Daily Archives: November 10, 2008

History of the Written and printed Qur’an


The Islamic community has extensively documented the birth of its Holy Scripture. Many books and webpages exist on this subject. To give an example, we can find a reference to the history of the Islamic Scripture on the webpage Quranicstudies.com. Ahmad Von Denffer wrote an article named ‘Early and Old Manuscripts of the Qur’an and the Printed Qur’an’, April 2006.

History: Early and Old Manuscripts of the Qur’an and the Printed Qur’an
Published: 23.04.2006
History in and of the Qu’ran

Ahmad Von Denffer

Source: Ulum al-Qur’an (An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an)

1. Early Manuscripts of the Qur’an

Writing Material
Early manuscripts of the Qur’an were typically written on animal skin. We know that in the lifetime of the Prophet, parts of the revelation were written on all kinds of materials, such as bone, animal skin, palm risps, etc. The ink was prepared from soot.

All old Qur’anic script is completely without any diacritical points or vowel signs as explained above. Also there are no headings or separations between the suras nor any other kind of division, nor even any formal indication of the end of a verse. Scholars distinguish between two types of early writing:

# Kufi, which is fairly heavy and not very dense.
# Hijazi, which is lighter, more dense and slightly inclined towards the right.

Some believe that the Hijazi is older than the Kufi, while others say that both were in use at the same time, but that Hijazi was the less formal style. [1]

Some Peculiarities of the Ancient Writing
Numerous copies of the Qur’an were made after the time of the Prophet Muhammad and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and the writers of these manuscripts strictly observed the autography of the ‘Uthmanic Qur’an. There are, compared to the usual Arabic spelling, some peculiarities. Here are a few of them, only concerning the letters alif, ya’, and waw, by way of examples: [2]

# The letter alif is often written on top of a letter instead of after it.
# The letter ya’ (or alif) of the word is omitted.
# Some words have the letter waw in place of alif.

2. Old Manuscripts of the Qur’an

Most of the early original Qur’an manuscripts, complete or in sizeable fragments, that are still available to us now, are not earlier than the second century after the Hijra. The earliest copy, which was exhibited in the British Museum during the 1976 World of Islam Festival, dated from the late second century.[3] However, there are also a number of odd fragments of Qur’anic papyri available, which date from the first century. [4]

There is a copy of the Qur’an in the Egyptian National Library on parchment made from gazelle skin, which has been dated 68 Hijra (688 A.D.), i.e. 58 years after the Prophet’s death.

What happened to ‘Uthman’s Copies?
It is not known exactly how many copies of the Qur’an were made at the time of ‘Uthman, but Suyuti[5] says: ‘The well-known ones are five’. This probably excludes the copy that ‘Uthman kept for himself. The cities of Makka, Damascus, Kufa, Basra and Madina each received a copy. [6]

There are a number of references in the older Arabic literature on this topic which together with latest information available may be summarised as follows:

The Damascus Manuscript
Al-Kindi (d. around 236/850) wrote in the early third century that three out of four of the copies prepared for ‘Uthman were destroyed in fire and war, while the copy sent to Damascus was still kept at his time at Malatja. [7]

Ibn Batuta (779/1377) says he has seen copies or sheets from the copies of the Qur’an prepared under ‘Uthman in Granada, Marakesh, Basra and other cities. [8]

Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372) relates that he has seen a copy of the Qur’an attributed to ‘Uthman, which was brought to Damascus in the year 518 Hijra from Tiberias (Palestine). He said it was ‘very large, in beautiful clear strong writing with strong ink, in parchment, I think, made of camel skin’. [9]

Some believe that the copy later on went to Leningrad and from there to England. After that nothing is known about it. Others hold that this mushaf remained in the mosque of Damascus, where it was last seen before the fire in the year 1310/1892.’ [10]

The Egyptian Manuscript
There is a copy of an old Qur’an kept in the mosque of al-Hussain in Cairo. Its script is of the old style, although Kufi, and it is quite possible that it was copied from the Mushaf of ‘Uthman. [11]

The Madina Manuscript
Ibn Jubair (d. 614/1217) saw the manuscript in the mosque of Medina in the year 580/1184. Some say it remained in Medina until the Turks took it from there in 1334/1915. It has been reported that this copy was removed by the Turkish authorities to Istanbul, from where it came to Berlin during World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded World War I, contains the following clause:

