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12 July 2021

The art of small things (2): Text frames in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia

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At first glance, one of the simplest ways to identify a Qur’an manuscript in Southeast Asia – thus distinguishing copies of the Holy Book from the hundreds of other Islamic manuscripts written in Arabic script, whether in Arabic or in a local language such as Malay or Javanese – is that on every page, the text is usually enclosed within a frame. There are certainly other, non-Qur’anic, manuscripts with text borders, but probably no other Islamic text in the Malay world is so consistently presented with a frame on every page. At key junctures of the Qur'an, such as the first and last pages, or at the start of certain significant chapters, these frames may be exquisite artistic constructions, embellished with floral and foliate motifs, such as shown below in a Qur’an manuscript from Patani. However, even on all the other ‘regular’ pages in between, the text will still be framed.

Illuminated double frame marking the start of Surat Yasin, in a Qur’an from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 222v-223r
Illuminated double frame marking the start of Surat Yasin, in a Qur’an from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 222v-223r  noc

The text frames in Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts always consist of a series of ruled lines. The schematic composition of these frames – in terms of the colour and order of the lines – is extraordinarily faithfully adhered to within each region, although sometimes there may be more than one preferred pattern within a single region. Text frames can thus be a key indicator of the geographical origin of a Qur’an manuscript, and may help to identify a manuscript when a study of the larger decorated elements is inconclusive. Some of the most characteristic patterns of text frames will be explored below with reference to the small collection of eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia held in the British Library, all of which have been fully digitised, as well as Qur'an manuscripts from Indonesia digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP).

Along the East Coast of the Malay peninsula, two standard patterns of text frames are encountered. Most of the smaller, simpler Patani-style Qur’an manuscripts will have text frames of three ruled lines, black-black-red (here and elsewhere I follow the convention of describing the lines from inside out). More lavish manuscripts, generally produced within the Terengganu school but also sometimes in the Patani/Kelantan style, will have a more complex set of frames of black-thick yellow-black-black-red lines, and in the most sumptuous manuscripts the yellow might be replaced with gold. The exceptionally fine small Patani Qur’an in the British Library pictured above (Or 15227) has these black-thick yellow-black-black-red frames on every page.

Text frames in a Qur’an from Patani of black-thick yellow-black-black-red lines, typical of the fine East Coast school. British Library, Or 15227
Text frames in a Qur’an from Patani of black-thick yellow-black-black-red lines, typical of the fine East Coast school. British Library, Or 15227  noc

Similarly elaborate text frames – but with the red line constituting the innermost rather than the outermost frame – are also found in Qur’ans illuminated in the Sulawesi diaspora geometric style, including one held in Riau digitised through EAP.

EAP1020_PDEMK_BKG_ALH_02_10-text-crop
Text frames in a Qur’an held in Kampar, of red-black-thick yellow-black-black lines, as typical of Sulawesi-style manuscripts. EAP1020/3/2

For Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh, there are also two prototypes of frames. The most common pattern – and that found in all three Acehnese Qur’ans held in the British Library, shown below - is a series of four parallel ruled lines of red-black-red-black ink. The other, less commonly encountered pattern, is a series of three lines of red-red-black ink.

Tf-15406  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: (middle) Or 16034  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh:  Or 16915.
Text frames of red-black-red-black lines in three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh. British Library, (left) Or 15406, (middle) Or 16034, (right) Or 16915. noc

The prescriptions for frames for Qur’an manuscripts from Java are rather less rigid, but nonetheless still distinctive of their origin. Javanese Qur’ans generally have frames of a series of ruled black lines, most commonly three, but sometimes two or four. These lines may either be spaced evenly or clustered, but the most common pattern – as demonstrated by Or 16877 – is for a frame of three ruled black ink lines, with the inmost two lines close together, with a larger space before the outer line. Examples of the frames in the four Qur’an manuscripts from Java in the British Library are shown below.

Text frames of three ruled black lines-Add 12312  Text frames of three ruled black lines-15877-f.6v
Text frames of three evenly-spaced ruled black lines in two Qur’an manuscripts from Java. British Library (left) Add 12312, (right) Or 15877

Text frames-16877  Text frames in Qur’an manuscripts from Java. British Library, Add 12343, with four ruled lines, grouped in two closely-placed pairs.
Text frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Java. British Library (left) Or 16877, with three ruled lines with the two inner lines closer together; (right) Add 12343, with four ruled lines, grouped in two closely-placed pairs.  noc

In the Minangkabau realm of west and central Sumatra, text frames usually comprise red lines, sometimes combined with black lines.

EAP117-3-1-3.123  EAP117-23-1-3.11
Text frames in two Qur’ans from the Minangkabau region, both now held in Kerinci: (left) EAP117/30/1/3, and (right) EAP117/23/1/3.

In my previous blog post looking at verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, it was noted that ‘errors’ or lapses by scribes were extremely valuable in signalling the various work stages of copying a Qur’an manuscript. It could be seen that firstly, the scribe would copy the text, usually placing a small black mark to indicate clearly the placement of a verse marker. After the text was completed, the next stage was to draw in with red or black ink the circles of the verse markers. If the markers were to be coloured, the third stage was to fill them in with pigment.

Looking closely at text frames, it is also thanks to certain problems encountered by the scribes that we can be certain that in general, the text frames were added after the text was written on each page, not before. This becomes clear when we see that, in all three Qur’ans from Aceh, when the scribe realised that he had left out part of the text, he was able to supply the mising words before the frames were added. The frames, therefore, had to step around the additional words, which was done as neatly as possible. In one of the Qur'ans, we even find that three full pages were left out – perhaps forgotten – during the task of adding text frames to the book.

The text frame steps up and then down to accommodate some added words in a Qur’an from Aceh. British Library, Or 16915, f. 207r
The text frame steps up and then down to accommodate some added words in a Qur’an from Aceh. British Library, Or 16915, f. 207r  noc

Probable scribal miscalculation leads to a stepped text frame in a Qur'an from Aceh. British Library, Or 15406, f. 204r 

Probable scribal miscalculation leads to a stepped text frame in a Qur'an from Aceh. British Library, Or 15406, f. 204r   noc

The text frame detours around some words which the scribe has added vertically at the end of a line, in a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 15406 f.9r
The text frame detours around some words which the scribe has added vertically at the end of a line, in a Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 16034, f. 9r  noc

There are three pages (ff. 221r, 221v, 222r) with missing text frames in this Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 16034, ff. 220v-221r.
There are three pages (ff. 221r, 221v, 222r) with missing text frames in this Qur’an manuscript from Aceh. British Library, Or 16034, ff. 220v-221r.  noc

This is the second of a five-part series of blog posts on ‘The art of small things’ in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The first part is on Verse markers; the third on Surah headings, the fourth on Juz’ markers, and the fifth and final part on ruku' and maqra' Recitation markers.

Blog posts:
28 June 2021, The art of small things (1): Verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia
4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library
25 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

28 June 2021

The art of small things (1): Verse markers in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia

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Studies of the art of the Qur’an usually start with the beautiful illuminated frames across two facing pages that are naturally the most visually striking parts of the book, but all too often the studies also stop there. In fact, it is often in smaller features that geographical origin is most readily determined, through deep-seated attachments to certain preferred formats of page layout. The British Library holds eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia representing three regional traditions, with one from Patani on the East Coast of the Malay peninsula (Or 15227), three from Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra (Or 15406, Or 16034, Or 16915), and four from Java (Add 12312, Add 12343, Or 16877) including one from the island of Madura (Or 15877). Drawing on these and Qur'an manuscripts from Indonesia digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme, we will explore the art of minor decorative elements in Qur’an manuscripts, starting with the smallest of all: verse markers.

Decorated frames marking the start of Surat al-Kahf in a Qur’an manuscript from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 149v-150r
Decorated frames marking the start of Surat al-Kahf in a Qur’an manuscript from Patani, 19th century. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 149v-150r  noc

In the absence of punctuation in Arabic script, and to support correct recitation, from at least the 10th century onwards Qur’an manuscripts were generally copied with small graphic devices separating each verse or aya. In Qur’ans from Southeast Asia, these verse markers are invariably small circles, generally varying in size from between 3 to 7 mm in diameter, and with olour schemes that differ between regions.

Detail from the Patani Qur’an shown above, with two differently coloured round verse markers, each 3 mm in diameter. British Library, Or 15227, f. 149v (detail)
Detail from the Patani Qur’an shown above, with two differently coloured round verse markers, each 3 mm in diameter. British Library, Or 15227, f. 149v (detail)  noc

Presented below is one line from each of the eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library, showing the start of the same verse (Surat al-Kahf, Q.18:8, ‘And lo! We shall make all that is therein a barren mound’), to show the shape and placement of the verse markers, with comments on each regional tradition.

On the East Coast of the Malay peninsula, Qur’an manuscripts normally indicate verse breaks with small red-ink circles.  More de luxe volumes, especially from the Terengganu school, have black or red ink circles filled with yellow pigment, and in the most lavish cases, gold. As shown above, the fine small Patani Qur’an in the British Library, Or 15227, has black circles filled with yellow (or occasionally green) paint. While copying the Qur’anic text, the scribe has taken care to leave enough space for the round verse markers to sit on the line adjacent to the words.

Qur’an from Patani, Q.8:18.  British Library, Or. 15227, f. 148v
Qur’an from Patani, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels.  British Library, Or. 15227, f. 149v  noc

In the three Acehnese Qur’ans shown below, only in one manuscript (Or 15406) has space been left on the line to fit in the verse markers; in the two other manuscripts the verse markers have had to be placed above the line. In Aceh, verse markers in illuminated Qur’an manuscripts are nearly always black ink circles which are coloured in with yellow. This colour scheme is found in all three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh in the British Library shown below, although on the page in question in Or 16034, the scribe has forgotten to colour in the verse markers, which have been left as black ink circles. In this manuscript, we can see clearly the small black ink dots that the scribe left while copying out the text to indicate the breaks between the verses, as a guide for placing the markers.

Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 15406, f. 142v
Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 15406, f. 142v [NB this page is bound upside down in the volume]   noc

Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 16915, f. 131r
Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of yellow roundels. British Library, Or. 16915, f. 131r  noc

Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of black circles which have not been coloured in yellow. British Library, Or. 16034, f. 115v
Qur’an from Aceh, Q.8:18, with verse markers of black circles which have not been coloured in yellow. British Library, Or. 16034, f. 115v  noc

In Qur’an manuscripts copied in the Javanese tradition, verse markers are invariably red ink circles. In the four Javanese Qur’ans in the British Library, only in one manuscript are the markers placed on the line of writing, while in three others they are located above the lines. In all these manuscripts too we can see the scribal mark left to indicate where the verse markers should be placed, but in the Qur’an from Madura, the scribe has forgotten to draw a red circle around the second caret mark placed above the line at the end of the verse Q.18:8.

All these small scribal lapses are interesting because they serve to illustrate clearly the three-stage order of working: firstly, the scribe would copy the text, usually placing a small black mark to indicate clearly the placement of a verse marker. After the text was completed, the next stage was to draw in with red or black ink the circles of the verse markers. If the markers were to be coloured, the third stage was to fill them in with pigment.

Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add 12312, f. 95r
Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add 12312, f. 95r  noc

Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add. 12343, f. 89r
Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Add. 12343, f. 89r  noc

Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, , with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Or 16877, f. 146v
Qur’an from Java, Q.8:18, , with verse markers of red circles. British Library, Or 16877, f. 146v  noc

Qur’an from Madura, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles; one has been missed out at the end of the verse. British Library, Or 15877, f. 147r
Qur’an from Madura, Q.8:18, with verse markers of red circles; one has been missed out at the end of the verse. British Library, Or 15877, f. 147r  noc

The round verse markers in Qur’ans from Southeast Asia are indeed the smallest artistic elements in the manuscripts, but they are also the basic buildings blocks of more elaborate graphic devices that sometimes blossom into remarkable artworks. These are used to indicate larger textual divisions such as juz’ or thirtieth parts of the Qur’an and subdivisions thereof, or the ends of suras or chapters. These composite roundels can range from the very basic models found in Javanese manuscripts to more artistic illuminated compositions in Acehnese Qur’ans, and can reach even more elaborate heights in other genres of manuscripts such as Kitab Mawlid texts.

Roundel-12312-f.14v-juz2  Roundel-16877-f.273v
Triple roundels in two Javanese Qur’ans to mark the start of a new juz’: British Library, (left) Add 12312; (right) Or 16877, f. 273v   noc

Roundel-16034-f.258r
Illuminated composite roundels used as a line filler at the end of Surat al-Fil (Q.105) in an Acehnese Qur’an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 258r  noc

Roundel-16915-f.131v  Roundel-16915-f.128v  coloured foundel in a Quran manuscript -15406-f.18v
Coloured composite roundels marking subdivisions of a juz’ in Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts. British Library, (left and centre) Or 16915, (right) Or 15406.  noc

As can be seen in the images, all the verse markers are perfect circles that were drawn mechanically with a compass, as is evident from the small black dot or indent discernible in the centre of nearly all the circles. The ubiquity of these perfect circles, in Qur’an manuscripts of every varying level of competence (for example, the Javanese Qur’an Or 16877 is copied in a very poor hand), suggests that rather than using a dedicated tool, they may have been made through an easily-learned scribal technique of somehow pivoting the nib of the pen around a sharp point. The use of a sharp-pointed implement is proven by some back-lit images taken to show the watermarks in a manuscript of a sermon from Kerinci, digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP117/9/1/3), which highlight the tiny holes created in the making of the composite roundels; similar observations have been made in Islamic manuscripts from Mindanao. However, the precise method of drawing these small circles, whether by using a tool or a technique, remains at present undocumented, and a field for future study.

Pinprick pivot holes in the paper made during the creation of decorative composite roundels, in a sermon from Kerinci, Jambi, probably written in the 1830s. EAP117/9/1/3  EAEAP117-9-1-3-compass points in a composite roundel
Pinprick pivot holes made in the paper during the creation of decorative composite roundels, in a sermon from Kerinci, Jambi, shown below, probably written in the 1830s. EAP117/9/1/3, 6

Sermon, written on a scroll, ca. 1830s, Kerinci, Jambi, Sumatra.  EAP117/9/1/3.
Sermon, written ca. 1830s in the form of a scroll in English paper watermarked 'Allford 1829', Kerinci, Jambi, Sumatra.  EAP117/9/1/3.

Occasionally small hand-drawn circles are also found in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, and these are especially common in central Sumatra and areas in the Minangkabau sphere of influence, as in the Qur’an below.

EAP144-2-5.16
Hand-drawn small red circles as verse markers in a Qur’an from West Sumatra. EAP144/2/5.16

This is the first of a five-part series on ‘The art of small things’ in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The first part is on Verse markers; the second on Text frames; the third on Surah headings; the fourth on Juz’ markers; and the fifth and final part is on ruku' and maqra' Recitation indicators.

Blog posts:
4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library
25 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

14 June 2021

Three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh in the British Library

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Aceh is renowned as one of the most fervently Islamic regions of Southeast Asia. Situated on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, it was the site of the first Muslim kingdoms in the archipelago in the 13th century, and Aceh has also produced many famous Islamic scholars and writers. There are probably more illuminated Qur’an manuscripts known today from Aceh than from anywhere else in the Malay world, and nearly all conform closely to what can be termed the Acehnese style of manuscript illumination (cf. Gallop 2004). The British Library holds three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh, and all have been fully digitised.

Illuminated frames at the start of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 2v-3r.
Illuminated frames at the start of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 2v-3r.  noc

An especially fine example of this genre is Or 16915, which has three superb pairs of illuminated frames and further marginal ornaments throughout the manuscript indicating standard divisions of the Qur’anic text into thirty parts of equal length or juz’. As can be seen in the illustration above, the text boxes on two facing pages are surrounded by rectangular borders, with the vertical borders extended upwards and downwards. On the three outer sides of each page are arches, and those on the vertical sides are flanked by a pair of ‘wings’ or foliate tendrils. The palette is centred on red, yellow and black ink, but the most important colour is the reserved white of the background paper, which carries the main motif, usually a scrolling vine. Gold is never used in the illumination of Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts. In the final pair of illuminated frames from the same manuscript, shown below, the arches are ogival rather than triangular, but all elements still conform to the precepts of the Acehnese style.

Illuminated frames at the end of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 254v-255r.r
Illuminated frames at the end of a Qur’an from Aceh, ca. 1820s. British Library, Or 16915, ff. 254v-255r.  noc

The other two manuscripts are simpler bibliographic productions, but both were also created with decorated frames at the beginning, middle and end of the book. However, Or 16034 is now missing the first few folios, and thus also the initial illuminated frames which it would undoubtedly have had. It still has illuminated frames in the middle, which, as is the case with all Acehnese Qur’ans, are located at the start of the textual mid-point of the Qur’an, at the start of the 16th juz’, in Surat al-Kahf, verse 75, indicated here with the line in red ink. Although the decorated frames are cruder in design and execution than those shown above, they illustrate well both the degree of conformity to, yet variation possible within, the parameters of the Acehnese style.

Decorated frames in the middle of the Qur’an, at the start of the 16th juz’ (Q, 18:75). Or 16034, ff. 119v-120r.
Decorated frames in the middle of the Qur’an, at the start of the 16th juz’ (Q, 18:75). British Library, Or 16034, ff. 119v-120r.  noc

Probably the most interesting feature of this Qur’an manuscript is that the final pair of illuminated frames, which are located after the end of the Qur’anic text, were left blank. While at first glance it might be assumed that they were unfinished, in fact this is a distinctively Acehnese phenomenon, and scores of examples of such blank illuminated frames in Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh have been documented. In most cases they appear to have been designed to contain a prayer to be recited on completion of the Qur’an, or the final chapters of the Qur’an, or a repetition of the first chapter, Surat al-Fatihah. In Or 16034 the first words of a prayer have been written but the attempt then petered out, leaving only a few doodled pencil marks.

Blank decorated frames at the end of the Qur’an. Or 16034, ff. 260v-261r.
Blank decorated frames at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 16034, ff. 260v-261r.  noc

The third Qur’an manuscript, Or 15604, has three pairs of double monochrome frames. These should not be regarded as ‘unfinished’ examples of manuscript art, for so many examples of Acehnese manuscripts with monochrome decoration can be found that this should be regarded as a standard variant of the Acehnese style. In all other aspects, these decorated frames are typical of the Acehnese style save that, unusually, both the initial and final pairs of frames are lacking the arches and flanking tendrils on the outer vertical sides, although these are present in the (very damaged) middle frames.

Monochrome decorated frames, without side arches, at the beginning of a Qur’an from Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 1v-2r.
Monochrome decorated frames, without side arches, at the beginning of a Qur’an from Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

Damaged monochrome decorated frames in the centre of a Qur’an from Aceh, at the beginning of juz’ 16, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 147v-148r.
Damaged black and brown ink decorated frames in the centre of a Qur’an from Aceh, at the beginning of juz’ 16, 19th century. British Library, Or 15406, ff. 147v-148r.  noc

Both these two simpler Qur’an manuscripts display one of the most characteristic features of Acehnese illumination less evident in the finer Or 16915, namely the plaited rope border. This deceptively simple and seemingly universal motif is in fact fundamental to the Acehnese style, while almost never being encountered in Qur’an manuscripts from any other part of Southeast Asia.

Plaited rope borders from decorated frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh

Plaited rope borders from decorated frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh
Plaited rope borders from decorated frames in two Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh: British Library, (top) Or 15406, f. 314r; (bottom) Or 16034, f. 120r  noc

All three Qur’an manuscript from Aceh in the British Library were produced with three pairs of decorated frames, albeit with differing degrees of artistry and finesse. However, Or 16915 is a much more lavish example of book art as all the textual divisions within the Qur’an are marked with beautiful marginal ornaments. The Qur’an is traditionally divided into thirty juz’ or parts of equal length to facilitate its recitation within a complete month, especially the blessed month of Ramadan.  Each juz’ can also be subdivided into regular fractions of half (nisf), quarters (rubu‘) and eighths (thumn), and all these divisions are indicated in Or 16915 with ornamented medallions placed in the margin. The start of each new juz’ is also highlighted with a small composite roundel composed of intersecting circles within the text itself, and by setting the first line within red-ruled frames and writing the first verse in red ink. In the other two Acehnese Qur’ans, Or 15406 and Or 16034, the first line of each new juz’ is also written in red ink, and in Or 16034 is usually also marked by a composite roundel, but there are no decorative devices in the margins.

