01 August 2019
From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans with spurious colophons
Over the past two decades, a number of unusual and impressive Qur’an manuscripts have come to light, some with colophons recording places of production in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone. This corpus of manuscripts was introduced and discussed in detail in my 2008 article ‘From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines’, published in the St. Petersburg-based journal Manuscripta Orientalia. In that study, I presented 14 Qur’an manuscripts with a shared and highly distinctive codicological profile, six of which had colophons recording Southeast Asian toponyms.
Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r
Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r
It was through the publications and kind advice of Prof. Amri Shikhsaidov that I had been able to identify all these ‘Brunei-Philippines’ Qur’ans as deriving from the manuscript culture of Daghistan, in the Caucasus region of Russia. But how could the Southeast Asian colophons be accounted for? From an examination of the historical record, I concluded that there were just enough traces of linkages - for example, a Daghistani scholar in Mecca in the late 19th century is known to have taught Southeast Asian Muslims - to imagine “a historical, theological and cultural contex within which the prospect of a Daghistani scribe producing a Qur’an in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone in the 18th or early 19th century is logically plausible, without, it must be admitted, a single piece of firm supporting evidence from Southeast Asia itself, other than the colophons of the six Qur’an manuscripts” (Gallop 2008: 49). At this point, I also faced up squarely to consider the question of forgery, and in particular, whether the colophons may have been tampered with or added to at some subsequent date, but on the basis of a close visual examination, concluded that there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the colophons.
Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r
Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r
Very soon after the publication of my 2008 article, however, I arrived at the opposite conclusion, namely that the colophons linking these Daghistani manuscripts to Southeast Asia must all be spurious (but very expertly done!) recent additions. One major problem that I faced in 2008 was the lack of authentic comparative material, for not a single Qur’an manuscript from the Philippines or Brunei had then been published. But over the past decade, 17 Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao have now been documented, held both in the Philippines (Kawashima 2012) and in U.S. collections (Gallop 2011). All of these Mindanao Qur’ans relate to broader Southeast Asian schools of manuscript art, but display no artistic or codicological linkages at all with the Daghistani Qur’ans. Another factor which tipped the already tenuous balance of probability was the relentlessly increasing number of such Qur’an manuscripts emerging onto the market.
Decorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848B
Thus far, my conclusions had been based purely on contextual evidence. Fortunately, with the assistance of Prof. Haida Liang, Head of Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art history and Conservation (ISAAC) at the School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University (NTU), I was recently able to test my hypothesis scientifically. On 14 February 2018, two Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library with Southeast Asian colophons (Or 15913 and Or 16058, both now fully digitised) underwent multispectral imaging by my BL colleague imaging scientist Dr Christina Duffy, and the resulting images were then analysed by Liang’s MA student Luke Butler and research fellow Dr Sotiria Kogou at ISAAC.
Or 16058 is a Qur'an manuscript written in a bold, confident hand with the calligraphic verve and even swagger typical of the Daghistani tradition, on Russian paper with a variety of embossed stamps in Cyrillic script of the paper-making factories (for example, Fabriki / Nasledekov / Sumkino / No.7 on f. 296r). The colophon on f.546r is dated duhā Rabi‘ al-āwal 1237 (midday in November/December 1821) and mentions the name Mūsā bin Muhammad al-Ra’īs al-Jakkī al-Hakārī and the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). In this manuscripts, multispectral imaging of the colophon, written in black ink, did not deliver significant results in terms of any differentiation with the black ink of the surrounding or preceding text.
Final pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546r
Detail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546r
The second manuscript, Or. 15913, yielded more spectacular results (as first reported in Gallop 2017). This manuscript is written on Russian laid paper, watermarked with the date 1795 and Cyrillic letters BUFSAGP, standing for bumashnaia uglichskaia fabrika soderzhatelia Aleksandra Grigor’evicha Pereiaslavtseva, a paper factory in Uglich, north of Moscow. On the final page a colophon statement, set within an illuminated panel, reads kataba hādhā al-mukarram Zayn al-Dīn fī ?Ahūmū fī madinat fī Sabah min al-mamālik al-Burūnawiyyah fī Ramadān sanat khamsīn wa-alf <wa-mi’at>, ‘This was written by the honoured Zayn al-Dīn in ?Ahūmū in a town in Sabah, one of the kingdoms of Brunei, in Ramadan of the year one thousand and fifty <and one hundred>’, giving a date (1150 AH=1737/8 AD) which postdates the date of manufacture of the paper.
Following analysis of the multispectral images, while the pigments surrounding the colophon appear to be identical with those elsewhere on the page to the naked eye, the near infrared (1050nm) band image shows a clear difference. As explained by the ISAAC team, both the application of principal component analysis (PCA) and the independent component analysis (ICA) on the spectral images, and the spectral comparison between the green areas in the colophon and those elsewhere on the page, show a clear difference in the material composition, and these results support the suggestion that the colophon panel was added to the manuscript at a later date. While spectral imaging cannot give a firm dating for this later addition, it does confirm that the colophon is not an integral part of the original manuscript.
Final page of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. Set into a decorative panel at the bottom is the colophon stating that the manuscript was copied in Sabah, part of Brunei. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v
In the continuing absence of any other supporting evidence from within the Southeast Asian manuscript tradition, I would suggest that all other 'Southeast Asian' colophons in Daghistani manuscripts are equally spurious modern additions. This lengthy expose - made possible thanks to the wonderful collaboration of Haida Liang and her team at ISAAC, NTU - is important due to the incalculable threat posed to scholarship and our understanding of the Islamic manuscript traditions of Southeast Asia through the circulation of such 'rogue' manuscripts, skilfully implanted into areas with relatively poorly-studied writing cultures, and from which few manuscripts have ever been published.
Moreover, it is ironic to note that although the Southeast Asian colophons were evidently added for commercial reasons to enhance the perceived monetary value of these manuscripts, the Daghistani Qur'ans themselves are in fact intrinsically valuable as fine examples of an impressive but little-known Islamic calligraphic tradition from the Caucasus, and are worthy of being appreciated as such in their own right. Thus the British Library is now happy to find itself the proud possessor of an important research collection of ten Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts, and these will be explored in a future blog.
A.T. Gallop, From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines. I-II. Manuscripta Orientalia, 14 (1), June 2008, pp.32-56; 14 (2), December 2008, pp.3-20.
A.T. Gallop, Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao in U.S. Collections. Islamic manuscripts from the Philippines in U.S. collections: a preliminary listing, including two printed Qur’ans. Our own voice, April 2011.
A.T. Gallop, Fakes or fancies? some 'problematic' Islamic manuscripts from Southeast Asia. Manuscript cultures, 2017, 10: 101-128.
Kawashima Midori (ed.), The Qur’an and Islamic manuscripts of Mindanao. Tokyo: Institute of Asian Cultures, Sophia University, 2012.
A. Shikhsaidov, Muslim treasures of Russia. II: Manuscript collections of Daghistan. Part II, Manuscripta Orientalia, 13.1 ( 2007), pp. 25-61.
With thanks to Christina Duffy, BL, and Haida Liang, Sotiria Kogou and Luke Butler, ISAAC, NTU