THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

40 posts categorized "Arabic"

29 October 2019

The Star Tablet of the Bab

Add comment

A second post by our guest contributor the Baha'i scholar Dr. Moojan Momen celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab with an account of one of our most important manuscripts, the Star Tablet written in his own hand.

Today—29 October 2019—Baha’is around the world are commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab. He was the first of two figures whom Baha’is regard as the founders of their faith. The Bab was the forerunner, preparing people for the appearance of Baha’u’llah, whose teachings Baha’is follow.

The British Library holds one of the world’s best collections of Babi and Baha’i manuscripts. Among the most important of these is one in the handwriting of the Bab himself. It is in the shape of a five-pointed star, called a haykal or temple, because it is representative of the head, two arms and two legs of the human form. However, to appreciate this manuscript, it is necessary to understand something of its context.

The Babs star tablet.bl.uk
The Haykal, the Star Tablet of the Bab (BL Or 6887). Public Domain


The Bab

The Bab first announced his mission in 1844 in the city of Shiraz in Iran. During a brief, six-year ministry, he stirred up a great deal of controversy and consternation—especially among the religious leaders of Iran—with his claims and the writings he produced in support of these. For most of the years up to his public execution in 1850, the Bab was under house arrest or in prison, while thousands of his followers were also killed.

It was not just that the Bab’s claim to be the Twelfth Imam or Imam Mahdi, the messianic figure expected by the Shi`i Muslims of Iran, was highly audacious. But, just as Jesus had refrained from conforming to the expectations of the Jews for a military messiah who would lead them to victory over the Romans and establish the dominion of their people, the Bab did not comply with the expectation of Shi`i Muslims that the Twelfth Imam would lead them to a great victory over their enemies and would establish their religion throughout the world. Instead, the Bab interpreted the Traditions (hadīth) that led to these expectations in a spiritual sense and proclaimed that his words were Divine Revelation and he was the inaugurator of a new religious dispensation superseding Islam.

Shrinebab-terraces-night
The Shrine of the Bab and the terraces above and below it at night. Copyright © Bahá'í International Community


The Creation and Significance of the Haykal

In several of his works, the Bab gives instructions for the writing of a haykal, the pentagram or five-pointed star. In the Persian Bayan he states that the five lines that make up the frame of the pentagram create six chambers.PentogramIn the Persian and Arabic alphabet, each letter has a numerical value and this fact was used a great deal by the Bab. Five is the numerical equivalent of the letter H and six the numerical equivalent of the letter W. Together they represent the word Huwa which means “He” and is a common way of referring to God in Islamic mystical literature.[1] The word “Bab” is also equivalent to 5 (B=2, A=1, B=2). The five lines are the outer or manifest and the six chambers created are the inner or hidden. Thus the Bab (= 5) is the outer appearance or Manifestation of the Unseen and Unknowable Divinity (Huwa). In Babi and Baha’i scripture, the Bab is called a Manifestation of God, which should be understood as the Manifestation of the Names and Attributes of God (not that he is an incarnation of God). Indeed, for Baha’is, the prophet-founders of all of the religions have an equal station as Manifestations of God.

The Bab specifies that the pentagram should be carried by men about their person. For women, he gives a different design of six concentric circles, thus forming five spaces in which his verses should be written. Thus the same pattern of five and six also are created in this way. This could be seen as a symbol of the fact that women and men are equal but different.[2] The haykal (temple) represents the temple of a human being, the Perfect Man, and the circle represents the Sun of Truth—both of these representing the Manifestation of God, the Bab.

Daira
Dā’ira
(Circle), drawn according to the instructions given by the Bab. From Qismatī az Alvāḥ-i Khaṭṭ-i Nuqṭah-ʼi Ūlā va Āqā Sayyid Ḥusayn Yazdī ([Tehran?]: n.pub., n.d.), p. 11. Image Courtesy of the Afnan Library

The wearing of amulets containing passages of the Qur’an as a protective talisman is a common custom among Muslims, usually believed to bring good luck or to give protection. The Bab did not prohibit such practices but rather wanted to educate his followers gradually away from them. He saw their function more as a spiritual protection rather than a physical one. He wanted to direct the thoughts of his followers towards their symbolic meaning, towards God and the Manifestation of God, who guides humanity. In the Persian Bayan, the Bab states that the six chambers within the pentagram and the five partitions made by the six circles in the dā’ira should be filled with verses from his writings, but he leaves the creator of the pentagram free to choose which writings to place there. The important point that the Bab makes in this passage, however, is that the purpose of this is not to achieve some magical effect but rather that what is written on the paper should appear in the soul of that person.[3] In other words that they should become the embodiment of the Divine attributes contained in the passages from his writings. And so, men are called the “possessors of the pentagram (haykals)” and women are called the “possessors of the circle (dā’ira)”, not just because that is what each carries but because the Manifestation of the Names and Attributes of God is enshrined within the heart of each individual.[4] Baha’u’llah was later to put this more succinctly thus (Arabic Hidden Words, no. 13):

Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

The second important point that the Bab makes in this passage is that his intention in asking his followers to carry these pentagrams and circles is that by having their attention constantly turned towards God, his followers will, in the day when the next Manifestation of God appears, immediately turn to him.

The British Library haykal of the Bab

The haykal which the British Library holds (Or 6887) is on a large sheet of pale pink paper (27.5cm x 40.5cm) in the exquisitely beautiful and carefully written handwriting of the Bab. Although the words are written very small—such that a magnifying glass is necessary to read it—almost every word is clearly legible and elegantly formed. There is no indication of the person for whom this haykal was written. It is possible to speculate that it was written towards the end of the Bab’s life because it is similar in wording to such works as the Kitāb al-Asmāʼ and the Panj Sha’n, which were written while the Bab was imprisoned in isolated fortresses in the northwest of Iran in the last three years of his life.

Or_6887_f001r-magnification X2
Close-up of the Haykal of the Bab at twice magnification showing the detail of his writing (BL Or 6887). Public Domain

In many religions, there is a tradition of repetitive chanting of short significant phrases; for example dhikr in Sufism, hesychasm in Orthodox Christianity and mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. This haykal of the Bab is similar in that it comprises repetitions of short rhymed and rhythmical sentences. As with many other writings of the Bab, it is clear that the words are intended to be chanted out loud and experienced as much as understood. The performative aspect is at least as important as the intellectual. The performative nature of the Bab’s own composition of such works and the effect it had on others can be gleaned from an incident that is recorded about him. This occurred in Isfahan in the house of the Imam-Jum‘ih (the leader of Friday prayers), one of the religious dignitaries of the city, which at that time was the foremost centre for religious studies in Iran. The Bab was accommodated in this house for the first period of his stay in Isfahan and many of the clerics and religious students in the city would come in the afternoons and evenings to hear him speak and to ask him questions. When asked to reveal a commentary on the Sūrat al-ʻAṣr (Qurʻan 103), the Bab began to chant and:

They seemed as if bewitched by the magic of His voice. Instinctively they started to their feet and, together with the Imám-Jum’ih, reverently kissed the hem of His garment. Mullá Muhammad-Taqíy-i-Haratí, an eminent mujtahid, broke out into a sudden expression of exultation and praise. “Peerless and unique,” he exclaimed, “as are the words which have streamed from this pen, to be able to reveal, within so short a time and in so legible a writing, so great a number of verses as to equal a fourth, nay a third, of the Qur’án, is in itself an achievement such as no mortal, without the intervention of God, could hope to perform.” (The Dawn-Breakers, (ed. and trans. Shoghi Effendi), p. 202

The content of the haykal may be described as a paean of praise to God. The words consist of repeated rhymed and rhythmic sentences, such as:

  • All the kingdoms of the heavens and the earth and whatsoever lieth between them are God’s, and His power is supreme over all things.
  • Unto God belong the kingdoms of the heavens and the earth and whatsoever lieth between them, and He, in truth, is potent over all things.
  • Nothing whatsoever can escape His knowledge.
  • Unto God belong the kingdoms of the heavens and the earth and whatsoever lieth between them, and He, in truth, hath knowledge of all things.
  • Nothing whatsoever in the whole of creation can thwart His Purpose.
  • He calleth into being whatsoever He willeth at His behest.

Given what has been said above about the Bab’s stated intention that these haykals be a constant reminder to his followers about the need for them to watch attentively for the coming of “Him whom God shall make manifest” and to obey him when he comes, we can read the Words “On that Day” as meaning “On the Day of the coming of ‘Him whom God shall make manifest’”. In addition, given that the most manifest aspect of God is the Manifestation of God (the founder-prophets of the major religions), the words “the Kingdom [or sovereignty or dominion, mulk] shall be God’s, the Incomparable, the Most Manifest" also points to “Him whom God shall make manifest”, the next of these Manifestations of God to come after the Bab. And so this key sentence that frames all the other sentences in this haykal can be considered to say: “On the Day of the coming of Him whom God shall make manifest, sovereignty shall belong to him.”[5] Baha’u’llah claimed, and Baha’is believe that, “He whom God shall make manifest” is Baha’u’llah. For example, Baha’u’llah wrote in the Kitab-i Aqdas (ʻthe Most Holy Bookʼ):

O people of the Bayan [followers of the Bab]! Fear ye the Most Merciful and consider what He [the Bab] hath revealed in another passage. He said: “The Qiblih [direction of prayer] is indeed He Whom God will make manifest; whenever He moveth, it moveth, until He shall come to rest.” Thus was it set down by the Supreme Ordainer when He desired to make mention of this Most Great Beauty [i.e. Baha’u’llah himself].

Moojan Momen, Independent Scholar
 ccownwork


Further reading

Peter Smith, “An introduction to the Baha’i Faith” in British Library, Discovering Sacred Texts
Moojan Momen, “Baha'i sacred texts,” in British Library, Discovering Sacred Texts
––––, “Central figures of the Baha'i Faith,” in British Library, Discovering Sacred Texts
––––, “Marking the bicentenary of the birth of the Bāb

-------------------------------------------------
[1] Persian Bayan, vahid 4, chapter 5.
[2] To be more precise, the Bab says that each circle is a unity (vāhid, numerologically equivalent to 19) and so the five circles are equivalent to lillāh (for God, numerologically equivalent to 95). Thus both the pentagram (Huwa) and the circle (lillāh) are pointers to God.
[3] Persian Bayan, vahid 4, chapter 5.
[4] Nader Saiedi, Gate of the Heart ([Waterloo, Ont]: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2008), pp. 329-330.
[5] I am grateful to Dr Omid Ghaemmaghami for his suggestion regarding this point and for his assistance with the provisional translation of these passages.

07 October 2019

Arts of the South Asian Sultanates at the British Library

Add comment

The British Library holds one of the richest and most diverse collections of fifteenth-century South Asian manuscripts belonging to the sultanates. In association with a recent symposium, Connected Courts: Art of the South Asian Sultanates hosted at Wolfson College, Oxford, from 20-21 September, the library held a study session for a group of scholars who work on manuscripts, literature, and architecture. This viewing session provided a rare occasion for researchers of varying disciplines to share ideas on these manuscripts and discuss the interplay of different traditions.

Frontispiece of Shāhnāmah (BL Or 1403)
Fig. 1. Frontispiece of Shāhnāmah of Firdawsī, Bidar or Shiraz, 1438, Folio: 27 x 16 cm (BL Or 1403)
Noc

An initial group of manuscripts invited us to consider how and where the Persian narrative tradition spread across South Asia. Persian literature was certainly known, copied and enjoyed in India since at least the late thirteenth century. However, the earliest surviving manuscripts date to the fifteenth century. A copy of the Shāhnāmah of Firdawsī (Or 1403, fig. 1), dated 1438, contains illustrations that do not fit with contemporary Persian painting traditions, and has no colophon providing a provenance. Certain scholars have concluded this manuscript must have been produced elsewhere. There are various factors that suggest a South Asian origin, perhaps the Deccan region under the Bahmani sultanate. An intervention in the preface recounts Firdawsī’s journey to India and his visit to the Delhi court, not usually found in Persian copies of the Shāhnāmah.

Sharafnāmāh of Niẓāmī, Bengal (Gaur?), 1531. Iskandar shares the throne with Queen Nushabah (BL Or 13836, f. 37v)
Fig. 2. Sharafnāmāh of Niẓāmī, Bengal (Gaur?), 1531. Iskandar shares the throne with Queen Nushabah. Folio: 31 x 20 cm (BL Or 13836, f. 37v)
Noc

Another manuscript viewed at the session was a copy of the Sharafnāmāh (Or 13836, fig. 2), dated 1531 and produced for Sulṭān Nuṣrat Shah, ruler of Bengal (r. 1519-38). The text is from Niẓāmī’s Khamsah (Quintet), and is the first half of the Iskandarnāmah that describes the conquests of the Alexander the Great, the last poem of the quintet. This slim volume contains nine vibrant paintings that show the assimilation of both Indic and Persian artistic traditions. Such adaptations were common to several fifteenth-century manuscripts from the Indian sultanates.

Anthology of Persian Poetry, Jaunpur, India, beginning of the fifteenth century (BL Or 4110); Qur’ān, India, ca. 1450-1500 (BL Add 5548-5); and Kalpasūtra and Kālakācāryakathā, dated 1427 (BL IO San 3177)
Fig. 3. Anthology of Persian Poetry, Jaunpur, India, beginning of the fifteenth century, Folio: 37 x 26 cm (BL Or 4110); Qur’ān, India, ca. 1450-1500, Folio: 26.5 x 18.4 cm (BL Add 5548-5); and Kalpasūtra and Kālakācāryakathā, dated 1427 (BL IO San 3177)
Noc

Within the second grouping of manuscripts a Qur’ān (Add 5549) was juxtaposed with an anthology of Persian poetry (Or 4110), and a Sanskrit work of Jain scriptures, all created in fifteenth-century India (IO San 3177) (fig. 3). Although each of these manuscripts is written in a different language they come into dialogue in their use of script and ornament. The Qur’ān’s interlinear Persian translations are inscribed in the naskhī-dīvānī script similar to the Persian anthology of poetry. The illumination and deep red and orange floral ornament used in the Jain Kalpasūtra and Kālakācāryakathā bear striking resemblances to illumination in the Persian anthology and Qur’ān. While we know such similarities exist in theory, viewing these manuscripts together highlights these connections and opens new paths for research.