The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82)

The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82)

The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82)
The start of juz’ 7 of the Qur’an (Q. 5:82) marked with varying degrees of ornamentation in three Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts: British Library, (top) Or 16915, f. 54r, (middle) Or 15406, f. 57v, (bottom) Or 16034, f. 45r.  noc

It is probably in the minor decorative features that the umbilical cord linking all three Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh is revealed most clearly. Thus all three manuscripts – despite evidently varying places and dates of production within Aceh – have text frames of exactly the same composition, namely a series of four parallel ruled lines (described from inside out) of red-black-red-black ink. This is the one of two frame schemes found in nearly all Acehnese Qur’an manuscripts, the other being the less common red-red-black (cf. Gallop 2007: 195).

Tf-15406  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: (middle) Or 16034  Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh:  Or 16915.
Text frames of red-black-red-black ruled ink lines in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: British Library, (left) Or 15406, (middle) Or 16034, (right) Or 16915.  noc

Lastly, all three Qur’an manuscripts are also linked by the smallest common ornamental element: the aya or verse markers, which in Acehnese Qur’ans are invariably small black circles, drawn mechanically with a compass-like tool, coloured in with yellow pigment.

Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment-15406 f.246v  Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment-16034  Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment-16915
Verse (aya) markers of black circles filled with yellow pigment in all three Qur'an manuscripts from Aceh: British Library, (left) Or 15406, (middle) Or 16034), (right) Or 16915.  noc

None of these three manuscripts is dated, but Or 16915 is written on English paper made by J Whatman watermarked with the date '1819', suggesting it was copied sometime in the 1820s.  The two other manuscripts are copied on Italian paper with the tre lune watermark of three crescent moons, indicating 19th century production. It is very rare to find colophons in Southeast Asian Qur'an manuscripts, but Or 15406 does have an endowment (waqf) statement at the end naming the owner:  Inilah Qur'an milik Teungku Ti orang baruh duduk pada nanggroe Lam Kubu tetapi Qur'an ini diwakaf pada tangan Teungku Abdul Kadir Lam Siwi intaha kalam tamma, ‘This is the Qur'an belonging to Teungku Ti, from the coastal lowlands, residing in Lam Kubu, but this Qur'an has been inalienably endowed into the hands of Teungku Abdul Kadir of Lam Siwi, finis.’

Endowment statement at the end of the Qur'an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 315r
Endowment statement at the end of the Qur'an. British Library, Or 15406, f. 315r  noc

Further reading:
A.T. Gallop, ‘An Acehnese style of manuscript illumination’, Archipel, 2004, (68): 193-240.
A.T. Gallop, The art of the Qur’an in Southeast Asia. Word of God, Art of Man: the Qur’an and its creative expressions. Selected proceedings from the International Colloquium, London, 18-21 October 2003. Edited by Fahmida Suleman. Oxford: OUP in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007, pp.191-204.
Blog post, 24 March 2014, An Illuminated Qur’an manuscript from Aceh
Blog post, 4 February 2021, Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

27 May 2021

Fragments of Abbasid Sciences: From Desert Monastery to Digital Reunion

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As the Qatar Digital Library (QDL) uploads its two millionth image this week, we’d like to celebrate the nearly 80,000 images of British Library Arabic scientific manuscripts that contribute to this achievement.

One of the most fascinating of these manuscripts and one of the oldest is a thousand-year-old fragment of a Christian Arabic miscellany in Or. 8857. Enhanced cataloguing facilitated by the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership has provided a glimpse of the scientific interests and texts available to readers in the monasteries of the Near East around AD1000 and also of the diverse communities that produced these manuscripts in monastic scriptoria. Creating a digital surrogate of this fragment for the QDL has also allowed us to virtually reorder its folios and even remotely reunite it with another, larger fragment from the same manuscript held in another collection.

 

Acquisition and condition

On 30 May 1921, the British Museum acquired five folios of a Syriac manuscript along with thirty-three folios of a very ancient Arabic manuscript from F.W. Bickel, an antiquities dealer in Zürich specialising in Christian oriental manuscripts.

Off-white paper with two lines of cursive text in the Latin alphabet
Acquisition note: ‘Bought of F. W. Bickel. 30 May, 1921.’ (British Library, Or. 8857, endleaf verso [ii-v]) https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100088125470.0x00004e
CC Public Domain Image

When this purchase was recorded in the British Museum acquisition register, the fragmentary Arabic manuscript was given the shelfmark Or. 8857 along with a typically brief description: ‘Or. 8857. A fragment of a work on the calendar, followed by some prescriptions. 33ff. XIth. cent. 8o Arabic’. Clearly the manuscript was old – 5thAH/11th AD century according to the acquisition register. But details about its contents were scanty, and nothing was said about its provenance.

Off-white paper divided into three with small boxes on left and right and large one in the centre, all of which are filled with cursive text in the Latin alphabet in black ink
Entry for Or. 8857 in the British Museum acquisition register ( List of Oriental Manuscripts 1909–1921. Or. 6948–9034, p. 275 [British Library, ORC GEN MSS 7])
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When the thirty-three paper folios that comprise Or. 8857 entered the British Museum, they were evidently in disarray. Not only is there no evidence to suggest that the folios arrived with a binding, but worse – the sewing that held the quires had disintegrated and the loose bifolia had broken apart along their spine-folds to become individual folios. At some point, probably shortly after their acquisition, all thirty-three folios were mounted on paper guards and sewn into a new binding with little regard to their original order but perhaps preserving the order in which they had arrived at the British Museum.

Off white manuscript folio with two columns of text in black ink in the Arabic script and red stamp with British Museum seal at bottom
The first folio, according to the manuscript’s present arrangement, is not what it seems. Its layout suggests either poetry or two columns of prose but, in fact, it is a list of the planets that rule each hour of the day, and it runs horizontally across the page despite the columns. What appears to be an eastern Arabic five (٥) in the upper left corner – perhaps explaining the western Arabic five in the lower right-hand corner – is actually a Coptic seventy (𐋰), which indicate that this is really not the first but the penultimate folio (British Library, Or. 8857, f. 1r) https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100088125470.0x00000b
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After this conservation work, the manuscript seems to have rested unnoticed until a more complete list of its contents was prepared for the Subject Guide to the Arabic Manuscripts in the British Library (pp. 353, 357, 385 and 389). But it was not catalogued in detail until it was selected for digitisation for the QDL.

 

Date and context of production

The manuscript is written in a squat and angular script that has been described as ‘Kufic’. This script is now considered one of a loosely defined group of scripts generically called Abbasid Bookhand because they were developed in the early Abbasid chancery and employed for copying books on both sacred and secular topics from roughly the 3rd/9th to 5th/11th century. They were then replaced by the maghribī script in the extreme west of the Islamic world and by the naskh script almost everywhere else.

Apart from the manuscript’s archaic script and paper, other features help to define the time and place it was copied. Chief amongst these are its quire signatures, numbers that tell the bookbinder the correct order in which to bind the quires that make up a manuscript. In this manuscript two sets of quire signatures are found on the first and last folio of each quire. These quire signatures are written using two separate systems of alphabetic numerical notation: Greek and Georgian. The use of these two numeral systems alongside an Arabic text written in Abbasid Bookhand and featuring the distinctive punctuation marks displayed in this manuscript all attest to the collaboration of multi-ethnic and multilingual artisans in the Syrian, Palestinian and Egyptian monastic scriptoria of the early Abbasid period. The particular combination of quire signatures found here, however, is most typical of the scriptorium of the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai, especially during the late-4th/10th and early-5th/11th century.

Double page spread of manuscript on off-white paper with writing in Arabic script in black ink, with several features highlighted by red, green and blue circles placed over the text
Opening from the Book of Seasons (Kitāb al-azmina), which displays a variety of punctuation and space-filling marks as well as Greek quire signatures (circled in green, Η = 8 right and Θ = 9 left), Georgian quire signatures (circled in red, Ⴆ = 7 lower right and Ⴇ = 9 upper right) and Coptic folio number (circled in blue, 𐋯𐋩 = 69) (British Library, Or. 8857, ff. 10v and 17r)

Or. 8857, ff. 10v: https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100088125470.0x00001e
Or. 8857, ff. 17r: https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100088125470.0x00002b
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Reordering the folios

The quire marks demonstrate that Or. 8857 is a fragment containing the remains of quires 5–9 of a larger original manuscript. But without putting the folios back in their original order, it would be impossible to know how much of each quire has survived. Luckily, each folio also has a number in its head margin. Although these folio numbers are likely to have been added somewhat after the quire signatures, they are early and they also attest to the multilingual context in which the manuscript was produced and consumed since they are written using the Coptic epact alphabetic numerals. The use of these numerals was not restricted to the Coptic community, and they are commonly referred to as ‘register letters’ (ḥurūf al-zimām) since they were favoured by merchants and administrators for use in their registers and account books.

Like the Arabic alphabetic numerals (ḥurūf al-jumal, commonly called abjad) – the numerical values of which happen to be explained on ff. 1v–2r of this manuscript – the Greek, Georgian and Coptic (zimām) alphabetic numeral systems all have a base of ten (unlike Roman numerals, which also have a sub-base of five) and they are additive (unlike Roman numerals, which also subtractive) rather than positional (like Arabic numerals). This means that to write the number 123 in alphabetic numerals, one does not write the letter representing 1 in the hundreds place, 2 in the tens place and 3 in the ones place as done with Arabic numerals. Rather, one writes the letters representing 100 (+) 20 (+) 3.

Table with first column and row in grey background with Greek letters in the central cells
Greek majuscule alphabetic numerals 1–900

Table with first column and row in grey background with Georgian letters in the central cells
Georgian majuscule (Asomtavruli) alphabetic numerals 1–900

Table with first column and row in grey background with Coptic letters in the central cells
Coptic epact or zimām numerals 1–900

Reading the Coptic (zimām) foliation along with the quire signatures, it becomes clear that Or. 8857 is a fragment of five quaternions (quires 5–9) comprising folios 37–71 of a larger manuscript of unknown extent. Quires 5, 6 and 8 are still complete with eight folios each, while quire 7 is missing the two folios of its inner bifolium, and only the first three folios from quire 9 are preserved.