‘Article 246: Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Germany will restore to His Majesty, King of Hedjaz, the original Koran of Caliph Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Turkish authorities and is stated to have been presented to the ex-Emperor William II.” [12]

The manuscript then reached Istanbul, but not Madina. [13]

The ‘Imam’ Manuscript
This is the name used for the copy which ‘Uthman kept himself, and it is said he was killed while reading it. [14]

According to some the Umayyads took it to Andalusia, from where it came to Fas (Morocco) and according to Ibn Batuta it was there in the eighth century after the Hijra, and there were traces of blood on it. From Morocco, it might have found its way to Samarkand.

The Samarkand Manuscript’
[15] This is the copy now kept in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). It may be the Imam manuscript or one of the other copies made at the time of ‘Uthman.

It came to Samarkand in 890 Hijra (1485) and remained there till 1868. Then it was taken to St. Petersburg by the Russians in 1869. It remained there till 1917. A Russian orientalist gave a detailed description of it, saying that many pages were damaged and some were missing. A facsimile, some 50 copies, of this mushaf was produced by S. Pisareff in 1905. A copy was sent to the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abdul Hamid, to the Shah of Iran, to the Amir of Bukhara, to Afghanistan, to Fas and some important Muslim personalities. One copy is now in the Columbia University Library (U.S.A.). [16]

The manuscript was afterwards returned to its former place and reached Tashkent in 1924, where it has remained since. Apparently the Soviet authorities have made further copies, which are presented from time to time to visiting Muslim heads of state and other important personalities. In 1980, photocopies of such a facsimile were produced in the United States, with a two-page foreword by M. Hamidullah.

The writer of the History of the Mushaf of ‘Uthman in Tashkent gives a number of reasons for the authenticity of the manuscript. They are, excluding the various historical reports which suggest this, as follows:

# The fact that the mushaf is written in a script used in the first half of the first century Hijra.
# The fact that it is written on parchment from a gazelle, while later Qur’ans are written on paper-like sheets.
# The fact that it does not have any diacritical marks which were introduced around the eighth decade of the first century; hence the manuscript must have been written before that.
# The fact that it does not have the vowelling symbols introduced by Du’ali, who died in 68 Hijra; hence it is earlier than this.

In other words: two of the copies of the Qur’an which were originally prepared in the time of Caliph ‘Uthman, are still available to us today and their text and arrangement can be compared, by anyone who cares to, with any other copy of the Qur’an, be it in print or handwriting, from any place or period of time. They will be found identical.

The ‘Ali Manuscript
Some sources indicate that a copy of the Qur’an written by the fourth Caliph ‘Ali is kept in Najaf, Iraq, in the Dar al-Kutub al-‘Alawiya. It is written in Kufi script, and on it is written: “Ali bin Abi Talib wrote it in the year 40 of the Hijra’. [17]

3. The Qur’an In Print

From the sixteenth century, when the printing press with movable type was first used in Europe and later in all parts of the world, the pattern of writing and of printing the Qur’an was further standardised.

There were already printed copies of the Qur’an before this, in the so-called block-print form, and some specimens from as early as the tenth century, both of the actual wooden blocks and the printed sheets, have come down to us. [18]

The first extant Qur’an for which movable type was used was printed in Hamburg (Germany) in 1694. The text is fully vocalised. [19]Probably the first Qur’an printed by Muslims is the so-called ‘Mulay Usman edition’ of 1787, published in St. Petersburg, Russia, followed by others in Kazan (1828), Persia (1833) and Istanbul (1877). [20]

In 1858, the German orientalist Fluegel produced together with a useful concordance the so-called ‘Fluegel edition’ of the Qur’an, printed in Arabic, which has since been used by generations of orientalists. [21]The Fluegel edition has however a very basic defect: its system of verse numbering is not in accordance with general usage in the Muslim world. [22]

The Egyptian Edition
The Qur’anic text in printed form now used widely in the Muslim world and developing into a ‘standard version’, is the so-called ‘Egyptian’ edition, also known as the King Fu’ad edition, since it was introduced in Egypt under King Fu’ad. This edition is based on the reading of Hafs, as reported by ‘Asim, and was first printed in Cairo in 1925/1344H. Numerous copies have since been printed.