Wild ass or tomb, definitions of ‘gūr,’ Miftāḥ al-Fuz̤alā ( Key of the Learned) by Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Dā’ūd Shādiyābādī, Mandu, India, ca. 1490
Fig. 4. Wild ass or tomb, definitions of ‘gūr’ in Miftā al-Fuz̤alā (Key of the Learned) by Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Dā’ūd Shādiyābādī, Mandu, India, ca. 1490, Folio: 33 x 25.4 cm (BL Or 3299, f. 248v)
Noc

A final grouping brought together three manuscripts from the court of Malwa. Beyond the Ni‘matnāmah (Book of Delights), the British Library holds a few other manuscripts associated with the court of Malwa, based primarily in the capital of Mandu, each of which is entirely unique. The multilingual intellectual Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Dā’ūd Shādiyābādī authored both of these manuscripts. The first is a multilingual Persian illustrated dictionary known as the Miftā al-Fuz̤alā (Key of the Learned, Or 3299, fig. 4) and the second is a Persian adaptation of al-Jazarī’s twelfth-century book of automata, the ‘Ajā’ib al-anā‘ī (Wonders of Crafts, Add 13718). This group of manuscripts from Malwa revealed how rich the libraries of fifteenth-century India were—long before the Mughals—and how we can place the Ni‘matnāmah within a larger context.

The opportunity to view these manuscripts with other specialists in the field allowed us to imagine more vividly the inter-connected world of the sultanates, and will no doubt inspire further research. We are grateful to Ursula Sims-Williams, Malini Roy, and Saqib Baburi for their help in organizing this session, and the support of the Barakat Trust, Khalili Research Centre, and Iran Heritage Foundation.

Further reading

On BL Or 1403:
Brend, Barbara, “The British Library’s Shahnama of 1438 as a Sultanate manuscript.” In Facets of Indian Art, eds. Robert Skelton et al (London: V&A, 1986), pp. 87-93.
Firouzeh, Peyvand. “Convention and Reinvention: The British Library Shahnama of 1438 (Or. 1403).” Iran (2019):1-22.

On BL Or 13836:
Skelton, Robert, “A Royal Sultanate manuscript dated 938 A.H./1531-2 A.D.” In Indian painting: Mughal and Rajput and Sultanate Manuscripts (London: Colnaghi, 1978), pp. 135-144.

On naskhī-dīvānī:
Brac de la Perrière, Éloïse, “Bihârî et naskhî-dîwânî: remarques sur deux calligraphies de l’Inde des sultanats.” In Ecriture, calligraphie et peinture, Studia Islamica, eds. A.L. Udovitch et H. Touati (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2003), pp. 81-93.

On the Ni‘matnāmah:
Skelton, Robert, “The Ni‘matnama: A Landmark in Malwa Painting.” Marg vol. 12 no. 3 (1959): 44-48.
Titley, Norah, The Ni‘matnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu: The Sultan’s Book of Delights (Oxford: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005).

Vivek Gupta, SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology; British Library PhD Research Placement
Dr Emily Shovelton, Research Associate, The Khalili Research Centre, University of Oxford
 ccownwork

24 September 2019

Marking the bicentenary of the birth of the Bāb

Add comment

Today's post coincides with the launch of  the British Library's new learning resource Discovering Sacred Texts  and exhibition of Sacred highlights in the British Library’s permanent Treasures Gallery. Our guest writer is the Baha'i scholar Dr. Moojan Momen who writes about the three unique works of the Bāb and Bahā’u’llāh, the twin founders of the Baha'i Faith which are on display for the first time.

Section of teh Bab's Star Tablet, Or 6887
A section of a tablet hand written by the Bāb in the form of a five pointed star (BL Or 6887). Public Domain

October 2019 marks 200 years since the birth of Sayyid ‘Alī Muḥammad Shīrāzī (1819-1850), known as the Bāb (the Gate), one of the two founders of the Baha'i Faith. A merchant from Shiraz, Iran, the Bāb founded his own distinctive religious movement as well as preparing his followers for the coming of  “Him whom God shall make manifest,” Bahā’u’llāh (1817-1892). Both the Bāb and Bahā’u’llāh are considered by Baha'is as Manifestations of God, intermediaries between God and humanity, who reveal God’s will for the age in which they come. Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Moses, Zoroaster, Krishna and the Buddha are also considered by Baha'is as Manifestations.

Western responses to the Bāb

Accounts of the life of the Bāb and the brutal treatment meted out to his followers, made a profound impression both in Iran and further afield, especially in the West, where many thought the story of the Bāb reminiscent of that of Christ. Gobineau’s Religions et Philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale (1865) was the most influential volume in carrying the story to Western minds. The poet Matthew Arnold wrote in 1871 that “most people in England have a least heard the name” of the Bāb,[1] an indication of how deeply his fame had penetrated into far-off societies. An ongoing survey has discovered that almost 1,400 articles about the Bāb movement appeared in the Western press between 1845 and 1859. With his books such as A Year Among the Persians (1893), Cambridge orientalist Edward G. Browne did much to familiarise readers with the Bāb’s “gentleness and patience, the cruel fate which had overtaken him, and the unflinching courage wherewith he and his followers, from the greatest to the least, had endured the merciless torments inflicted upon them by their enemies.”[2]

Writing in 1925, French writer Jules Bois recalled:

All Europe was stirred to pity and indignation over the martyrdom of the Bāb…among the littérateurs of my generation, in the Paris of 1890 the martyrdom of the Bāb was still as fresh a topic as had been the first news of his death. We wrote poems about him. Sarah Bernhardt entreated Catulle Mendès for a play on the theme of this historic tragedy…[3]

Another influential figure whose attention was captured by the Bāb and Bahā’u’llāh was Tolstoy, who wrote that the Baha'is

have a great future…because they have thrown away the artificial superstructures which separate [the religions] from one another and are aiming at uniting all mankind in one religion…And therefore, in that it educates men to brotherhood and equality and to the sacrificing of their sensual desires in God's service, I sympathize with [it] with all my heart.[4]

Bābī and Bahā’ī Scriptures

The religion founded by the Bāb and Bahā’u’llāh is very much a religion of the Book. Baha'is believe that central to all the world’s great faiths, the power of the “Word” inspires human beings to develop their noblest qualities and create new patterns of society. Baha'i scriptures consist of the words of the Bāb and Bahā’u’llāh that were immediately written down, authenticated, and shared far and wide.

Iranians considered calligraphy the highest art form and the Bāb’s own calligraphy is of exceptional quality. His works were often composed in the shape of a five-pointed star, called a “Temple” (ḥaykal) because of its resemblance to the human form. The British Library holds an example of such a manuscript in the Bāb’s own handwriting, the only known copy of this work.

The handwriting of the Bāb in the form of a five pointed star, the ḥaykal  (BL Or 6887)
The handwriting of the Bāb in the form of a five pointed star, the aykal  (BL Or 6887). Public Domain

The Bāb placed a great emphasis on perfection and refinement. “Whoever possesseth power over anything,” He wrote, “must elevate it to its uttermost perfection that it not be deprived of its own paradise.”[5] He gave the example of a piece of paper upon which some words have been written. The ‘paradise’ of that paper is to be adorned with gold illumination and patterns. In trying to bring all things to perfection, a human being is replicating the work of God, who brought into being the whole of creation in such a state. These ideas of the Bāb continue to influence the Bahā’ī community, especially in the building of Bahā’ī houses of worship around the world.

Picture of the Bahā’ī House of Worship in Delhi, India
The Baha'i House of Worship in Delhi, India. Copyright © Bahá'í International Community

Encounter with an Irish doctor

Considered a heretic, the Bāb was put on trial in July 1848 and bastinadoed. An Irish physician resident in Tabriz, Dr. William Cormick treated the Bāb’s wounds and left this account of him:

He was a very mild and delicate looking man, rather small in stature and very fair for a Persian, with a melodious soft voice, which struck me much…In fact his whole look and deportment went far to dispose one in his favour.[6]

Dr William Cormick
Dr William Cormick. Courtesy of Connections

The Bāb was executed in 1850. Thousands of Babis were also killed, many of them in the most gruesome ways.

It was while incarcerated in 1852 in a subterranean dungeon in Tehran that one of the most distinguished of the Bāb’s followers, Bahā’u’llāh (his title means “the Glory of God”), had a spiritual experience that is regarded as the birth of his own prophetic mission. He was subsequently exiled to Baghdad, beginning a 40 year period of banishment and imprisonment at the hands of the Persian and Ottoman authorities.

The Writings of Bahā’u’llāh

In Baghdad, Bahā’u’llāh wrote a number of major works, such as The Seven Valleys and The Hidden Words, as well as his foremost theological treatise, the Kitāb-i Īqān (the Book of Certitude). After ten years, ahead of a further exile, Bahā’u’llāh declared himself to be “He whom God shall make manifest” that the Bāb had foretold. From Edirne in what is now European Turkey, Bahā’u’llāh announced himself to be the Promised One prophesied in all religions and proclaimed his mission in letters to the world’s major kings and leaders, including Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, Tsar Alexander II and Pope Pius IX.

Bahā’u’llāh too was an exceptional calligrapher. The British Library has in its collection an example of some of his handwriting exercises as a child.


Album-of-Bahai-calligraphy-or_11098_f016r-15v
Calligraphic exercises of Bahā’u’llāh when a child (BL Or 11098). Public Domain

On many occasions his writings came into being in an extraordinary manner. Firstly, his secretary would have ready a number of reed pens and stacks of large sheets of paper. Bahā’u’llāh would then dictate to his secretary, speaking rapidly or chanting without pause. Such was the speed with which these verses had to be captured on the paper that they were only readable by the scribe himself.

Bahai-Revelation-Writing-or_16641_f001v
Revelation Writing: the script developed by Bahā’u’llāh’s secretary as a shorthand for taking his dictation (BL Or 16641). Public Domain

Later, the secretary would copy out what he had written in a legible handwriting. Bahā’u’llāh then approved the text. This version would then be copied and shared throughout the Middle East, and even as far afield as India, Burma (Myanmar) and China. Many Bahā’īs would bind collections of these writings into finely decorated volumes.

Collection-of-bahai-tablets-or_7852_f004r-3v
Illumined leaf from a volume of Bahā’u’llāh’s writings (BL Or 7852, ff. 1-2). Public Domain

Encounter with E.G. Browne

Finally imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in the walled city of Akka (Acco), Bahā’u’llāh, wrote the most important of his works, the Kitab-i Aqdas (the Most Holy Book). In 1877, he moved to a mansion outside the city where he was visited in 1890 by Professor Edward G. Browne, who described the impression Bahā’u’llāh made upon him:

Edward-granville-browne
Portrait of Prof. E.G. Browne at about the time he visited Bahā’u’llāh. Public Domain, Courtesy of Moojan Momen

The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!

A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued:- “Praise be to God that thou hast attained!... Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile.... We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.... That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled—what harm is there in this?... Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come...” [7]

Bahā’u’llāh’s shrine outside of Akka is considered the holiest place in the world by Baha'is. On Bahā’u’llāh’s instruction, the remains of the Bāb, which had been hidden in Iran for 50 years, were transferred to the Holy Land. In 1909 they were interred in a simple mausoleum on the slopes of Mount Carmel across the bay from Akka. They now rest beneath a majestic golden domed shrine, surrounded by exquisite terraced gardens.

Shrine of the Bab
The Shrine of the Bāb on Mount Carmel. Copyright © Bahá'í International Community

Today, Baha'is, who number several millions and live in nearly every country in the world, are engaged with their friends and neighbours in a collaborative programme that aims to develop the spiritual and material prosperity of their communities.


Moojan Momen, Independent Scholar
 ccownwork


[1] Matthew Arnold, “A Persian Passion Play”, The Cornhill Magazine, vol. 24 (London, 1871, pp. 668-71), p. 668; also in Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism (London: MacMillan, 4th ed. 1884, repr. 1902), p. 226.
[2] Edward Granville Browne, A Year among the Persians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, new ed. 1926), p. 330.
[3] Jules Bois, “The New Religions of America. III – Babism and Bahaism”, Forum, vol. 7 (Concord, NH, USA, July, 1925), pp. 1-10.
[4] Paul Birukoff, Tolstoi und der Orient: Briefe und sonstige Zeugnisse über Tolstois Beziehungen zu den Vertretern orientalischer Religionen (Zurich: Rotapfel, 1925), pp. 99-100; translated in Moojan Momen, The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981), p. 55.
[5] “The Bāb, Persian Bayān, Vāḥid 4, Chapter 11”. Translated in Nader Saiedi, Gate of the Heart ([Waterloo, ONT]: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2008, p. 255.
[6] Edward G. Browne, Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion, p. 262.
[7] ———, A Traveller’s Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. xxxix-xl.

15 August 2019

Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library

Add comment

‘Bold script of wildness and beauty’ is Jan Just Witkam's evocative description of the calligraphy of a manuscript from Daghistan in the collection of Leiden University Library (Cod.Or. 11964), a characterisation which seems supremely well suited for a product of this mountainous and fiercely proud region in the Caucasus mountains. Today, Dagestan is a republic located in the Russian Federation, bounded to the east by the Caspian sea and to the south by Azerbaijan and Georgia, and  home to a rich and distinctive manuscript culture.  The British Library holds a small collection of ten Qur’an manuscripts from Daghistan, and in this blog each manuscript will be pictured to illustrate some of the many distinctive features of this impressive but little-known manuscript tradition.

Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a large Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. British Library, Or. 16127, ff. 2v-3r
Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a large Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. British Library, Or. 16127, ff. 2v-3r  noc

The most immediately striking feature of Daghistani manuscript illumination is the vibrant palette of red, yellow, green, purple and brown, which contrasts strongly with the predominantly blue and gold nexus of the Ottoman and Indo-Persianate manuscript traditions to the south. There is considerable variation in the architecture of decorated frames, perhaps relating to sub-regional origin or some other underlying classificatory structure: in a significant proportion of manuscripts rectangular frames are extended horizontally into the outer margins (see above), while in other manuscripts, double headpieces predominate. Characteristic motifs include double/triple scrolls and concave diamond-shaped lozenges, and the presence of ‘eyelets’ within these motifs. 

Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 15605, ff. 1v-2r
Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 15605, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Detail of characteristically Daghistani decorative motifs with concave diamond-shaped lozenges studded with ‘eyelets’, from the initial double illuminated frames of a Qur'an shown below. British Library, Or 15955, f. 5r (detail)
Detail of characteristically Daghistani decorative motifs with concave diamond-shaped lozenges studded with ‘eyelets’, from the initial double illuminated frames of a Qur'an shown below. British Library, Or 15955, f. 5r (detail)  noc

When surah headings are set in decorated rectangular panels, these may also be extended horizontally into the outer margin with a palmette or other ornamental device.  An especially distinctive and rare feature of Daghistani manuscripts is that the petalled floral verse markers are often stamped in black ink, and then hand-coloured.

Heading for Surat al-Mulk extending vertically into the margin with a decorative finial, adjoining a marginal ornament for the start of the 29th juz'; note also the stamped verse markers in black ink, coloured in with red and yellow. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 1800.
Heading for Surat al-Mulk extending vertically into the margin with a decorative finial, adjoining a marginal ornament for the start of the 29th juz'; note also the stamped verse markers in black ink, coloured in with red and yellow. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or. 15913, f. 258r  noc

Heading for Surah al-Mujadilah extended into the margin, with below it an ornamental marker for the start of the 28th juz’. Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16771
Heading for Surah al-Mujadilah extended into the margin, with below it an ornamental marker for the start of the 28th juz’. Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16771  noc

two different designs of stamped verse markers in a Qur'an, Or 15955  stamped and uncoloured marginal ornament, and a stamped coloured verse marker, in Qur'an, Or 16033
(Left) two different designs of stamped verse markers in a Qur'an, Or 15955; (Right) stamped and uncoloured marginal ornament, and a stamped coloured verse marker, in Qur'an, Or 16033.  noc

Confirming Witkam's characterisation of Daghistani calligraphy, the Qur’anic text is generally written in a large, bold, confident and widely-spaced hand, tending towards the monumental. In Daghistani Qur’ans, the index of artistry is clearly the calibre of the calligraphy rather than the decoration, but perhaps the most unusual feature is the sense of scribal bravado or even swagger.  Elements of the text of a Qur’an traditionally highlighted calligraphically, such as the marginal annotations, or the first few words of a juz’ or beginning of a surah, are often approached with gusto. The letter ta’ marbuta is often presented decoratively as a knot surmounted by a bud.   The calligraphic treatment applied to certain words, such as the exuberant ‘amma at the start of the final juz’ of the Qur’an, or the elan of the presentation of ‘mysterious letters’ like the ha-mim, bespeak an individualism not normally associated with Qur’an manuscripts, and to an extent not encountered in any other known Qur’anic tradition.  Contrasting with the big bold Qur’anic text, catchwords and other paratextual notes are generally written in a very distinctive small cursive hand with overlining, with a pronounced slope to the right, associated with Daghistani manuscripts in the Avar language as well as Arabic.

Large, bold, hand in a Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16759
Large, bold, hand in a Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16759  noc

Qur’an, on blue paper, Daghistan, 19th century. Note the catchwords written in a small sloping cursive hand with overlining at the bottom of the right-hand page. Or. 16760, ff. 1v-2r
Qur’an, on blue paper, Daghistan, 19th century. Note the catchwords written in a small sloping cursive hand with overlining at the bottom of the right-hand page. Or. 16760, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

In many schools of Qur’anic manuscript art, the layout and divisions of the Qur’anic text tend to adhere to longstanding regional preferences.  In Daghistani Qur’ans, especially those with illuminated frames, the Surat al-Fatihah usually occupies the whole of the first two facing pages. This is in striking contrast to many other traditions, including the Ottoman and Southeast Asian world, where Surat al-Fatihah usually occupies a right-hand page, with the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah on the left.  When decorated frames occur in the middle of a Daghistani Qur'an, they invariably mark the start  of Surat Maryam, and the several manuscripts in the British Library of Daghistani Qur’ans produced in two volumes are also divided at the start of Surat Maryam.

Decorated frames marking the start of Surat Maryam. Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. Or. 16127, ff. 253v-254r
Decorated frames marking the start of Surat Maryam. Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. Or. 16127, ff. 253v-254r  noc

The start of Surat Maryam, with exhuberant calligraphic treatment of the 'mysterious letters', at the beginning of the second volume of a two-volume Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16595, ff. 1v-2r
The start of Surat Maryam, with exhuberant calligraphic treatment of the 'mysterious letters', at the beginning of the second volume of a two-volume Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16595, ff. 1v-2r  noc

The start of Surat Maryam, with the 'mysterious letters' framed on the left-hand page. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r
The start of Surat Maryam, with the 'mysterious letters' framed on the left-hand page. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r  noc

Another highly characteristic feature of many Daghistani Qur’ans is the addition of a pious phrase at the end of the first surah, al-Fatihah, the word amin or a longer phrase such as amin ya rabb al-‘alamin may be inscribed, and especially after the final word of the Qur’anic text, al-nas, when the words of praise Allahu akbar are frequently added.  While it is not unknown to find the addition of amin at the end of Surat al-Fatihah in Qur'an manuscripts worldwide, the longer phrases are rarely encountered.

Surat al-Fatihah, followed by the words amin rabb al-'alamin. Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, ff. 1v-2r
Surat al-Fatihah, followed by the words amin rabb al-'alamin. Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Final lines of the Qur’anic text, followed by the words Allahu akbar, in the same Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, f. 500r
Final lines of the Qur’anic text, followed by the words Allahu akbar, in the same Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, f. 500r  noc

The divisions of the text into Qur’an into thirty parts of equal length (juz’, plural ajza’), and sub-divisions thereof, is an important navigational aid in Qur’an manuscripts all over the Islamic world, especially since manuscript Qur’ans generally did not bear page, surah or verse numbers.  Most Daghistani Qur’ans bear marginal ornaments marking each juz’, with further ornaments for half (nisf), quarter (rub‘) and eighths (thumn) of each juz’. Other marginal annotations, commonly found in many Qur’ans, are the letter ‘ayn to indicate ruku’ or places for genuflection, and the word sajdah, indicating places for prostration.  But so far unique to Daghistani Qur’ans appears to be the marginal annotation wird, which perhaps might be understood to mark specific portions of the Qur’an for devotional recitation associated with Sufism.

Beginning of Surat al-BaqarahBL Or.15955  f. (1)
Beginning of Surat al-Baqarah, annotated in the margin al-juz’ al-awwal, and with the ornamental surah heading extending horizontally in the margin. Note the strong, bold script of the Qur’anic text, contrasting with the characteristic small backward-sloping cursive hand of the note at the bottom of the left-hand page. The marginal annotation in red on the left-hand page reads wird. The illuminated panel at the top of each page includes typically Daghistani motifs with ‘eyelets’. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 15955, ff. 4v-5r  noc

Many of these Daghistani Qur’ans are large manuscripts, written on burnished paper of Russian manufacture, as evidenced in watermarks or embossed factory stamps. Bindings are usually plain and relatively ‘rustic’ in appearance, of dark brown leather without envelope flaps. Simple tooled frame lines are often joined by straight lines along the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes, with stamped corner pieces and central medallions.  Particularly characteristic is the frequent use of small circular stamps along the ruled axes.

Two major programmes are currently digitising manuscripts in Dagestan: the Factum Foundation has been working with the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography (IHAE) in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, to digitise the manuscript collections held in the IHAE, while a British Library Endangered Archives Programme project 'Digitising Dagestan's Manuscript Heritage: Manuscripts from the Library of 'Alī al-Ghumūqī (1878-1943)' is currently underway (EAP957).

Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library, 18th-19th centuries
(Fully digitised manuscripts have been hyperlinked)

Or. 15605, Qur’an
Or. 15913, Qur’an
Or. 15955, first volume of a two-volume Qur’an
Or. 16033, Qur’an
Or. 16058, Qur’an, 1821
Or. 16127, Qur’an, 1777
Or. 16595, second volume of a two-volume Qur’an
Or. 16759, selections from the Qur’an
Or. 16760, selections from the Qur’an
Or. 16771, second volume of a two-volume Qur’an

Further reading

Blog: From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur'ans with spurious colophons

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. Shikhsaidov, Muslim treasures of Russia.  II: Manuscript collections of Daghistan.  Part II,  Manuscripta Orientalia,  13.1 ( 2007), pp. 25-61.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

08 August 2019

Emanating light: Illumination in Islamic manuscripts

Add comment

Without the ability to travel time it may forever be impossible to restage the medieval and early-modern viewing conditions of Islamic manuscripts. Whereas in paintings books are often shown being enjoyed outdoors, architecture can offer insights into the experience of manuscripts indoors.

Mullah holding a book. Bijapur, c. 1610 (British Library, J.25, 14)
Fig. 1: Mullah holding a book. Bijapur, c. 1610 (British Library, J.25, 14). Public domain

Consider the wholly illuminated central prayer niche (miḥrāb) at the Jāmi‘ Masjid of Bijapur in Deccan India (mosque: 1576; miḥrāb: 1636) (fig. 2). The entire niche is covered with calligraphy and micro-architectural details that are a mise en abyme within the mosque. Hanging lamps and manuscripts that likely represent the Qur’ān fill smaller niches at the dado level flanking both sides of the central niche. The books bear gilt bindings and the lamps have delicate golden tassels that accentuate their light-giving quality. The simple juxtaposition of lamps and books reminds us that the viewers of these manuscripts did not encounter them under the harsh lighting of today’s modern libraries. In an assessment of illumination, the problem of light is inescapable.

Detail of Miḥrāb of the Great Mosque of Bijapur, 1636
Fig. 2: Detail of Miḥrāb of the Great Mosque of Bijapur, 1636. Photograph: Vivek Gupta

Generally, manuscript illumination is a practice where reflective substances have been applied to the surfaces of books. These surfaces include the binding, support (paper, parchment), and the edges of the support. While illumination is most commonly associated with gold, other metals including silver and tin are also used to create lustre. I refer here to gold as shorthand, but the material was in fact a liquid gold or alloy that was malleable to various surfaces and showed a variety of hues. This material can be flattened, painted, scattered, and pricked to create different effects on the surface of a support (fig. 3).

Shamsah (sunburst) and Heading of the Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104)

Figs. 3a and 3b: Shamsah (sunburst) and Heading of the Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104). Public domain

Heading of the Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104)

Illumination occurs everywhere on the page: its edges, borders, line rulings (jadval), rosettes (shamsahs), frontispieces (sarlawḥs), headpieces (‘unvāns), headings, interlinear space, the writing itself, and even the edges (fig. 4). There is no authoritative handbook for these terms in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, etc., and this nomenclature has evolved with convention. For example, the term ‘unvān has caused some confusion. The word literally denotes ‘title,’ and therefore I have used it for headpiece. In the British Library’s Persian manuscript catalogue edited by Rieu, ‘unvān denotes anything from illuminated headpiece to frontispiece (single or double page) to heading. Beyond references to illuminators (mudhahhib), the practice of illumination (tadhhīb), other words formed with the Arabic root dh-h-b or the Persian word zar, the textual record offers remarkably little prescriptive terminology for illumination. Even less defined are the names for particular illuminated patterns. While some of these patterns have analogues in architectural ornament, they do not always seamlessly translate to book decoration. For this reason, one safe compromise is to use English words, yet this can often be dissatisfying.

Gilded edge of manuscript, Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104)
Fig. 4: Gilded edge of manuscript, Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104). Public domain

Regardless of the lack of an established technical vocabulary, illumination and light (nūr) are everywhere in Islamic art and architecture. This is best attested by the Qur’anic Light verse (24:35) that begins, "God is the light [nūr] of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His light is a niche [mishkāt] wherein is a lamp [miṣbāḥ]," which frequently graces miḥrābs. Widespread lamp imagery such as that found in Bijapur’s Jāmi‘ Masjid also alludes to it. When books like the Qur’an or poetry reflected light through their illumination, this took on a divine significance. Through technologies such as multi-spectral imaging it may be possible to recover how premodern manuscripts looked by candlelight and evaluate the effects of how different lighting changed the experience of these books. Collaborations between architectural historians and scientists have started to reveal how sites such as the Mosque of Córdoba looked when lit with early Islamic glass lamps (Kider, Fletcher, Yu, Holod, Chamlers, and Badler, 2009).

Ascension (mi‘rāj) of the Prophet forming the sarlawḥ (frontispiece) of the Khamsah (Quintet) of Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1571 (British Library Add. 22699
Fig. 5: Ascension (mi‘rāj) of the Prophet forming the sarlawḥ (frontispiece) of the Khamsah (Quintet) of Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1571 (British Library Add. 22699). Public domain

In painting, illumination has been applied to nearly all forms. Fire, the sun, skies, and halos are popular gold elements. In her several articles and books on images of the Prophet Muhammad, Christiane Gruber has demonstrated how this tradition evolved. On the double-page frontispiece of the Khamsah (Quintet) of Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī dated 1571 from Safavid Qazvin (Fig. 5), gold is deployed profusely in a scene showing the Prophet’s ascension (mi‘rāj). In the flowering cartouches in the borders, the swirling clouds, and the fire they cast upon the Prophet and his steed Burāq, this page is fully illuminated. The dramatic interplay of these gold swirls and lapis blue surface would have created a startling effect especially if this page were viewed in low light. In experiencing the open book, the light of Muhammad (nūr Muḥammad) would have certainly shone onto the viewer.

Shrine of Aḥmad Shāh (r. 1422–1436), Ashtur, Bidar
Figure 5: Shrine of Aḥmad Shāh (r. 1422–1436), Ashtur, Bidar. Photograph: Vivek Gupta

The study of book illumination should be placed in an expanded visual context that also includes architecture. In an early fifteenth-century Deccan shrine/tomb initially studied by Helen Philon (2000), I later drew comparisons between its domed apex and specific Indian maṇḍalas or yantras that Philon previously compared to Islamic talismanic bowls as well. Yet, the entirety of the shrine is covered in gold illumination. One of the clearest comparisons between the apex and a manuscript would be an illuminated shamsah or starburst. The completely calligraphed golden dome when lit with lamps would reflect light onto visitors below.

Illumination in Islamic manuscripts thus is no simple matter. Here, I have tried to make its obvious connection to light both practically and spiritually. While the majority of my research for the British Library has involved developing a method to catalogue illumination in Persian manuscripts (ca. 100 manuscripts completed), I do sometimes imagine the buildings and spaces in which they once were read, enjoyed, and seen. For, illumination allowed books to emanate light.

With thanks to Umberto Bongianino, Eleanor Sims and Ursula Sims-Williams.

Use #BL_IslamicIllum to share your favourite examples of illumination at the library and follow @_nainsukh for more!

Vivek Gupta, SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology; British Library PhD placement
 ccownwork


Further reading:

Akimushkin, Oleg F. and Anatol A. Ivanov. 1979. “The Art of Illumination.” In The Arts of the Book in Central Asia, 14th-16th Centuries, ed. Basil Gray, London: Serindia, 35-57.

Brend, Barbara. 2015. “The Management of Light in Persian Painting.” In God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture, eds. Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, New Haven: Yale University Press, 198-229.

Gruber, Christiane. 2019. The Praiseworthy One: the Prophet Muhammad in Islamic texts and images. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Waley, Muhammad Isa. 1997. “Illumination and its Function in Islamic Manuscripts.” In Scribes et manuscrits du Moyen-Orient, eds. François Déroche and Francis Richard, Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 87-112.

Wright, Elaine. 2018. Lapis and gold: exploring Chester Beatty’s Ruzbihan Qur’an. London: Chester Beatty Library in association with Ad Ilissvm.

01 August 2019

From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans with spurious colophons

Add comment

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
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 Noc

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
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 Noc

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
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 Noc 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
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 Noc

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, E232848BDecorated 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-546rFinal pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546r Noc

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. 546rDetail 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 Noc

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.

Fig.20-BL Or.15913  f. (28)
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 Noc
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
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. 

References

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’ansOur own voice, April 2011. 
A.T. Gallop, Fakes or fancies? some 'problematic' Islamic manuscripts from Southeast AsiaManuscript 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.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

With thanks to Christina Duffy, BL, and Haida Liang, Sotiria Kogou and Luke Butler, ISAAC, NTU

25 July 2019

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo, British Library astronomy manuscripts in new visual forms

Add comment

The Iranian-American artist Pantea Karimi’s recent solo exhibition Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo at the Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland, California, USA, was inspired by a study of several of the British Library’s scientific manuscripts which she reviewed during an extended visit in 2018. In this guest blog she speaks about this process and her work.

Two ancient manuscripts in the British Library drew my special attention and formed the foundation for my exhibition: the 17th century Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo’s De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris (Add MS 22786) and the 11th century Persian astronomer Biruni’s Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm (Or. 8349). My multimedia works in the exhibition explore an ancient and enduring fascination with the moon in science, culture and language, while simultaneously celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission.

Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v
Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v Noc

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46   Noc

My completed works are large scale digital illustrations combining the abstract lunar diagrams with images of the Moon taken on my cell phone from a hill in California, as well as archival images from the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969. They are printed on fabric, and titled Moongraph, 01, 02, and 03. Other similarly inspired diagrams and images of the surface of the Moon have been combined with verses of Persian poetry and printed on circular pieces of metal in various sizes. They are presented in an installation on a grey geometric background that references the Moon and its phases. I believe that illustrating abstract ideas, as was done in these early diagrams, indicates how they were used as an important tool to visualize early science and pass down these ideas to later generations.

My exposure to these manuscripts from the early pioneers of astronomy has allowed my artistic interpretation of the science of astronomy. However, it was Persian poetry and its playful use of metaphor that first sparked my imagination and interest in the moon. As a child I was an avid reader of science fiction, especially Jules Verne novels translated into Persian.

The exhibition in many ways revisits my childhood obsession with the moon: from my compositions and illustrations, to the use of medieval Persian poetry that presents the moon metaphorically and symbolically. Verses by poets Attar Nishapuri, Nezami Ganjavi, and poet-scientist Omar Khayyam are included.

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019

Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet
Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet

Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA
Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA

TThe Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail
The Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail

From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.
From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.

Pantea Karimi’s work as a multi-disciplinary artist centers around visual representations and textual contents in medieval Persian and Arab and early modern European scientific manuscripts in five categories: mathematics, medicinal botany, anatomy, optics/astronomy and cartography. This recent research project has further broadened her interest in the long-term exchange of knowledge across these cultures. She specifically examines how illustrations in ancient scientific manuscripts played a role in communicating knowledge, and how the broader aesthetic considerations of science were closely linked to art. Her work collectively highlights the significance of visual elements in early science and invites the viewer to observe science and its history through the process of image-making. Karimi works with interactive installations, virtual reality, silkscreen and digital prints on various substrates. She moved from Iran to the UK to study and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005.

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo will be exhibited in the Fall of 2019 at the Euphrat Museum of Art in De Anza College in Cupertino, California, USA.

Pantea Karimi Ccownwork

Pantea Karimi wishes to thank the British Library and staff for the opportunity to view and study the scientific manuscripts in their care.

For more information visit: www.panteakarimi.com
@panteakarimiart
@Karimipantea

04 July 2019

125 More Arabic Scientific Manuscripts in the Qatar Digital Library

Add comment

The second phase of the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership digitisation project has now come to a successful close. You can find lists of the 80 manuscripts digitised during the first phase of the project here and here, and as we enter the project’s third phase, we are delighted to present an overview and complete list of the 125 Arabic scientific manuscripts digitised during the second phase.