Five schematic diagrams of thick or hatched blue lines forming concentric c-shaped items flipped so that they are open to the left
Visualisation of the original quire arrangement of the folios in Or. 8857. Historic Coptic (zimām) foliation at left and modern British Museum foliation in brackets at right. Note that the Georgian signatures for quires 7 and 8 are erroneously reversed. (Visualisation produced with Viscodex)
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Diverse monastic reading material

Once we know the original order of the folios, we can see that Or. 8857 contains a variety of texts on subjects more or less obviously suited to the monks of Monastery of St Catherine.

1) Fragment of a Christian prayer (f. 37r–37v [British Museum f. 18r–18v]);

2) Prayer Taken from the Book of the Prophet David (Duʿā mustakhraj min Kitāb Dāwūd al-nabī, ff. 37v–41r [BM ff. 18v–22r]);

3) Prayer Composed by One of the Righteous Christian Believers (Duʿā allafahu baʿḍ al-muʾminīn al-muḥiqqīn min al-Naṣārá, ff. 41r–47v [BM ff. 22r–28v]);

4) Three recipes for incense (ff. 47v–49v [BM ff. 28v–30v]);

5) The Book of Seasons (Kitāb al-azminah, ff. 49v–70v, ff. 56–57 missing [BM ff. 30v–33v, 11r–16v, 3r–10v, 17r–17v, 1r and 1v]);

6) Fragment of an astrological text (ff. 70v-71v [BM ff. 1v-2v]).

The prayers that occupy the first eleven folios are clearly appropriate in a monastic context although certain features may seem jarring to the modern eye. One prayer ends with the invocation ‘O Lord of the Worlds!’ ( yā Rabb al-ʿĀlamīn, f. 18v), for example, and another is preceded by the basmala ( bi-sm Allāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm, f. 22r), both phrases which occur in the Qurʿān and appear distinctly Islamic today. But during this early period, and for centuries after Or. 8857 was copied, these phrases were used in common by the Arabic-speaking adherents of all the Abrahamic faiths. On the other hand, although incense does not necessarily imply church ritual, the Trinitarian formula ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (bi-sm al-Ab wa-al-Ibn wa-rūḥ al-qudus, f. 28v) at the beginning of the incense recipes attests to their Christian context.

The last two texts in the fragment, however, seem less typical of a monastic library. The Book of Seasons is a sort of almanac containing information about the calendar, the heavens, weather phenomena, human illness and health and agricultural matters as they pertain to the twelve months of the year. This genre of literature, in which titles like the Book of Seasons or the Book of Asterisms ( Kitāb al-anwāʾ) are common, provided important guides for living in harmony with the natural rhythms of the year – especially useful for monastic communities surviving in often harsh and semi-isolated conditions. Indeed, one of the earliest authors of this genre was Abū Zakarīyā Yūḥannā ibn Māsawayh (d. 243/857), a Nestorian Christian hospital director at Baghdad, personal physician to the Abbasid caliphs and teacher of the Nestorian physician and translator Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq (d. 260/873).

Single page of Arabic-script text in black ink with several words in red ink on off-white paper
Information on the names of the months in Syriac, Greek and Persian from the beginning of the Book of Seasons, preceded by the basmala (British Library, Or. 8857, f. 30v) https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100088125470.0x000046
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The fragment ends with an anonymous introductory text on astrology, which includes an unusual method for determining a person’s ascendant not by observing their natal horoscope chart, but through numerological analysis of their name and that of their mother. While this text may seem the least appropriate in a monastery, there was considerable legal and theological disagreement about which of the various astrological practices were licit or illicit, and knowledge of the planets' influences on the environment and the human body was generally considered an important part of maintaining good health and wellbeing.

 

Fragments reunited

A much larger fragment of the same manuscript of which Or. 8857 is also a fragment is now held at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan under the shelfmark X 201 sup. According to a note by Mons. Enrico Rodolfo Galbiati (Doctor of the Ambrosiana 1953–84, Prefect of the Ambrosiana 1984–89) written in the margin of the Ambrosiana’s copy of Löfgren and Traini’s Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (vol. 1, p. 33), X 201 sup. was amongst a lot purchased in 1910 from an unknown dealer in Munich by Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, then Prefect of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (1907-14), but soon to lead the Catholic Church as Pope Pius XI (1922–39).

X 201 sup. has also been digitised and is now available on the Ambrosiana’s Biblioteca Digitale, where I stumbled upon it, immediately recognising its similarity to Or. 8857. Like Or. 8857, the Milan manuscript is a miscellany combining Christian material with texts on herbal remedies, medicine, astrology and related topics. Likewise, the same Abbasid Bookhand and number of lines per page are found in both manuscripts. But it is the Greek and Georgian quire signatures alongside Coptic foliation found in both manuscripts that prove they are two pieces of the same puzzle.

According to the Coptic foliation and bilingual quire signatures, Or. 8857 contains ff. 37–71 (ff. 56 and 57 are missing) of the original manuscript, and its last quire signature is 9 on f. 17r (f. 69r of the Coptic foliation). The Milan manuscript contains 227 folios (beginning at ff. 97 and ending at f. 337 of the Coptic foliation, with some gaps), and its first quire signature is 13 on f. 101r (f. 5r of the modern Ambrosiana foliation).

We know that the quires in Or. 8857 were quaternions, which have eight folios each, so we would expect the Milan manuscript to be composed of quaternions too – although it should be pointed out that irregular quires are not unusual in manuscripts. Between the beginning of quire 9 (the last in Or. 8857) and the beginning of quire 13 (the first to begin in the Milan manuscript) there were four quires, which if they were all regular quaternions, should equal thirty-two folios (4 quires x 8 folios in each quire = 32 folios). When we count from the beginning of quire 9 on f. 69 of the Coptic foliation and to the end of quire 12 on f. 100 there are, indeed, exactly thirty-two folios, confirming that the two manuscripts are fragments from the same original manuscript.

Even though 77 folios have been lost from the original manuscript (ff. 1–36, 56–57 and 72–96 of the Coptic foliation, plus another 14 within the body of X 201 sup.), a very substantial 260 folios have now been identified, and this will no doubt form the basis for future studies into Abbasid scientific traditions amongst Christian monastic communities.

Thanks to international digitisation projects, the magic of IIIF, and the Mirador viewer there are fewer barriers than ever before to studies of this kind. In fact, anyone with a computer and access to the internet can virtually reunite the two fragments of this manuscript by following the steps below.

1) Navigate to X 201 sup. on the Ambrosiana’s Biblioteca Digitale, and click on the words ‘Visualizza la copia digitale’. The images will open in the Mirador viewer via your web browser. Open the dropdown menu at the top left corner of the viewer window and choose a location in the viewer window at which to display Or. 8857.

A screen shot showing the cover of a book with a red binding, with thumbnails of pages on the bottom, and the file menu in the top left hand corner dropped down and highlighted in a red box with rounded edges

2) You will now see that a blank canvas has opened at your chosen location.

Screen shot with a book with a red binding atop thumbnails of pages on the left-hand side and a dark grey area with a red-outlined oval on the right-hand side

3) In another browser window, navigate to any page on the QDL displaying images of Or. 8857 and expand the tab marked ‘Use and Share this Record’.

Screen shot showing a white page with thumbnails of book spines in the centre and text on the bottom third, some of which is on a grey background. The lowest grey background is inside an oval outlined in red

4) Under the heading ‘IIIF details’, locate the IIIF logo next to the IIIF manifest for Or. 8857, drag the logo to the Mirador window in your web browser and drop it anywhere on the blank canvas (see step 2).

Screen shot with a black banner at the top and text with a grey background in the middle, with some of the text highlighted by lines and hollow boxes in red and light blue

5) Alternatively, you can copy the IIIF manifest (https://www.qdl.qa/en/iiif/81055/vdc_100073295641.0x000001/manifest) located next to the IIIF logo on the screen in step 4 and click on the blank canvas in the Mirador viewer (see step 2). This will open the screen below, where you can paste the IIIF manifest into the field marked ‘Add new object from URL’ and click ‘Load’.

Screen shot showing a primarily white screen with a series of thumbnails of manuscript pages on the top third of the screen

6) You can now use the dropdown menus to choose how you would like to view each of the manuscripts and even repeat the steps above to add more canvases and view other IIIF compliant objects at the same time.

Screen shot of a black background with a matrix of thumbnails showing various pages of manuscripts

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
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Thanks to Dr Adrien de Fouchier, OP (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) and Dr Stefano Serventi (Biblioteca Ambrosiana) for their generous help and advice with my research for this blog.

Bibliography:

Chrisomalis, Stephen, Numerical Notation: A Comparative History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 135–37, table 5.1 (Greek and Georgian); 139, table 5.3 (Greek); 150, table 5.5 (Coptic/ zimām, the numerals for 600 [𐋸] and 700 [𐋹] are erroneously reversed) and 178, table 5.20 (Georgian)

Ifrah, Georges, The Universal History of Numbers from Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer , trans. by D. Bellos, E.F. Harding, S. Wood and I. Monk (New York–Chichester–Weinheim–Brisbane–Singapore–Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, 2000), pp. 220 (Greek), 225 (Georgian), and 545 (Coptic/zimām),

Kawatoko, Mutsuo, ‘On the Use of Coptic Numerals in Egypt in the 16th Century’, Orient 28 (1992) 71, fig. 3 (helpfully, gives variant forms for most numerals)

List of Oriental Manuscripts 1909–1921. Or. 6948–9034 (British Library, ORC GEN MSS 7)

Löfgren, Oscar and Renato Traini,Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, 3 vols, Fontes Ambrosiani LI, LXVI and Nuova Serie II (Vicenza: Neri Pozza Editore, 1975–95) vol. 1, item 33, pp. 33–35

Pataridze, Tamara, ‘Les Signatures des cahiers unilingues et bilingues dans les manuscrits Sinaïtiques (Georgiens, Arabes et Syriaques)’, Manuscripta Orientalia 18.1 (2012) 15–35

Subject Guide to the Arabic Manuscripts in the British Library, compiled by Peter Stocks, ed. by Colin Baker (London: British Library, 2001)

Varisco, Daniel, ‘The Origin of the Anwāʾ in Arab Tradition’, Studia Islamica 74 (1991) 5–28

05 April 2021

An ‘enhanced’ Qur’an manuscript from Madura

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Many manuscripts show evidence of multiple layers of history. For example, a 12th-century manuscript text with marginal annotations from the 15th century might be set in new decorated borders in the 19th century, or a 16th-century Mughal manuscript could have added miniatures from the 18th century. Evaluating such manuscripts depends on an accurate identification of the nature and dating of the constituent parts, and an understanding of the motivation for any additions or enhancements, whether for reasons of scholarship, conservation, beautification or deliberate manipulation, the latter most commonly for commercial gain. One such complex manuscript in the British Library is a Qur’an manuscript from Madura, Or 15877, which was acquired at a Christie’s South Kensington auction sale in London in 2001, and which just been fully digitised.