The Sa’id Nursi Copy
Finally, the Qur’an printed by the followers of Sa’id Nursi from Turkey should be mentioned as an example of combining a hand-written beautifully illuminated text with modern offset printing technology. The text was hand written by the Turkish calligrapher Hamid al-‘Amidi. It was first printed in Istanbul in 1947, but since 1976 has been produced in large numbers and various sizes at the printing press run by the followers of Sa’id Nursi in West Berlin (Germany).


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Truth and facts concerning the rise of Islam


Today some Europeans easily claim that the cultural heritage left by the Prophet and his companions is not genuine, however, they fail to produce any proof. The many carefully preserved items from the Prophet’s and his companion’s estates have been certified as genuine by witnesses from his immediate social circle, but also writers, historians and authorities and one has to stand on extremely solid ground to prove otherwise.

The Caliphs of several dynasties have carefully managed this cultural heritage, even though the items had to be moved several times. Objects belonging to the Prophet Muhammad’ personal inheritance, pbuh, are kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The Ottomans gathered them here for safekeeping since the sixteenth century. The Muslim website Sunnipath.com describes the history of gathering the Prophet’s personal belongings as follows:

Topkapi Palace was the residence of many Sultans and welcomed many visiting kings and ambassadors for centuries. However, what makes the palace so special is not only the former residents, but the Sacred Relics, which include personal belongings of prophets. Excavated from the most private and hidden rooms of the palace, the entire selection is compiled here for the first time, including those that are not on exhibit for daily visits. From the staff of Prophet Moses to the Mantle of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them, the Sacred Relics which Ottomans preserved in Topkapi Palace for centuries paying utmost respect, are presented in this book. When Sultan Selim returned from the Egyptian campaign (1517), he brought to Istanbul the Sacred Relics from the treasuries of the Mamluk state, Abbasid Caliphate, and Hijaz Emirate. Sultan Selim I began to collect the Sacred Relics at Topkapi Palace , and his successors continued the tradition until the beginning of the twentieth century. The sultans gathered the relics of the Prophet and other great Muslims, as well as items from respected religious sites. At the beginning of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, protecting relics from potential damage by the Wahhabis was a major concern. The Wahhabis thought those who showed reverence to objects were guilty of polytheism, so relics were sent to Istanbul for protection and care. During World War I, when the surrender of Madina was being considered, the city’s guardian, Fahreddin Pasha, sent a number of valuable gifts which had been received over the centuries, along with some Sacred Relics, to Istanbul. Most of these are preserved in the Topkapi Palace Treasury Collection. Today, there are 605 items registered in the Topkapi Palace Museum Division of Sacred Relics. Moreover, there are many objects that can be considered Sacred Relics cataloged in the museum’s treasury, arms, clothes, and library divisions. The items that belonged to the Prophet are called Amanat (Trusts), while the items belonging to other great Muslims or sacred places are called Tabarrukat (Sacred Objects). Today, all the items are called “Sacred Relics,” but in the past they were registered as Blessed Relics ( Al-Amanat al-Mubaraka ). The Ottomans did not attribute any holiness to material objects; yet, they were well aware that property belonging to the Messenger of God had a share of divine blessings. Tahsin Öz wrote the following in his book Emanat-i Mukaddese [The Sacred Relics] published in 1953: “The Sacred Relics were collected thanks to various historical manifestations of fate throughout centuries. This treasure passed to Turks piece by piece by efforts motivated by faith and sometimes by fortune. It is clear that they are not only sacred objects collected and preserved with a religious bond and love, but are valuable by world standards artistically and historically as well. The care and traditional respect shown for the protection of these sacred objects so far has been infinite. As long as we exist, this sacred duty will be performed with love, respect, and honor.”

Among all sacred relics, the Holy Mantle of Prophet Muhammad holds a special place. Due to their respect for this honorable memory from the Prophet, the sultans preserved it in gold cases in the Throne Room. Therefore, the entire complex which included the Throne Room, Audience Hall, dormitory for pages, and the Treasury hosted became to be called Apartments of the Holy Mantle. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, met opposition and resistance when he began calling people to Islam. One of his opponents was the poet Ka‘b. After the conquest of Makka, the poet began to hide. Having been reprimanded by his brother, Ka‘b felt regret. Taking a risk, he secretly went to Madina in disguise and approached the Prophet to ask whether a person who repented his mistakes and embraced the faith would be forgiven or not. After the Messenger answered in the affirmative, the poet asked, “Even Ka‘b ibn Zuhayr?” When the Prophet affirmed this, too, Ka’b revealed his identity and began to read a poem, “Ode to the Mantle,” which would become famous. As a reward the Messenger of God took off his mantle and put it on Ka‘b ibn Zuhayr’s shoulders.

The collection consists of many objects, like Prophet Muhammad’s mantle, standard, sandal, cup, footprint on a stone, swords, bow, his tooth that broke at Uhud, soil he used for ritual ablution, and his seal. They also include a cooking vessel of the prophet Abraham; the turban of the prophet Joseph; the sword of the prophet David; a strand from Abu Bakr’s beard; the Qur’an that is believed to be the one Caliph ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan was reading when he was assassinated; swords of the Prophet’s companions; Fatima al-Zahra’s blouse, veil, and mantle; her son Husayn’s robe, his turban, and a piece of his mantle; Imam Abu Hanifa’s robe; Uways al-Qarani’s felt cap; the crowns of ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani and Imam Sharani; the bowls of Jalal al-Din al-Rumi; the gold rain gutters of the Ka‘ba; the gold and silver covers of the Black Stone; a wing of the Door of Repentance; the lock, keys, and covers of the Ka‘ba; objects like hooks, candles, censers a nd rosewater flasks which were used in the Ka‘ba or in Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque); pieces of wood, stone, glass, porcelain tile, etc. used in repair of these places; covers and soil from the Prophet’s tomb; and the dust called Jawhar al-Saadat [The Jewel of Bliss] which was collected while cleaning the Prophet’s tomb. There are also items used for preserving the Sacred Relics through time, or for their transport from the Ka‘ba, such as chests, drawers, covers (embroidered or plain), bundle wrappers, scabbards, and rahle s (low reading desks). In addition, there are brooms and dust pans used to clean the Privy Chamber; candles; aloe wood; framed inscriptions written by famous calligraphers or the sultans; writings describing the virtues of the Prophet (hilya); prayer rugs and prayer beads; copper and silver bowls; candles; dervish headgear; zamzam water pitchers; and handkerchiefs and blocks for printing on handkerchiefs.

* Title: The Sacred Trusts: Pavilion of the Sacred Relics
* Author: Hilmi Aydin
* Publishing House: Light Publishing
* ISBN: 1-932099-72-7

About the Author
Having specialized in art history, Hilmi Aydin is currently the deputy manager of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul. He used to be the divisional manager of Pavilion of the Sacred Relics until recently appointed to the current position.

Source: this text above is written by Sunnipath.com, The Sacred Trusts: Pavillion of the Sacred Relics (2nd Edition).

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Truth and facts concerning religion


Scientific theories still in the process of empirical search towards validation resemble religious beliefs: the scientist and his followers put their faith in the theory. They think the theory is true, even without proof, and hope to find evidence soon. The first aspect of religious fact finding is documentation of revelations. This may be compared to documentation of historical and political events, to journalism. Unique events in peoples’ lives are recorded by other people. There is no repetition or system and the human perception always plays some part in documentation of historic events. It is not possible to do tests on historic data, because of their unique occurrence, we cannot ‘falsify’ unique historic events. This makes history a matter of trust. Yet historic writings have been preserved since the Antiquity. The ancient cultures of Egypt, Persia, China, India wrote down the lives of their kings and religious leaders, sometimes on stone and sometimes on perch.

Human perception, observation by the human mind, is under the strong influence of the person’s personality and aspects like age, culture, health, economic and political situation of the individual, or gender. Honesty, intellectual capabilities and emotional temperament form a person’s personality and ability to retain facts and events. The facts that are finally written down depend on these aspects, but also on the assignment, the reason for writing them down. Is the person writing a personal journal or is he writing on behalf of an employer? This makes some events at that moment not ‘interesting’ enough to be written down, even though history may regret this later.

