[1] G. Roper (ed.), World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts, 1993, Volume II, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation: London, p.p. 579-581.

Beit al-Qur'an, Manama, Bahrain.

The Beit al-Qur'an collection of Qur'anic manuscripts is one of the most comprehensive of its type in the world. This great collection includes magnificent calligraphic works from as early as the first century hijra (7th / 8th CE) to the present day, from all regions of the Islamic world, from China to Andalusian Spain. Manuscripts from 1st and 1st/2nd century of hijra are available at this website. It is a privately-owned collection. More information about Beit al-Qur'an and other museums in Bahrain is also available.

The Nasser David Khalili Collection Of Islamic Art, London, United Kingdom.

The Nasser David Khalili Collection Of Islamic Art contains the largest and most comprehensive range of Qur'anic material in private hands. It is managed by the Nour Foundation. The entire history of Qur'an production from the seventh to the twentieth century is covered, and includes items from centers as far apart as India and Spain. A team of distinguished academics is cataloguing the entire collection, which is to encompass a series of twenty-six volumes. The Qur'anic manuscripts in this collection are described and illustrated in four lavish volumes. They are written in various scripts and are dated from late 1st century of hijra onwards. The Nour Foundation in collaboration with Oxford University Press has published the collection. The references are:

[1] F. Déroche, The Abbasid Tradition: Qur'ans Of The 8th To The 10th Centuries AD, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art Vol. I, 1992, Oxford University Press, 192 pp.

[2] D. James, The Master Scribes: Qur'ans of the 10th to 14th Centuries, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art Vol. II, 1992, Oxford University Press, 240 pp.

The second of four volumes cataloguing the Qur'ans, this book includes a Qur'an that retains its original illumination by the greatest calligrapher of the Middle Ages, Yaqut al-Musta'simi. Other masterpieces include a Qur'an written in gold from twelfth-century Iraq; the only twelfth-century Qur'an from Valencia; and a manuscript that is possibly the earliest Qur'an to survive from India.

[3] D. James, After Timur: Qur'ans of the 15th and 16th Centuries, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art Vol. III, 1992, Oxford University Press, 256 pp.

The third of four volumes cataloguing the Qur'ans in the Khalili Collection, this book includes fifteenth century Qur'ans in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Constantinople, and India as well as sixteenth century Qur'ans in Iran and India.

[4] M. Bayani, A. Contadini & T. Stanley, The Decorated Word: Qur'ans of the 17th to 19th Centuries, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art Vol. IV, 1999, Oxford University Press, 334 pp.

This two-part volume is the last of four dedicated to the Qur'ans in the Khalili Collection, and covers the period 1700-1900 and items from Islamic Africa, Ottoman Turkey, Iran, India and the Far East.

[5] N. F. Safwat, The Art of the Pen Calligraphy of the 14th to 20th Centuries, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art Vol. V, 1999, Oxford University Press, 248 pp.

The Nasser D. Khalili Collection holds examples of Islamic calligraphy that span six centuries and demonstrate the continuity of this central art form into the modern era. The holdings - nearly 300 in total - include exceptional items that feature the work of many of the most famous master calligraphers, including Seyh Hamdullah and Hafiz Osman.

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France.

Successor to the old Bibliothèque Royale, the Bibliothèque Nationale has assembled collections of Islamic manuscripts formed over the centuries and regularly augmented by purchases and gifts; these collections rank among the most important in Europe and cover nearly all subjects (total ca. 12,000). Especially noteworthy are some Quranic manuscripts of the first centuries after hijra. These are kept in the Départment des Manuscrits, Division des Manuscrits Orientaux.

Photographs of some undated Quranic manuscripts written in Hijazi script at Bibliothèque Nationale can be seen in ref. 2. For catalogues of collection at Bibliothèque Nationale, please see ref. 1.

[1] G. Roper (ed.), World Survey Of Islamic Manuscripts, 1992, Volume I, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation: London, pp. 212-218.

[2] F. Déroche, Catalogue des Manuscrits Arabes (Les Manuscrits Du Coran), 1983, Volume I, Bibliothèque Nationale: Paris.

The Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, United States of America.

The Oriental Institute Museum holds a decent collection of Qur'anic manuscripts dated from second half of the first century of hijra (classified as 1st/2nd) onwards. The manuscripts are written in Makkan, Kufic and Maghribi scripts suggesting their origin from wide geographical locations in the Islamic world. The relevent reference to look for is the following:

[1] N. Abbott, The Rise Of The North Arabic Script And Its Kur'anic Development, With A Full Description Of The Kur'an Manuscripts In The Oriental Institute, 1939, University of Chicago Press.

This much-acclaimed work of Nabia Abbott has become a sort of standard text book for the students in the western world who are interested in the origins and history of Islamic calligraphy. The book begins with the origins of Arabic script and its development after the advent of Islam. The manuscripts from The Oriental Institute Museum serve as good examples to study various scripts.

The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland.

The Islamic Collection in The Chester Beatty Library contains almost four thousand Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts including many superb copies of the Qur'an. The Islamic Collection is one of the finest in existence and is internationally renowned for the overall high quality and scope of its material. The Library houses examples of the earliest Islamic manuscripts, dated to the ninth and tenth centuries CE, through to those produced in the early years of the twentieth century.

The Islamic Collection consists of several sub-collections. Of these, the Qur'an Collection, comprising some 250 manuscripts, is of special importance and is rivalled only by that of the Topkapi Sarayi in Istanbul, Turkey. Manuscripts of note are a Qur'an of 972, the earliest dated Qur'an copied on paper, and another copied some nine centuries later for the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abdulmecid, the binding and illuminations of which are exceptionally exquisite. However, the real gem of the collection - and indeed one of the most treasured objects of the entire Library - is the splendid Qur'an copied by the famed calligrapher Ibn al-Bawwab in Baghdad in the year 1001.

The published manuscripts are in the following books:

[1] A. J. Arberry, The Koran Illuminated: A Handlist Of The Korans In The Chester Beatty Library, 1967, Hodges Figgis & Co Ltd.: Dublin.

[2] D. James, Qur'ans And Bindings From The Chester Beatty Library: A Facsimile Exhibition, 1980, World of Islam Festival Trust: London.

[3] A. J. Arberry, The Chester Beatty Library: A Handlist Of The Arabic Manuscripts, 1955, Vols. 1-8, Emery Walker (Ireland) Ltd., St. Margaret's Donnybrook: Dublin.

The Institute Of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Among eighty-five thousand manuscripts in 65 living and dead Oriental languages, which are preserved in the St. Petersburg branch of The Institute Of Oriental Studies (formerly the Asiatic Museum founded in 1818), Russian Academy of Sciences, there are many rare or unique religious, historical, and scientific works awaiting their publication. The Institute Of Oriental Studies has recently started a project that deals with compiling the manuscripts in the electronic format. The project, which is similar to UNESCO's "Memory of the World" programme, is called: Asiatic Museum. Treasures from St. Petersburg Academic Collection of Oriental Manuscripts (CD-ROM Series).

This institute houses one of the oldest Qur'anic manuscripts dated to the last half of the 8th century CE and has been published in the Issue 4: One Of The Most Important Qur'anic MSS In The World. It has 81 large parchment folios in Hijazi (i.e., Makkan or Madinan) script contain about 40% of the text of the Qur'an (full texts of 22 surahs and fragments of another 22). The manuscript reflects changes in the orthography and "lay-out" of the sacred text. Such changes were added to the text in red ink, probably a century after the date of copying. Simultaneously, the simple gaps which were left between the preceding surah and the beginning of the following surah were filled with coloured ornaments (very interesting compositions of triangles, arcs, intertwined or intersecting lines, sometimes evocative of nomadic jewelry) with surah titles and information about the number of ayat. The MSS was displayed at the exhibition "Pages of Perfection" (Paris - New York - Lugano - Salzburg) in 1995-1996. Exhibited at the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, at the Villa Favorita at Lugano, Switzerland and at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The relevent publication is:

[1] E. A. Rezvan, Issue 4: One Of The Most Important Qur'anic MSS In The World, THESA Company, St. Petersburg (Russia).

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