Five vellum fragments from an early Hijazi Qur'an, Arabian Peninsula, 7th/8th century
- Brown ink on vellum
Arabic manuscript on vellum, 5 separate pieces, 6 to 14 lines to the page in Hijazi script in brown ink
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the early history of the qur'an
On the basis of traditional accounts, it is reported that sometime between the Prophet's death in 632 AD and the death of the Caliph Uthman in 656 AD several copies of the Qur'an, some in sheet form, some in codex form, were compiled under the supervision of Zayd Ibn Thabit, and that authoritative codices were sent to the main centres of Islam of the period. The first 'collection' of the Qur'an came during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (632-4 AD), who commissioned Zayd Ibn Thabit, one of the Prophet's former secretaries, to collect the Qur'an from the various written fragments surviving and from "the hearts of men". Zayd Ibn Thabit copied what he had gathered onto sheets and presented them to Abu Bakr. The second major reported impetus for a written version of the Qur'an came during the Caliphate of Uthman (644-656 AD). During expeditions in Syria and further north there were disputes among the troops as to the exact reading of the Qur'an. These reports worried Uthman and led him to decide to produce a single definitive version of the text to prevent any further disputes among the believers. Again Zayd Ibn Thabit was chosen to supervise the writing of the Qur'an. When he had completed his new official version, several more copies were made and one each sent to the main metropolitan centres of Islam at the time. The exact list of cities to have received a copy is not certain. Some reports suggest that four copies were sent out, others suggest seven, while others suggest that one copy was sent to every Muslim province.
The number of fragments of Qur'an in very early Arabic script (pre-Kufic styles) that have survived to the present day would indicate that there was an increasingly extensive production of Qur'an manuscripts in various parts of the Islamic world from the end of Uthman's Caliphate onwards. This would have been a natural development in a quickly expanding empire in which there were a growing number of followers of Islam in widely diverse regions. There would have been both an increasing need for written copies of the Qur'an for the growing Muslim community and an official impetus to promulgate the sacred text.
the early development of arabic script
Arabic script at this stage has been referred to as scriptio defectiva as opposed to the scriptio plena of modern Arabic. This is due to the fact that the Arabic script is basically a consonantal one, in which the letters form only a consonantal skeleton and the vowel sounds are provided by separate orthographic markings. Furthermore, many letters share the same basic form, and the exact letter is indicated by further diacritical markings in order to differentiate between identical basic letter-forms. For instance, the letters baand ta ("b" and "t") share the same basic letter form, but the placing of a dot or dots above or below the letter allows us to differentiate between the two. At the stage of the writing of the present leaf, the system of applying the diacritical and orthographic markings had not been standardised. According to traditional accounts, the establishment of a comprehensive system of diacritical marks on consonants in the form of dots or vertical dashes (known as letter-pointing or i`jam) was devised by Al-Hajjaj Bin Yusuf, who died in 714 AD. This was an important development as it meant that consonants of identical form could be distinguished from one another. The other great aid to the development of an easily readable script was the use of coloured dots to indicate vowels. This invention has been attributed to Abu'l-Aswad al-Du`ali, who died in 688 AD. However, it has been argued that the development of the scriptio defectiva into the scriptio plena could not have happened suddenly as is implied by the accounts of the inventions of Al-Hajjaj and Abu'l-Aswad, and it is more likely that their introduction and standardization occurred more gradually. From the physical evidence, the introduction of the use of coloured dots to indicate vowels certainly seems to post-date the widespread use of dashes for letter-pointing.
Here the dots for letter-pointing (i`jam) are applied using a system quite often seen on very early Qur'an pages. In cases where there are two or more letter-forms of the same consonantal shape that would requirei`jam within a single word, or when the meaning of a word could be mis-construed by the absence of a defining letter-point, then letter-pointing is applied. But where only one example of a letter-form occurs within a single word, or the meaning of the word is clear and there is no possibility of consonantal confusion, then letter-pointing is omitted. There are no coloured dots for vocalisation on the present folio, further indicating an early date.
The script of the present folio is fairly distinctive among the wider group of early (pre-Kufic) scripts. Several individual letter-forms exhibit primitive features. Specifically, the terminal qaf/fa, the independent jim/ha/khaand the dal/dhal. However, the lineal discipline is quite developed, as is the parallelism of the vertical letters.There are two early Qur'anic fragments in the Oriental Institute in Chicago written in scripts close in style to that on the present example (inventory numbers A7001 and A6959, see N. Abbot, 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, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939). Of these, A7001 is the closer, so close, in fact, that it is possible that the same scribe was responsible for both the Chicago fragment and the present one. They cannot be from the same codex however, as the shape, dimensions and number of lines per page differs: the present example measures 36 by 27cm in its current state, and has 21 lines of script per page, while the Chicago fragment A7001 measures 19 by 10.5cm and has only 11 lines of script per page. A further fragment with a related script is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (Arabe 330e, see F. Déroche, Les manuscrits du Coran: Aux origines de la calligraphie coranique, Bibliothèque Nationale, Catalogues des manuscrits arabes, Deuxième partie: Manuscrits musulmans, I/I, Paris: BNF 1983, no.15).
The majority of surviving fragments of the earliest Qur'an manuscripts are divided among museums, libraries and private collections in the Middle East and the West, with major holdings or significant individual codices in Istanbul, Sana'a, St.Petersburg, Paris, London, Dublin, Berlin, Doha and Chicago. The subject of early Qur'anic fragments and early Arabic scripts has long fascinated scholars: as far back as the early nineteenth century figures such as Amari and Noldeke were studying the material then available, while in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholars such as Van Berchem, von Karabacek, Grohmann, Margoliouth and Abbot conducted important research. More recently a larger number of scholars have focused on the subject, with Francois Déroche leading the field. For the most recent research see F. Déroche, La transmission écrite du Coran dans les débuts de l'islam, Le codex Parisino-petropolitanus, Leiden, 2009; A. George, The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy, London, 2010.
Other Qur'an folios in Hijazi scripts have been sold in these rooms 3 October 2012, lot 11, 6 October 2010, lot 3, 8 October 2008, lot 3, 22 October 1993, lots 31 and 34, 23 October 1992, lot 551, and 23 April 1979, lot 13.