Diagram from al-Mawṣilī’s al-Durr al-naqī fī fann al-mūsīqī showing the interrelations between the musical modes, the letters of the alphabet, the four elements, the days of the week, the hours of the day, the celestial spheres and the signs of the zodiac (Add MS 23494, f. 6r)
Diagram from al-Mawṣilī’s al-Durr al-naqī fī fann al-mūsīqī showing the interrelations between the musical modes, the letters of the alphabet, the four elements, the days of the week, the hours of the day, the celestial spheres and the signs of the zodiac (Add MS 23494, f. 6r)
 noc 

In this phase of the project, we have continued to digitise such classics of Arabic scientific literature as Ibn Sīnā’s al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (i.e. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine: Or 3343, Or 4946 and Or 6537), Ibn al-Haytham’s, Maqālah fī ṣūrat al-kusūf (e.g. Alhazen’s, Epistle on the Image of the Solar Eclipse: Or 5831), al-Rāzī’s, al-Ḥāwī fī al-ṭibb (i.e. Rhazes’ Liber continens or All-containing Book, Arundel Or 14), Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī’s Khulāṣat al-ḥisāb (Summa of Arithmetic: Delhi Arabic 1919) and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī al-hayʾah (Memoirs on Cosmology, Add MS 23394).

Magic square (wafq) of 28 x 28 cells from the Dīwān al-ʿadad al-wafq (Delhi Arabic 110, ff. 108v-109r)
Magic square (wafq) of 28 x 28 cells from the Dīwān al-ʿadad al-wafq (Delhi Arabic 110, ff. 108v-109r)
 noc 

We have also digitised manuscripts pertaining to the subsequent commentary traditions inspired by major texts such as those inspired by Ibn Sīnā’s al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (Or 5931, Or 3654, Or 14154, and IO Islamic 854), al-ʿĀmilī’s Khulāṣat al-ḥisāb (Delhi Arabic 1896 and IO Islamic 1362) and al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī al-hayʾah (IO Islamic 1715, Or 13060, IO Islamic 1715, Delhi Arabic 1934, Add MS 7472, and Add MS 7477).

 Title page of al-Qaṣrānī’s Kitāb al-masāʾil dated 768/1367, with patron statement of the Mamluk amir Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur al-Nāṣirī (d. 769/1368) (Delhi Arabic 1916, vol. 1, f. 1r)
Title page of al-Qaṣrānī’s Kitāb al-masāʾil dated 768/1367, with patron statement of the Mamluk amir Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur al-Nāṣirī (d. 769/1368) (Delhi Arabic 1916, vol. 1, f. 1r)
 noc 

Arabic continued to be a language of fertile scientific discourse well beyond the time period and geographic range traditionally associated with the so-called ‘Golden Age of Islam’. In order to illustrate this, we have digitised Arabic scientific manuscripts preserving texts written from the 9th to the 18th centuries that showcase the scientific endeavours of Islamicate peoples from Islamic Spain, across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East, Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia and India.

Title page of the Kitāb fī al-shaṭranj wa-manṣūbātihi wa-mulaḥih on which the seal of the Ottoman sultan Bāyezīd II (reg. 1481-1512) can be seen in the lower left corner (Add. MS 7515, f. 1r)
Title page of the Kitāb fī al-shaṭranj wa-manṣūbātihi wa-mulaḥih on which the seal of the Ottoman sultan Bāyezīd II (reg. 1481-1512) can be seen in the lower left corner (Add. MS 7515, f. 1r)
 noc 

You will find medical, astronomical and mathematical works produced in thirteenth-century Rasūlid Yemen (Or 3738, Or 9116, Delhi Arabic 1897); a commentary on Euclid’s Elements by al-Kūbanānī, court astronomer and mathematician to the Aq Qoyunlu sultan Abū al-Muẓaffar Ya‘qūb ibn Uzun Ḥasan (reg. 1478-90: Or 1514); Ottoman works such as, a medical text by Ibn Sallūm, personal physician to the Ottoman sultan Mehmet IV (reg. 1648-87), which responds to the ‘new (al)chemical medicine’ (al-ṭibb al-jadīd al-kīmāwī) of Paracelsus and his followers ( Or. 6905) and a book of astronomical tables for Cairo by the eighteenth-century astronomer Riḍwān Efendi al-Razzāz (Or 14273); and seventeen manuscripts from the British Library's Delhi collection , which cast light on the collection, copying and production of Arabic scientific literature in Mughal India.

Astrolabe quadrant produced in 1256/1840-1 and signed by its maker, Aḥmad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Sharbatlī (Or. 2411/2, Side A)
Astrolabe quadrant produced in 1256/1840-1 and signed by its maker, Aḥmad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Sharbatlī (Or. 2411/2, Side A)
 noc 

We have also expanded the boundaries of what we consider to be ‘scientific’ literature to include related subjects such as zoology, veterinary medicine and animal husbandry (Delhi Arabic 1949, Add MS 21102, Add MS 23417, Or 15639 and Or 8187) and two works on chess (Add MS 7515 and Or 9227). Hoping to go beyond what is expected from our digitisation project, we have even digitised a scientific instrument: a quadrant we discovered boxed with a earlier manuscript of a user’s manual for such a device (Or 2411/2 ).

Bio-bibliographical note in the rough draft of an Arabic translation of Gnomonices libri octo by Christophorus Clavius (d. 1537 or 38). The translation is by Rustam Beg al-Ḥārithī al-Badakhshī ibn Qubād Beg (d. 1705) and the note is by his son, Mīrzā Muḥammad – more on this in our earlier post East-West knowledge transfer in Mughal India (IO Islamic 1308, f.
Bio-bibliographical note in the rough draft of an Arabic translation of Gnomonices libri octo by Christophorus Clavius (d. 1537 or 38). The translation is by Rustam Beg al-Ḥārithī al-Badakhshī ibn Qubād Beg (d. 1705) and the note is by his son, Mīrzā Muḥammad – more on this in our earlier post East-West knowledge transfer in Mughal India (IO Islamic 1308, f. 1v)
 noc 

Colophon of a copy of Saʿīd ibn Hibat Allāh’s al-Mughnī fī tadbīr al-amrāḍ wa-maʿrifat al-ʿilal wa-al-aʿrāḍ produced at Baghdad 1172 (IO Islamic 3810, f. 105r)
Colophon of a copy of Saʿīd ibn Hibat Allāh’s al-Mughnī fī tadbīr al-amrāḍ wa-maʿrifat al-ʿilal wa-al-aʿrāḍ produced at Baghdad 1172 (IO Islamic 3810, f. 105r)
 noc 

We are currently finalising the scope of the third phase of the British Library and Qatar Foundation Partnership, which will include such highlights as early copies of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, a large and early manual of dream interpretation and the British Library’s second oldest Arabic scientific manuscript (click here to see the oldest). Keep your eye on the Qatar Digital Library to see the newest manuscripts as they are digitised and posted.

For a complete list of the 125 manuscripts together with hyperlinks to the images download Qatar-scientific-mss-phase-2

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork