A Qur'an Bifolium in Kufic Script on Vellum from the Mushaf al-Hadinah, the 'Nurse's Qur'an', Qairawan, North Africa, A.H. 410/A.D. 1020
- 44.5 by 62.5cm.
5 lines per page written in bold angular kufic script in brown ink on vellum, vowels and diacritics in red blue and green
Known as the Mushaf al-Hadinah (the Nurse's Qur'an), as it was commissioned by a former nurse of the Zirid Prince al-Mu'izz ibn Badis, this is arguably the most magnificent example of western kufic.
The calligraphic style in which the Nurse's Qur'an was written, broken cursive, is predominantly associated with the eastern Islamic lands. A number of signed manuscripts in this style, dating from the late ninth to the tenth centuries, place the script in Mesopotamia, and Persia (as evidenced by colophons naming Al-Niffari, a mystic from Niffar in Mesopotamia, and Ali ibn Shadhan al-Razi, a copyist from Rayy in central Persia). In addition to which a great number of manuscripts in broken cursive are stored in the shrine library at Mashhad, and the calligraphic style of textiles and ceramics produced in the eastern Islamic lands from this period exhibit closely comparable scriptural idiosyncrasies. The tiraz of the mulham fabric that was a speciality of Merv, for example, and the Nishapur pottery of this period both exhibit the rising tails and the triangular medial letters of broken cursive. This then makes the Nurse's Qur'an a fascinating document pertaining to the international nature of the early Islamic empire.
The Nurse's Qur'an is remarkable not only for its idiosyncratic, highly mannered broken cursive, but also because it is annotated with two inscriptions providing fascinating documentary evidence for the contemporary social hierarchy and manuscript production. One note states that the nurse of the Zirid prince al-Mu'izz ibn Badis endowed it to the Great Mosque of Qairawan in Ramadan A.H.410/A.D.1020. Whilst the other is a colophon recording that 'Ali ibn Ahmad al-Warraq was responsible for its entire production, from writing, vowelling, marking and gilding to binding.
The Zirid dynasty of Ifrikiya was the first great Berber dynasty of North Africa; established initially as a principality by the Egyptian Fatimids in an attempt to provide a military cushion against the hostile tribes of the region, the Zirids eventually took the reigns of government entirely into their own hands. According to the Arab historian ibn Khaldun, the reign of al-Mu'izz ibn Badis (406-454/1016-1062) was the most luxurious and ostentious of all the Zirids. It was he who renounced his vasalship to the Fatimids and proclaimed allegiance to the Abbasid Caliphs. It is hardly surprising that a culture of such wealth and confidence produced a manuscript of this size and quality. It is also interesting to speculate on the shifting political alliances of the period, and what influence this may have had on the manuscript production of the time and its choice of script.
Regardless of whether or not this manuscript was a political statement, it remains a unique and impressive legacy of the Zirids in North Africa, and is a remarkable historical document commissioned by a female servant of a medieval, royal household.