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Only the attic has windows


Once I read on an internet forum a parable on knowledge and life. A young man said that our present life may be compared to a house without doors and windows. Fully locked. The attic only has windows and a very small select group has the key to this attic, the rest of men has no access. Now on this attic there is a series of windows and each person who gained access to the attic, goes standing in front of a window. So they each have a more or less different view on the reality outdoors, slightly different from the person standing at the next window. These select people talk through the floor with the people in the rest of the house. So the people downstairs must choose which of the selected people on the attic have the best view on reality outdoors. Some say: outside is Allah, others say outside is/are the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit, again others say outside is nothing at all. We must take into account that the reception of a message through the floor will always be somewhat distorted. We therefor must always interpret the words and make choices. We must always have the honesty to acknowledge we might be wrong. (Thanks to ‘raden’, http://www.maghrebonline.nl)

I find it a very adequate description of religious knowledge and those who guide it. I might add a second level between the the large group of the ordinary people and the selected few on the attic: a level for scholars who do a job of explaining and teaching the information to the ordinary people. The scholarly floor has open communication with the lower floor through trap-doors and stairs and new scholars will be recruited and trained from the ordinary lower floor people. Also a people’s leaders may belong to the ordinary people and the chosen few on the attic may not descend from the elites, in the world of religion.

This means that none of us view the complete picture on reality and that is the main challenge for humanity. How to accept that?

Knowledge, to know something, means to be witness of a phenomenon. One may observe a cloud in the sky, have read the works of an author and have absorbed their contents. Then one may be able to interpret the observation or writings, based on the experiences from the observation process. There are many degrees in knowledge; how far our knowledge reaches, depends on our experience, help from others with expert knowledge, our own intellect and not in the least documentation of previous observations. The tricky part is the last aspect. Natural phenomena listen to a logical and systematic set of rules which we call the laws of nature, but not necessarily so unique events. Unique events that do not repeat themselves are not necessarily supernatural miracles or strange events, they may be events in human history like the birth of a king or tsunamis and constellations of planets that rarely occur. When not documented or overgrown, they go lost to latter generations of people. It does not make them non-scientific fabrications. The realm of religion is the unique event: a prophet or messenger comes and passes on a message from the divine power. The fact that in different periods of time and among different peoples a prophet appeared, gives religion this aspect of unreliability, in the eyes of some. This demonstrates that two kinds of knowledge exist: scientific and philosophical knowledge. Both have in common that their knowledge is gained through witness and interpretation of a phenomenon. Yet for a good reason we say that paper is patient. Paper is a material that people can produce thanks to their knowledge of a production process and paper is paper, repeatedly and without deviation. Its qualities respond to certain hard scientific characteristics. However, the purpose of use and the qualities this paper must have, are based on people’s demands. People’s thinking is not constant, it is based on the changing state of the human mind. The human mind is one of the starting points of philosophy. ‘How to’-questions are answered by natural sciences and ‘why’-questions by philosophy, roughly speaking. The living human mind has development through time, preferences and tastes, interpretation of which is the field of philosophy. Reliable documentation of philosophical ideas is the only hard empirical, scientific aspect of philosophy. Teaching others philosophical ideas thus is a tricky realm of work, as the human perception is always present in the choices a teacher makes.

Yet we must distinguish unique events from philosophical knowledge. A unique event may respond to the laws of nature and be no more than that: a onetime event. It may still be an event with solid scientific explanation and thus be visible to everybody, it may repeat itself and therefor be perceived as real and true. A religious or philosophical theory may fully sprout from a creative mind. It may be an allegoric truth, or a description of a true happening, but who knows that ‘for a fact’? A philosophy, however, can be falsified by reason and sometimes observation, a religious tradition not necessarily so. The human mind develops itself through experience and gaining knowledge and may very well come to adequate conclusions on facts and happenings. Therefore knowledge depends on both observation and thinking. Training may develop our ability to think and interpret, this is why any kind of education has always been seen crucial for any society.

Religion lies on the crossroads of these two dimensions: the road of philosophy and the road of empirical observation based on the law of nature. How sure are we if prophets really did exist and how to interpret their words, are those words really theirs? Can we prove any part of religious tradition as true or false? How reliable is the role of teachers, scholars and historians in religious tradition?

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