Opening decorated pages in a Qur’an from Madura. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 1v-2r
Opening decorated pages in a Qur’an from Madura. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 1v-2r  noc

At first glance, this manuscript appears to be a typical illuminated Qur’an from Java. It is written on dluwang, Javanese paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree, and has three pairs of decorated double frames at the beginning, middle and end of the book, with marginal ornaments marking every juz’ or thirtieth part of the text. The most impressive feature of this Qur’an is the calligraphy: the whole text is written in a supremely confident, dashing, cursive hand, with a pronounced forward slope, as can be seen below in the repetition of the first chapter, Surat al-Fatihah, at the end of the volume. According to the colophon below written in Javanese, this manuscript was copied by ‘Abd al-Laṭif in the hamlet of Larangan, in the village of Puri (dusun Larangan kampung Puri), which can probably be located in the regency (kabupaten) of Pamekasan, near Sumenep, on the island of Madura.

Final page of a Qur’an from Madura, with a repetition of the Surat al-Fatihah, with the colophon below in the triangular panel. British Library, Or 15877, f. 297v
Final page of a Qur’an from Madura, with a repetition of the Surat al-Fatihah, with the colophon in the triangular panel. British Library, Or 15877, f. 297v  noc

What is not typical though is a full-page illuminated frontispiece at the start of the volume. In the form of carved wooden standing screen, it is inscribed in the middle in vocalised Arabic script: Pangeran Paku Ningrat Kraton Sumeneb 1793, ‘Pangeran Paku Ningrat, the Palace of Sumeneb, 1793’. Sumenep is one of three princely courts on the island of Madura, and the Javanese year 1793 is equivalent to AD 1865. This strikingly decorated page in fact acts as a warning ‘red flag’, for such full-page representational illuminations are not found in any Qur’an tradition in Southeast Asia.

Illuminated frontispiece to the Qur’an, inscribed Pangeran Paku Ningrat Kraton Sumeneb 1793, ‘Pangeran Paku Ningrat, the Palace of Sumeneb, 1793’ (AD 1865). British Library, Or 15877, f. 1r
Illuminated frontispiece to the Qur’an, inscribed Pangeran Paku Ningrat Kraton Sumeneb 1793, ‘Pangeran Paku Ningrat, the Palace of Sumeneb, 1793’ (AD 1865). British Library, Or 15877, f. 1r  noc

There are numerous other hints that Or 15877 is an ‘enhanced’ manuscript, namely a genuine but probably originally plain 19th-century Qur’an manuscript from Madura, which was most likely only illuminated shortly before being consigned for sale. Hundreds of Qur’an manuscripts from Java and Madura, copied on both dluwang and on European paper, were created devoid of decoration but with the text on the two opening pages set in smaller frames, as for example in Or 16877 in the British Library, shown below. In recent years there have been countless examples of such Javanese Qur'an manuscripts with recently added illumination, especially in the wide borders of the opening pages. Sometimes it is easy to recognize these ‘enhanced’ manuscripts through the garish and harsh synthetic pigments used, as in Or 15877, which have often bled through the paper to the other side. In Or 15877, the faint powdery sheen evident on the opening pages appears to be due to talcum powder rubbed over the illuminated elements, presumably to induce a degree of patina.

Opening pages of an undecorated Qur’an manuscript from Java, probably late 19th century. British Library, Or 16877, ff. 1v-2r
Opening pages of an undecorated Qur’an manuscript from Java, probably late 19th century. British Library, Or 16877, ff. 1v-2r  noc

In the original manifestation of Or 15877, the start of each juz’ was indicated with a star-shaped ornament in the text with a calligraphic inscription in red ink in the margin identifying the number of the juz’. As part of the late 20th-century ‘beautification’ process, the facing page of each new juz’ has had triple green medallions added in the margins. In the example shown below, these medallions overlie an earlier textual correction, proving that the ornamentation is a later addition to the manuscript.

The start of juz’ 28 at Surat al-Mujadilah (Q. 58), with the original calligraphic inscription in red ink in the margin at the top of the left-hand page, but with the recently-added green medallions on the right-hand page partially obscuring an old textual correction in the margin. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 264v-265
The start of juz’ 28 at Surat al-Mujadilah (Q. 58), with the original calligraphic inscription in red ink in the margin at the top of the left-hand page, but with the recently-added green medallions on the right-hand page partially obscuring an old textual correction in the margin. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 264v-265r  noc

In Qur’an manuscripts in which illuminated frames were added at the time of creation, the text boxes on those pages would normally have been made smaller – sometimes, much smaller – to allow for the ornamentation of the borders. Another incongruous feature of the British Library Qur’an Or 15877 is therefore the double decorated frames in the middle and at the end, which have been squeezed into the narrow margins around the full text pages. Moreover, in all Qur’an manuscripts produced in the Javanese tradition, illuminated frames in the middle would frame the start of Surat al-Kahf, but in this manuscript they have (inadvertently) been placed on the following two pages, starting with Q. 18:17.

Decorated frames in the middle of a Qur’an from Madura. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 147v-148r
Decorated frames in the middle of a Qur’an from Madura. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 147v-148r  noc

Decorated frames at the end of a Qur’an from Madura. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 296v-297r
Decorated frames at the end of a Qur’an from Madura. British Library, Or 15877, ff. 296v-297r  noc

It is considerations about the sizing of the illuminated frames in the middle of the Qur'an which help to interpret one of the most puzzling aspects of this many-layered manuscript: the presence on the doublures – which in the case of Or 15877 comprise two sheets of European paper pasted on the inside of the front and back covers – of two small illuminated panels. That at the front is inscribed Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, 'In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate', and that on the back Alhamdulillah, 'Praise be to God'. Both panels contain small cartouches above and below in which an inscription in red ink has been defaced. The online tool retroReveal has helped to decipher the erased inscriptions, which on the front panel can be read as Surat / al-Kahf. The second pair are more difficult to read but the top word may be Makiyyah, referring to the place of revelation of this chapter.  Thus the two panels, together, contain the first words of the Surat al-Kahf, and appear to have been originally created as part of the central illuminated pages of a Qur’an manuscript. When that enterprise was, for some reason, abandoned, the pages were repurposed as doublures in Or 15877, with the sura headings erased to leave simply two pious expressions set in decorated borders. The two doublure pages have been digitally reconstructed below to show how the central pages of the Qur’an were originally envisaged, alongside the middle illuminated pages from another Javanese Qur’an manuscript with almost as small text boxes for the start of Surat al-Kahf.

Illuminated panels inscribed (top) Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim-Or 15877 Doublure front  Illuminated panels inscribed (top) Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim-Or 15877 Doublure front-RetroReveal

Illuminated panels inscribed Alhamdulillah-Or 15877 Doublure back  Illuminated panels inscribed Alhamdulillah-Or 15877 Doublure back-retro
Illuminated panels inscribed (top) Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim and (below) Alhamdulillah, with the legibility of defaced red text enhanced by retroReveal. British Library, Or 15877, front doublure and back doublure.  noc

Digital reconstruction of the front and back doublures of Or 15877, to show how they were originally created as the central pages of a Qur’an manuscript marking the start of Surat al-Kahf. British Library, Or 15877, front and back doublure.
Digital reconstruction of the front and back doublures of Or 15877, to show how they were originally created as the central pages of a Qur’an manuscript marking the start of Surat al-Kahf. British Library, Or 15877, front and back doublure.  noc

Central pages of a Qur’an manuscript from Java, marking the start of a Surat al-Kahf, enclosing a single line of text on each page. National Library of Singapore, Farish Noor Collection.
Central pages of a Qur’an manuscript from Java, marking the start of Surat al-Kahf, also enclosing a single line of text on each page. National Library of Singapore, Farish Noor Collection, B29235337A.

The binding of Or 15877 is also curiously hybrid. The leather covers themselves are evidently 19th-century, and the stamped decorative medallion with four petals at the centre is similar to those found on other Madura manuscripts (cf. Plomp 1993: Figure 4). However the covers are slightly smaller than the text block and thus the binding may not be original to this particular manuscript. The edges of the page have been gilded, which can be assumed to be another recent enhancement, such gilding is never normally encountered in Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts.

Detail of the stamped central medallion-Or 15877 binding motif  Detail of the stamped corner piece-Or 15877 binding motif corner
Detail of the stamped central medallion and corner piece from the binding. British Library, Or 15877, front cover.  noc

Gilded edges of the text block, with too-small leather covers. British Library, Or 15877, bottom edge.
Gilded edges of the text block, with too-small leather covers. British Library, Or 15877, bottom edge.  noc

In the most generous assessment, the process of 'enhancing' these older Javanese Qur'ans could be seen as part of an ages-old inclination to 'beautify' the Holy Book.  However, in some other cases of augmentation of Qur'an manuscripts, whereby fake colophons attributing production to Southeast Asia have been added to Qur'ans from Daghistan, no such extenuating factors can be adduced.

Further reading:
A.T. Gallop, Fakes or fancies? Some ‘problematic’ Islamic manuscripts from Southeast Asia. Manuscript cultures, 2017, 10: 101-128.
M. Plomp, Traditional bookbindings from Indonesia. Materials and decorations. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1993, 149 (3):571-592.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

01 April 2021

Histories and Archives of Arabic Publishing

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Between April-June 2021 the British Library and Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, will co-host Histories and Archives of Arabic Publishing: an online series of talks exploring publishing practices in Arabic as a site for unfolding intellectual networks, artistic practices and political imaginaries from the 1960s until the present.

Two-ring binder open with black and white page of illustrations, atop a green open-topped box with obscured items
From the collected archive for the project Borrowed Faces by Fehras Publishing Practices, Berlin, 2018-2021.

© Ferras Publishing Practices

The series has been co-curated and convened by Hana Sleiman, Research Fellow in History at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, and Daniel Lowe, Curator of Arabic Collections at the British Library.

The series has been organised in partnership with the Delfina Foundation, Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, and the Middle East History Group, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge.

Video still showing a white board with writing in black ink and lines in blue ink, with a hand at the bottom holding a writing instrument
Video still from Past Disquiet.
© Past Disquiet

Engaging with a variety of artistic, design, archival, curatorial and academic research projects, this series will reflect on the multiple and overlapping worlds of publishing and on the contemporary efforts to reconstruct and reimagine them.

Learning from the leading practitioners in the field, the series examines past and present practices of publishing in Arabic. It explores questions of scale of operations and reach; mediums and formats; audience and language; and the social and political context that gave rise to the practices in question. The series also explores contemporary collecting practices of publishing archives. It highlights collections’ capacity to foreground publishing archives not merely as a signifier of other historical processes but as a historical process in its own right.

 

Split image, with colour and black and white covers of books and pamphlets on the left, some in Latin script and some in Arabic script, some with titles blacked out, laid out in an overlapping fashion, and on the right a headshot of a woman with chin-length curly hair standing against a white textured wall, with shadow obscuring part of her face
Left: Image courtesy of Kayfa ta.
© Kayfa ta

Right: Hala Auji. 
© Hala Auji

 

How to maneuver: shapeshifting texts and other publishing tactics

The first session in the series on Tuesday 27 April at 17:00 BST (register via Zoom) brings together artists and curators Ala Younis and Maha Maamoun, in conversation with art historian Hala Auji, to talk about Kayfa ta: On Shapeshifting Texts and Other Publishing Tactics. In 2012, they founded Kayfa ta as an independent publishing initiative that emerged from a need to break out of the limited readership and distribution of alternative books: books that cross genres, engage a mixed range of writers and readers, and are not driven by restrictive market values that control who and what is publishable. Their project is also interested in identifying the mechanisms of “gate-keeping”, be they in art or publishing, that shape and limit the voices and practices that have access to a wider public. In 2019, Kayfa ta expanded its interest into understanding the wider field of self and independent publishing and distribution, as well as the new challenges facing access of the private to shared public platforms, and the space left to maneuver the mounting obstacles therein. Their talk explores the expanded fields of contemporary publishing and distribution – modes of making-public and of public–making, as developed through quotidian as well as artistic strategies – as a revealing entry point to understanding contemporary efforts to limit and expand the space of the commons.

 

Split image with colour photograph of seven books standing up in a line on the left, and a black and white photograph of a man wearing spectacles on the right
Left: Arabic Design Library by Khatt Books.
© Khatt Books

Right: Moe Elhossieny.
© Ahmed Othman

 

Archives of design and designing the archive

On Tuesday 11 May at 17:00 BST (register via Zoom) Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, Founding Director of the Khatt Foundation and Khatt Books publishers, will speak on The Arabic Design Library: Alternative Narratives from the Arab World. She will address the importance of documenting and presenting an alternative design history from parts of the world that are rarely covered in main-stream design publications. She will present the series of design monographs, The Arabic Design Library, published by Khatt Books since 2016. The series covers the work of some of the Arab world's design pioneers (including the likes of Hilmi al-Tuni, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Dia Azzawi, Nasri Khattar and Abdulkader Arnaout) who were practicing in the period stretching from the 1960s to the 1980s and who in their own way, engaged with design as a tool for political emancipation and socio-cultural progress.

She will be joined by Cairo-based multidisciplinary designer, researcher and writer Moe Elhosseiny who will speak on Arabic Cover Design Archive: Digital Archives as Design Activism. Through engaging with Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever, he takes a critical approach to history, archival practices and access in relation to collective memory in South Western Asia and North Africa. With archives being suppressed, neglected, avoided, or locked away, there is an urgency to support collective memory building. Consequently, forms of digital archiving may take on the role of design activism. Elhosseiny founded the Arabic Cover Design Archive which seeks to surface and record book design practices throughout the history of Arabic publishing, providing an accessible digital extension to an often inaccessible physical archive. By making the archive visible through digital means, this project multiplies the instances where engagement with this material can occur. It thus aims to increase the potentiality for creating meaning and greasing the wheels of knowledge production while simultaneously alerting the public to the existence of their history.

 

Split image with a photograph of three men, one bare-headed and two on left with hoods, standing in a close group, and right side showing a woman with medium length hair facing the camera with her shoulders and head centred
Left: Fehras Publishing Practices: Sami Rustom, Kenan Darwich, Omar Nicolas.
© Fehras Publishing Practices

Right: Zeina Maasri
© Zeina Maasri

 

Visualising the archive: Arabic publishing during the Cold War

On Tuesday 25 May at 17:00 BST (register via Zoom) Zeina Maasri, senior lecturer in the School of Humanities at the University of Brighton, will speak alongside Berlin-based artist collective Fehras Publishing Practices (Sami Rustom, Omar Nicolas and Kenan Darwich) about their respective projects on Arabic publishing during the Cold War.

In her talk The Visual Politics and Poetics of Arabic Publishing, Maasri will explore Beirut’s development from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s as a nexus of transnational Arab artistic encounter, intellectual debate and political contestation, which was marked by anticolonial struggle and complicated by a cold war order. Central to this nodal configuration was the city’s infrastructure of printing, Arabic publishing and distribution that sparked creative collaborations between various Arab artists, intellectuals and militants who crossed paths in Beirut. These transnational circuits have materialised in some of the pioneering modernist Arabic cultural periodicals of the period, as well as in politically radical publishing projects that summoned revolutionary change and solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle. Her talk centres the visuality and materiality of Arabic publications as important sites of aesthetic experimentation and as reproducible and mobile artefacts of print culture. She argues that the translocal visuality of such Arabic printscapes helped articulate political imaginaries, mobilize cross-border identifications and shape aesthetic sensibilities in and through the disjunctive flows of the global sixties.

Likewise, through their project Borrowed Faces, Fehras Publishing Practices focuses on the Cold War era as one of the most fertile and critical periods in the history of Arab culture and publishing because of the entanglement between politics and culture. Their ongoing project researches cultural policies, and intellectual hegemony pursued by the bipolar power, the United States and the Soviet Union, and their establishment of institutions to fund international networks, conferences and projects. It observes the transformation of culture and publishing in the region from within, where new literary styles and ideas started to emerge. At the core of these movements were publishers, writers, poets, and translators, some of whom established collectives and seminars or who launched initiatives, publications, and publishing houses. Borrowed Faces looks into this period by observing the common denominators between cultural practices then and today. Pursuing these lines of inquiry, the project digs into print archives from the 1950s and 60s, such as books, magazines, memoirs, personal letters, newspaper articles, and photographs.

 

Split image showing on the left a colour photograph of an exhibition space with free-standing black stands, movable orange walls, and cream and green structural wall, all with artwork on them; on right hand side, headshot of a woman with hair to her jaw, smiling
Left: Exhibition view, Past Disquiet, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon, July 27-October 1, 2018.
Photograph: Christopher Baaklini, Courtesy: Sursock Museum.

Right: Refqa Abu-Remaileh
© Refqa Abu-Remaileh

 

Fragmented archives and histories of solidarity

The final session in the series on Tuesday 8 June at 17:00 (register via Zoom) brings together Refqa Abu-Remaileh and Kristine Khouri to speak about their respective archival and curatorial projects.

In her talk  A Database for Palestinian Literature, Abu-Remaileh will share the work-in-progress of the ERC project PalREAD-Country of Words. Focusing on PalREAD’s use of digital tools, the talk will discuss the challenges and joys of tracing and mapping a highly fragmented and scattered history of Palestinian literary production in Arabic from the early 20th century to the present spanning a multiplicity of geographical locations around the globe.

Researcher and writer Kristine Khouri’s talk Reflections on the (Digital) Future(s) of Past Disquiet focuses on her decade long research project conducted with Rasha Salti which took the form of an archival and documentary exhibition, publication, and seminars and other discursive events. The project investigated the histories of art collections and museums built in solidarity with political causes for Palestine, Chile, Nicaragua and South Africa as well as unearthed histories of transnational artistic solidarity networks of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial liberation struggles from the 1960s to the 1990s. While the exhibition presented the research in the form of text, digital surrogates of archival and other materials, video montages of interviews with participants and other testimonies and film and other footage, the exhibition did not exhibit any artwork. Today, over a decade later, the question remains on how to treat the digital archive which has been built throughout the project, gathering surrogates of documents held primarily in private homes or difficult to find ephemera of histories that have yet to be properly written. The talk will explore some of the reflections and challenges in thinking about the digital (and other) afterlives of Past Disquiet and ways to imagine encouraging further research.

Full abstracts and speaker biographies for the series can be found here. For any further enquiries please email Hana Sleiman and Daniel Lowe.

Hana Sleiman, Research Fellow in History, Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge
Daniel Lowe, Curator, Arabic Collections
CCBY Image

22 March 2021

A beautiful Qur’an manuscript from Kampar, Riau, digitised through EAP

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A recent Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) project in Indonesia – EAP1020, ‘Preserving and digitising the endangered manuscript in Kampar, Riau Province, Indonesia’, led by Fikru Mafar and colleagues – has digitised one of the finest illuminated Qur’an manuscripts documented in Sumatra. The manuscript, EAP1020/5/1, which is written on Dutch watermarked paper and probably dates from the 19th century, is owned by Mr Muamar in the village of Air Tiris in Kampar. He inherited it from his parents, descendants of Datuk Panglima Khatib, a local hero of Kampar whose tomb is a popular attraction. Today Kampar is a small district (kecamatan) within the regency (kabupaten) of the same name in the province of Riau, but historically the Kampar is known as one of the great rivers of the kingdom of Siak, running from the Minangkabau highlands down through the central eastern seaboard of Sumatra to the Straits of Melaka. Siak was founded in the 17th century by Raja Kecil, a prince of Johor-Malay and Minangkabau heritage, and Kampar features prominently in the Malay chronicles of the period.

Illuminated frame around the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah; the first surviving page of a Qur’an manuscript in Kampar, 19th century
Illuminated frame around the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah; the first surviving page of a Qur’an manuscript in Kampar, 19th century. EAP1020/5/1, p. 1

The Qur’an manuscript has a beautifully illuminated frame in red, green and gold surrounding the beginning of the second chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al-Baqarah. Sadly, this manuscript has lost its initial folio, which would have contained the first chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al-Fatihah, set within a symmetrically matching illuminated frame. The rectangular border surrounding the text box contains a stylised representation of the shahadah, the profession of faith, la ilaha illa Allah, 'There is no god but God', repeated on all four sides in gold on a red ground. Calligraphic panels in gold on a green ground within ogival arches on the three outer sides give (above) the title of the surah from Mecca, (below) the number of verses, and (left) tanzil min rabb al-‘alamin (Q.56:80), ‘a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds’.

Although very damaged, detached fragments of one of the final leaves of this manuscript survive, and show that a similar double illuminated frame also occupied the final two pages, enclosing the last eight surahs of the Qur’an. The decorated frames comprised a rectangular calligraphic border on the three outer sides with the stylised shahada reserved in white against a blue ground, continuing with a floral scroll on the inner vertical side; on the three outer sides are ogival arches containing floriate motifs in gold on a red ground.

Digitally reconstructed image of the illuminated frame around the right-hand page at the end of a Qur’an manuscript in Kampar, 19th century
Digitally reconstructed image of the illuminated frame around the right-hand page at the end of a Qur’an manuscript in Kampar, 19th century. EAP1020/5/1, pp. 540, 542

The text of this finely-written Qur’an is set within ruled frames of red-red-black ink, and is laid out according to an Ottoman model popularised on the East Coast of the Malay peninsula, with each juz’ or thirtieth part of the Qur’anic text filling exactly 20 pages, while each page of 15 lines ends with a complete verse. Thus in this Qur’an each new juz’ starts at the top of a right-hand page, with the first few words highlighted in red ink, and is marked with three beautiful illuminated medallions in the margin. The top roundel is inscribed al-juz’ in gold against a red or green ground, while the two lower roundels bear elegant foliate or floral patterns. On other pages, similar roundels mark the fractions of each juz’, respectively inscribed nisf (half), rub‘ (quarter) or thumn (eighth), while others bear the letter ‘ayn and indicate places where the reciter should bow (ruku’). However, apart from those for nisf, most of the other medallions are unfinished and uncoloured, and have been left in black ink outline.

Qur’an, showing on the right-hand page the start of juz’ 5 (Q.3:93), with three illuminated marginal roundels; on the left-hand page an uncoloured roundel with ‘ayn-EAP1020-5-1.78-79
Qur’an, showing on the right-hand page the start of juz’ 5 (Q.3:93), with three illuminated marginal roundels; on the left-hand page an uncoloured roundel with ‘ayn. EAP1020/5/1, pp. 78-79

Marginal medallions indicating the parts of a juz’ or thirtieth portion of the Qu’ran-EAP1020-5-1.58-juz Marginal medallions indicating the parts of a juz’ or thirtieth portion of the Qu’ran-EAP1020-5-1.67-det Marginal medallions indicating the parts of a juz’ or thirtieth portion of the Qu’ran-EAP1020-5-1.72-rub Marginal medallions indicating the parts of a juz’ or thirtieth portion of the Qu’ran-EAP1020-5-1.74-thumn
Marginal medallions indicating the parts of a juz’ or thirtieth portion of the Qu’ran; from left, al-juz’, nisf (half),rub‘ (quarter) and thumn (eighth). EAP1020/5/1, p. 78

Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.38-juz-a Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.38-juz-b Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.58-juz-a Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.58-juz-b

Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.78-juz-a Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.78-juz-b Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.98-juz-a Illuminated marginal medallion indicating the start of a new juz’-EAP1020-5-1.98-juz-b
Eight illuminated marginal roundels with delicate floral motifs, each pair marking the start of a new juz', exactly 20 pages apart. Left to right, from top: juz' 3 (p. 38); juz' 4 (p. 58), juz' 5 (p. 78), juz' 6 (p. 98).  EAP1020/5/1

As is apparent on the pages shown above, this Qur’an was written with black irongall ink, which unfortunately in time always slowly corrodes the paper it is written on, especially in hot and humid conditions. The original pages of this Qur’an are badly affected, and in fact the manuscript reveals evidence of careful efforts to replace damaged pages with new leaves written in a more stable black ink, perhaps already in the 19th century. This conservation project appears to have been carried out initially using a commendably ‘minimally interventionist’ approach of only replacing the most damaged pages. Thus, after verse 91 of Surat al-Baqarah on p. 10, newly-copied replacement pages were inserted on pp. 11-22, before reverting to the original manuscript on p. 23. However, the image below of pp. 22-23 shows some stubs of paper in the gutter of the book indicating further missing folios. These two detached folios, of replacement pages, are in fact located at the end of the manuscript, and have been digitised as pp. 535-6 and 537-8. On closer examination, it can be seen that the text on p. 23 – which ends with Q.2:181 – has been crossed out, while the replacement page p. 538 contains only two verses, Q. 2:180-81, widely spaced out over three lines. Thus we can surmise that the replacement pages were carefully planned for Surat al-Baqarah verses 92-181, reverting to the original manuscript, on p. 24, with Q.2:182. However, because the new scribe did not follow the same finely-judged page layout system, he did not manage to fit the text onto exactly the same number of pages as in the original, and the final lines needed to be spaced out on the last page of the replacement section in order to connect with verse 182 in the original version.

On the left, pages of the original portion of the Qur’an, written in irongall ink, and now badly corroded; on the right, replacement pages-EAP1020-5-1.22-23
On the left, pages of the original portion of the Qur’an, written in irongall ink, and now badly corroded; on the right, replacement pages. EAP1020/5/1, pp. 22-23

The two sides of one of the replacement pages detached from between pp. 22-23, showing how the lines have had to be spaced out on the final page in order to match up with the text remaining in the original portion of the manuscript-EAP1020-5-1.538-ed  The two sides of one of the replacement pages detached from between pp. 22-23, showing how the lines have had to be spaced out on the final page in order to match up with the text remaining in the original portion of the manuscript-EAP1020-5-1.537-ed
The two sides of one of the replacement pages detached from between pp. 22-23, showing how the lines have had to be spaced out on the final page in order to match up with the text remaining in the original portion of the manuscript. EAP1020/5/1, pp. 537-538

This newer portion of the manuscript includes an elaborate double decorated frame in black ink marking the start of Surat al-Isra’ (Q.17), which was probably designed to be coloured but has been left unfinished. As noted above, these newly-copied pages do not follow the same clearly-defined page layout system of the original portion, and thus a new juz’ may commence in the middle of a page, and is indicated simply by writing the first words in red ink. Even in this new portion of the manuscript there have been losses of text, and the Qur’an ends abruptly in the middle of the 26th juz’, in Surat al-Fath (Q.48:20) on p. 534.

EAP1020-5-1.288-289
Uncoloured decorated frames in the middle of the Qur’an, marking the start of Surat al-Isra’. EAP1020/5/2, pp. 288-289

A number of factors such as the use of the Ottoman page layout model and the location of decorated double frames in the middle of the Qur’an at the beginning of Surat al-Isra’ - and even the use of irongall ink - suggest the influence of Qur’an manuscripts from the East Coast of the Malay peninsula. Terengganu Qur’ans were the finest in Southeast Asia and were exported all over the Malay archipelago, and their influence was magnified from the 1860s onwards with the publication in Singapore of lithographed Terengganu-style Qur’ans, which were also widely distributed throughout the Malay world. However, the particular artistic influences noted in the Kampar Qur’an point to the other nexus of Qur’anic arts along the East Coast, towards the north in Patani, in southern Thailand. The Patani style of manuscript illumination is on the one hand less technically accomplished than that of Terengganu, but artistically more original and imaginative. This is particularly evident in decorative calligraphic panels in Patani Qur’ans, where great play is made of the massed parallel ranks of the upright lines of letters in the shahadah, often with fanciful looped flourishes to the tips, and the similarities are highlighted below.

Detail of the side arch in the Kampar Qur'an, inscribed tanzil min rabb al-‘alamin (Q.56:80), ‘a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds’, in gold on green, and below, the shahadah in gold on red
Detail of the side arch in the Kampar Qur'an, inscribed tanzil min rabb al-‘alamin (Q.56:80), ‘a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds’, in gold on green, and below, the shahadah in gold on red. EAP1020/5/1, p. 1

Detail of calligraphic panel containing the shahadah in reserved white on a blue ground, in the illuminated frames at the end of the Kampar Qur’an
Detail of calligraphic panel containing the shahadah in reserved white on a blue ground, in the illuminated frames at the end of the Kampar Qur’an. EAP1020/5/1, p. 540

PNM MDetail of a calligraphic panel with the shahadah in gold on a red ground, in the intial illuminated frames of a Qur’an from Patani, 19th century. National Library of Malaysia, PNM MSS 328
Detail of a calligraphic panel with the shahadah in gold on a red ground, in the intial illuminated frames of a Qur’an from Patani, 19th century. National Library of Malaysia, PNM MSS 328

However, the replacement pages are made in a completely different idiom, incorporating elements from Minangkabau practice. This is particularly evident in the double frames in the middle, which even though unfinished are very comparable in structure to examples in Qur'an manuscripts from west Sumatra, with their localised articulations of the Sulawesi diaspora geometric style, with its characteristic triangular arches and pyramidal clusters of circles. This melange of Malay and Minangkabau influences is in fact a defining feature of the mixed or kacukan society of east Sumatra, 'with constant shifting and interaction between groups' (Barnard 2003: 2), and the different traditions reflected in the creation and preservation of this beautiful Kampar Qur'an can thus be seen as symbolising the fluid and diverse cultural ecology of the historic Siak empire.

Further reading:
Timothy P.Barnard, Multiple centres of authority: society and environment in Siak and eastern Sumatra, 1674-1827. Leiden: KITLV, 2003
A.T. Gallop, The spirit of Langkasuka? Illuminated manuscripts from the East Coast of the Malay peninsula. Indonesia and the Malay World, July 2005, 33 (96): 113-182.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia 

08 March 2021

A Malay Qur’an manuscript from Patani

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The finest Qur'an manuscripts in Southeast Asia were produced on the East Coast of the Malay peninsula. Especially sumptuous were the Qur'ans of Terengganu, notable for their technical finesse and lavish use of gold, which were prized all over the archipelago. Further north, the Malay kingdom of Patani - now part of Thailand - has long been recognized for its artistry, manifest in a range of art forms including weaponry, grave stones and primarily wood carving, as beautifully captured in the exhibition book Spirit of Wood (Farish and Khoo 2003).  The best Qur'an manuscripts from Patani are notable for their perfect proportions and and betray a more individualistic aesthetic than the more rigorous and disciplined Terengganu Qur'ans.

An exquisite small Qur’an manuscript in the British Library, Or 15227, which has been fully digitised, is at first glance characteristically Patani in style. Illuminated frames enclose the opening chapters of the Qur’an, with the Surat al-Fatihah on the right-hand page and the first verses of the Surat al-Baqarah on the left.  Although positioned separately on two facing pages, the two frames radiate an intimate and empathetic connection, like a bashful bridal couple on a dais.

Illuminated frames at the start of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 3v-4r
Illuminated frames at the start of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 3v-4r  noc

As can be seen from the diagram below outlining the key features of the 'Patani' style of manuscript illumination, this Qur'an manuscript contains numerous typically Patani elements.  These include ‘interlocking wave’ arches on the vertical sides composed of two intersecting arc surmounted by an ogival dome, and a small border of little chilli peppers (cili padi) or seeds.  These can be seen in the pair of decorated frames located at the end of the Qur’an, containing the final two chapters, with Surat al-Falaq on the right and Surat al-Nas on the left.

Characteristic features from the Patani style of manuscript illumination, reproduced from Gallop 2005: 119, Figure 2.
Characteristic features from the Patani style of manuscript illumination, reproduced from Gallop 2005: 119, Figure 2.

Illuminated frames at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 303v-304r
Illuminated frames at the end of the Qur’an, with 'interlocking wave' arches. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 303v-304r  noc

Interlocking wave arch, with chilli pepper border below of blue and red seeds. British Library, Or 15227, f. 303v (detail)
Detail of the 'interlocking wave' arch, with chilli pepper border below of alternating blue and red seeds. British Library, Or 15227, f. 303v (detail)  noc

Another interlocking wave arch. British Library, Or 15227, f. 222v (detail)
Another interlocking wave arch. British Library, Or 15227, f. 222v (detail)  noc

The Qur’an is written in fine small controlled hand, and like all East Coast Qur’an manuscripts, is copied in accordance with a model of page layout perfected by the Ottomans in the 17th century.  In this ayat ber-kenar system, each juz’ or thirtieth part of the Qur’an occupies exactly 10 folios of paper or 20 pages, with each page ending with a complete verse. Thus each new juz’ always starts on the top line of a right-hand page in the manuscript, and is marked with a beautiful marginal ornament composed of a concentric circle inscribed al-juz’, extended upwards and downwards with floral motifs. Inscribed in tiny red letters alongside each juz’ marker is the word maqra’, indicating the start of a selection of text for recitation.

Marginal ornament marking the start of juz’ 14, which is also the beginning of Surat al-Hjir. Or 15227, f. 133v
Marginal ornament marking the start of juz’ 14, which is also the beginning of Surat al-Hjir. British Library, Or 15227, f. 133v  noc

Although the juz’ markers are all composed of the same basic components of a concentric circle with floral ornaments, each is coloured and finished individually with a different selection of pigments. The ending of the finial at top and bottom with a little droplet is a typically Patani feature - in Terengganu Qur'ans, such finials would end in a fine tapering line.

Marginal ornaments marking the start of juz’ 5  Marginal ornaments marking the start of juz’ 6  Or 15227 f.63v-j.7  Marginal ornaments marking the start of juz’ 7
Marginal ornaments marking the start of juz’ 5, 6, 7 and 8, each located exactly 10 folios apart. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 43v, 53v, 63v and 73v.  noc

In Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts, chapter or sura headings are rarely ornamented with colour, save in the finest examples from the East Coast, such as this manuscript. On the final two pages towards the end of the Qur'an, a beautiful selection of coloured headings can be seen in the cluster of short suras in the final juz 'amma.  The title of the sura, the location of its revelation in Mecca or Medinah, and the number of verses (aya) it contains, is inscribed in reserved white against a ground of five alternating red and either green or blue panels.

Colourful chapter headings, with the titles of the surah reserved in white against a selection of coloured bands of alternating red with their green or blue. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 302v-303r
Colourful chapter headings, with the titles of the sura reserved in white against a selection of coloured panels. British Library, Or 15227, ff. 302v-303r  noc

While the architectural structure of the illuminated frames and decorative motifs are undoubtedly Patani, there are a number of unusual features which make this a uniquely hybrid manuscript.  The uniformly repeating floral motifs, and the deep strong palette, recall Terengganu production, compared to the generally more organic vegetal motifs and pastel hues found in Patani manuscripts.

Even more unusual though is the location of two further pairs of illuminated frames. The positioning of decorated frames in the centre of a Qur’an manuscript from Southeast Asia is one of the most dependable indicators of regional origin: in Acehnese Qur’ans decorated frames in the middle always mark the start of the 16th juz’, at Surat al-Kahf v. 75; in Java and the Sulawesi diaspora it is always the beginning of Surat al-Kahf which is ornamented; while on the East Coast of the peninsula, if illuminated frames are located in the middle they invariably adorn the beginning of the 17th chapter, Surat al-Isra’. Yet in this small manuscript, uniquely, double decorated frames mark the start of both Surat al-Kahf and Surat Yasin. Indeed, despite the special significance of Surat Yasin in the hearts and lives of all Muslims, this is the only Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscript known in which the beginning of Surat Yasin is marked with illuminated frames.

Illuminated frames marking the start of Surat al-Kahf. British Library, Or 145227, ff. 149v-150r
Illuminated frames marking the start of Surat al-Kahf. British Library, Or 145227, ff. 149v-150r  noc

Illuminated frames marking the start of Surat Yasin. Or.15227, ff.222v-223r
Illuminated frames marking the start of Surat Yasin. Or.15227, ff. 222v-223r  noc

A further very unusual feature of this manuscript is the presence of two further pairs of monochrome decorated frames, drawn in black ink and with empty text boxes, found at the end of the manuscript. These are positioned immediately before and soon after the illuminated frame around the final two chapters of the Qur’an, and are significantly different from all the other polychrome frames in structure. In the first set, the inner frame around the text box is similar in composition to the final pair of illuminated fromes on the following folio, but it has an additional outer border hugging the edge of the paper.  These outer borders are a standard feature of larger quarto-sized Terengganu Qur’ans, but are rarely found in smaller octavo-sized Patani Qur’ans such as this. The second pair  sets the arched frames around the empty text boxes within red and black-lined arcs, highlighting the geometric proportions of the genre.

Black ink frames with an outer border in the Terengganu style, at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, ff.303v-304r
Black ink frames with an outer border in the Terengganu style, at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, ff.303v-304r  noc

Black ink frames at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, 306v-307r
Black ink frames at the end of the Qur’an. British Library, Or 15227, 306v-307r  noc

The manuscript is written on Italian paper with watermarks of moon face in shield and the countermark ‘AG’ [Andrea Galvani], indicating that the paper was made at the Galvani papermill in Pordenone near Venice in the second half of the 19th century.  The binding is entirely typical of Patani Qur’ans, with a plain black cloth cover, with intricately stitched endbands. The black paper doublures can be seen as confirmation of the production of this Qur’an manuscript in a Thai cultural zone such as Patani, as black paper is commonly used for Thai manuscripts.

Black cloth spine of binding with intricately stitched endbands of red and green thread. British Library, Or 15227, spine.
Black cloth spine of binding with intricately stitched endbands of red and green thread. British Library, Or 15227, spine.  noc

Southeast Asian Qur'an manuscripts almost never contain colophons giving the name of the scribe, or of the patron for whom the Qur'an was copied.  All we have in this manuscript is one tantalizing line written in Malay, set within another monochrome frame on a single page, which simply tells us the manuscript was written in the month of Shawal.

One line written in Malay - tatkala surat Qur'an ini pada bulan Shawal, 'this Qur'an was written in the month of Shawal' - in a monochrome outline of a frame. British Library, Or 15227, f. 1v
One line written in Malay - tatkala surat Qur'an ini pada bulan Syawal, 'this Qur'an was written in the month of Shawal' - in a monochrome outline of a frame. British Library, Or 15227, f. 1v  noc

However, there are hints that the same artist might also have been responsible for illuminating a beautiful copy of the Mawlid sharaf al-anam, songs in praise of the prophet, held in the National Library of Malaysia as MSS 819.  It is difficult to compare the calligraphy as the Kitab Mawlid is written in two registers, with the Arabic text in bold with a tiny interlinear Malay translation.  But two features of the decorated frames - the four-petalled floral motifs in yellow with dark blue centres, and the striking borders of yellow plaited rope on a red ground with white and blue floral flourishes - are so similar as to suggest the hand of the same artist.

The same four-petalled yellow flower with dark blue centre can be seen in British Library Or 15227, f. 149v   PNM MSS 819  DHPa-RH-crop
The same four-petalled yellow flower with dark blue centre can be seen in both British Library Or 15227, f. 149v (left) and National Library of Malaysia MSS 819 (right).

Yellow plaited rope on a red ground with white and dark blue floral motif-Or.15227  ff.222v-border

Yellow plaited rope on a red ground with white and dark blue floral motif-PNM MSS 819
Yellow plaited rope on a red ground with white and dark blue floral motifs in British Library Or 15227, f. 222v (top) and National Library of Malaysia MSS 819 (bottom).

Kitab Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th century. National Library of Malaysia, MSS 819Kitab Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th century. National Library of Malaysia, MSS 819

Further reading
A.T. Gallop, ‘The spirit of Langkasuka? illuminated manuscripts from the East Coast of the Malay peninsula’, Indonesia and the Malay World, July 2005, 33 (96): 113-182, pp.146, 161.
A.T. Gallop, 'Palace and pondok: patronage and production of illuminated manuscripts on the east coast of the Malay peninsula', Warisan seni ukir kayu Melayu / Legacy of the art of Malay woodcarving, ed. Zawiyah Baba; pp.143-162. Bangi: ATMA, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2010.
Farish A. Noor and Khoo, Eddin, Spirit of wood: the art of Malay woodcarving. Works by master carvers from Kelantan, Terengganu and Pattani. [Hong Kong]: Periplus, 2003.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork