Islamic Perspectives

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Chapter 3


By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(March 2005)

In this chapter we deal describe the nature of Arabic script and early manuscripts of the Qur`an as these issues bear on the question of the integrity of the Qur`anic text.


Arabic System of Writing


The Arabic script is the second-most widely used script in the world, being used for writing Persian, Urdu, Pushtu, Kurdish, scores of other African and central and south Asian languages, and of course Arabic. Turkish also used to be written in the Arabic script, until the 1920s when Ataturk, who hated his country’s Islamic and Muslim past, made the change to the Latin script, which is now the most widely used script in the world. 



The origin of the Arabic script



Both the Arabic and the Latin scripts go back to the Phoenician script, which started about 3000 years ago. The Phoenicians were an ancient Semitic people who lived in what later became Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Their script quickly spread throughout the entire Mediterranean. It was adopted by the Hebrews and the Greeks and in its Greek form it was adopted by the Romans to write Latin. The reason for this rapid spread of the Phoenician script is that it was a great advance over the other writing systems in use at the time. Previously, writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphics employed symbols for different syllables, which required learning many hundreds of distinct symbols. The Phoenicians used just 22 symbols, representing the various individual sounds. Each symbol was a picture of some object whose name in the Phoenician language started with the sound it represented. This system, being easier to learn, facilitated communication between different cultures and promoted trade and commerce.


As the Phoenician script came to be used for other languages, several improvements began to be made. Thus in the 8th century B.C.E., when the Phoenician script was employed for the rendering of Old Aramaic, a few of the consonantal symbols were used as vowel notations. The Phoenician script did not have any vowel notations. A century or so later, the Greeks borrowed the script. They abandoned the consonantal use of vowel symbols and in this way created separate symbols for consonants and vowels.

Some time later, the Aramaic script was used by Syriac, Palmyrene and Nabatean languages. In all these languages many letters began to be linked together by "ligatures". As a result, these letters acquired different shapes depending on whether they occurred at the end of a word or elsewhere. Also, shapes of some letters when they did not occur at the end of a word started to be very similar. In Syriac, at some point in time, these letters were differentiated by dots placed under or over them, but in Palmyrene, and Nabatean, although the ambiguity caused by the use of ligatures was present, letters with similar shapes were not distinguished by the use of dots or any other device.

The pre-Islamic Arabic script has the greatest affinity with the Nabatean script. The Nabateans were an Arab people who lived about 2000 years ago in what is now Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia. We possess some pre-Islamic tomb inscriptions in Arabic and the script used does not possess many of the developed features found in other languages that adopted the Phoenician script. Thus it shows no notation for an open-quality vowel or for any short vowel. Long “u” and “i” are marked by letters that also serve for the consonantal “w” and “y”.

Apart from a few short inscriptions, the earliest surviving document in Arabic is the Qur`an. This suggests that the Arabic script might not have been fully defined, since definition and development is expected to come with extensive use. If so, the Qur`an used the Arabic script for its own transmission at the same time that it helped in the development of that script.


The diacritical and vowel marks



In dating of Qur`anic manuscripts an important consideration is whether there is i‘jam (use of diacritical marks) and tashkil (use of vowel marks). Although diacritical marks were known in pre-Islamic times, they were rarely used. There is no i‘jam in very early copies of the Qur'an.

In the first Islamic century no tashkil or vowel signs appear in any document other than the Qur`an. As for the Qur`an, its manuscripts assigned to the first century use red dots to indicate vowels: a dot above the letter indicated the vowel “a”, a dot below indicated the vowel “i”, a dot on the side of a letter stood for the vowel “u”, and two dots stood for the tanwin. The early manuscripts of the Qur`an, however, do not use the vowel signs for every letter requiring them, but only for letters for which they were necessary for a correct reading.

A Muslim tradition about the development of the vowel system is narrated as follows:

Abu 'Ubaydah narrated: Abu al-Aswad [d. 69 H] derived grammar from 'Ali ibn Abi Talib but he did not disclose to anyone what he had learned from 'Ali until Ziyad [the governor of Basrah from 45 to 53 H] appointed him for the composition of something to serve as a guide to the people, so that they could understand the book of God. Abu al-Aswad asked to be excused from this task, until one time when he heard a reader recite, God is free from (all) obligations to the mushrikun and to his Messenger (Qu`ran 9:3, reading rasulihi) which should have been read as God is free from (all) obligations to the mushrikun and so is His Messenger (reading rasuluhu). Then he said, "I never supposed that the condition of the people would come to this!" So he returned to Ziyad and said, "I will do what the amir has ordered. Let there be sought for me a scribe who is intelligent and obedient to what I say". They brought, therefore, a scribe from the 'Abd al-Kays Tribe, but he [Abu al-Aswad] was not satisfied with him. Then they came with another one, about whom Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mubarrad said, "I regard him to be one of those [who are intelligent]." So Abu al-Aswad said [to the new scribe], "If you see that I open my mouth in pronouncing a letter, place a mark above, on top of it. If I close my mouth [making a u sound], place a mark in front of the letter, and if I split [my lips] double the mark." So this was the marking system of Abu al-Aswad (Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist).

According to another tradition, during the reign of ‘Abd al-Malik (65-85 H) Hajjaj bin Yusuf (d. 96 H), governor of Iraq ordered Nasr bin Asim to safeguard the pronunciation of the Qur`an. Nasr is said to introduce the double dots for the tanwin. Still other traditions give credit to Yahya ibn Ya'mar and/or Hasan al-Basri or Khalil ibn Ahmad for introducing various diacritical symbols. From such traditions and from the manuscript evidence it is clear that the system of diacritical marks in Arabic developed gradually after the advent of Islam. Furthermore, this development was not uniform but the systems changed and at any time several different systems could be in use. Even to this date different dotting systems are used, even in the manuscripts of the Qur`an. In the light of this situation it is a miracle and a tribute to the devotion of a vast majority of Muslims that the text of the Qur`an has been preserved with only a relatively few variants that do not in any significant way affect the teachings of the Qur`an.


Kufi and Hijazi types of Arabic script


Broadly speaking there are two types of early script:

Kufi, an angular script

Hijazi, used in Makkah and Madinah and described as naskhi

How early are the two scripts and which one is earlier is a subject of discussion. Since Kufah was founded in 17 H some have suggested that Kufi script is much later than Naskhi or Hijazi script. But many scholars have denied that the name of the Kufi script has any chronological significance. There are many examples that a thing is connected to an individual or a group or a place but in reality existed before the existence of that individual or group or place. For example, we may speak of Samarqand manuscript of the Qur`an, which does not mean that the manuscript was prepared in Samaqand. In (Kufi script) (accessed on June 4, 2002) many Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have been quoted in support of the view that Kufi script existed much before the foundation of the city of Kufah. We reproduce some of these quotations:


The Arabic script [khatt] is the one which is now known as Kufic. From it evolved all the present pens (Al-Qalqashandi, Kitab Subh al-A‘sha, 1914, Volume III, p. 15).

According this statement the Kufi script is the earliest script. Nabia Abbott, however, thinks that the Kufi and the Naskhi scripts developed at the same time:


We can no longer draw a chronological demarcation line between what are commonly termed the Kufi and the Naskhi scripts, nor can we consider the latter as a development of the former. This ... now demands a more general recognition. Our materials show that there were two tendencies at work simultaneously, both of them natural ones … 

Kufah and Basrah did not start their careers as Muslim cities until the second decade of Islam. But these cities were located closer to Anbar and Hirah in Irak, Kufah being but a few miles south of Hirah. We have already seen the major role the two earlier cities played in the evolution of Arabic writing, and it is but natural to expect them to have developed a characteristic script to which the newer cities of Kufah and Basrah fell heir, so that for Kufic and Basran script one is tempted to substitute Anbaran and Hiran ... our study so far shows that the script of Hirah must have been the leading script in the 6th century  [CE] and as such must have influenced all later scripts, including the Makkan - Madinan (Nabia Abbott, The Rise Of The North Arabic Script And Its Kur'ânic Development,  p. 16-17).


The origin of Kufic or the angular style of Arabic script is traced back to about one hundred years before the foundation of Kufah (17H / 638CE) to which town it owes its name because of its development there (S. M. Imamuddin, Arabic Writing And Arab Libraries, 1983, p. 12).


Although the [Kufi] script itself ... was known in Mesopotamia at least 100 years before the foundation of Kufa, we may conjecture that it received its name from the town in which it was first put to official use ... (B. Moritz, "Arabic Writing", Encyclopaedia Of Islam (Old Edition), 1913, p. 387).

Khatibi and Sijelmassi:

The Arabs usually distinguish four types of pre-Islamic script: al-Hiri (from Hira), al-Anbari (from Anbar), al-Maqqi (from Mecca) and al-Madani (from Medina). The famous author of Fihrist, Ibn Nadim (died c. 390/999) was the first to use the word 'kufic', deriving it from the Hiri script. However, Kufic script cannot have originated in Kufa, since that city was founded in 17/638, and the Kufic script is known to have existed before that date, but this great intellectual centre did enable calligraphy to be developed and perfected aesthetically from the pre-Islamic scripts (Abdelkebir Khatibi & Mohammad Sijelmassi, The Splendor Of Islamic Calligraphy, 1994, p. 96-97).

In partisan missionary discussion about the dating of the Qur`anic manuscripts, it is not only accepted that the Kufi script developed after the founding of Kufah but also it is contended that the script could not have developed fast enough to be used in the production of some of the Qur`an manuscripts that are dated in the first century. However, the tradition that ‘Ali, the fourth khalifah, fought the “Battle of the Camel" just outside Basrah, that the majority of his army consisted of Kufans, and that after his victory against the rebels he decided to settle in Kufah and declared it the center of the Islamic community (transferring it from Madinah for the first time after some 35 years) makes it quite understandable how Kufah could have early become a center of Islamic calligraphy. In this new capital the Arabic language and writing would have developed at a very fast pace.

That the Kufi script existed in the first century is shown by some letters and rock inscriptions from that period, e.g. the following:

I)                   Letters attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (d. 10 H), written in Kufi script, preserved in Istanbul.

II)                 Letters attributed to ‘Ali (d. 40), again in Kufi script, preserved in Iraq.

III)              Tombstone of Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khayr al-Hajri, which is dated 31 H and is inscribed in: “ ... carelessly written Cufic script” (H. M. El-Hawary, "The Most Ancient Islamic Monument Known Dated AH 31 (AD 652), From The Time Of The Third Calif Uthman", Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society, 1930, p. 327).  “The earliest Muslim inscription, the tombstone of Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khair al-Hajari, dated 31/652... It is certainly not Makkan and can safely be considered as poor Kufic” (Nabia Abbott, The Rise Of The North Arabic Script And Its Kur`anic Development, pp. 18-19).

IV)              The milestone, dated from the time of Abd al-Malik bin Marwan (the fifth Umayyad Caliph who reigned from 65 – 85 H), written in Kufi script. It reads: “The highway... Abd Allah Abd al-Malik, amir of the faithful, God's mercy be upon him, this mile is eight miles [from Jerusalem]” (Anthony Welch, Calligraphy In The Arts Of The Muslim World, 1979, pp. 44-45).

V)                Another milestone, dated from the time of ‘Abd al-Malik (reign 65 – 85 H). It is described by Safadi as “early ornamental Kufic on a milestone placed on the Damascus-Jerusalem road by order of the Caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705)” (Yasin H. Safadi, Islamic Calligraphy, p. 11).

Even if the letters attributed to the Prophet and ‘Ali are not authentic, there is little doubt that the items III) – V) are authentic.


Some features of early Qur`anic manuscripts


Old Qur`anic manuscripts have no diacritical marks or vowel signs. They also lack headings (names of surahs) and punctuation marks. They do not separate the surahs or formally indicate the end of a verse. Both the Kufi and Hijazi script underwent development with time. Old manuscripts naturally use primitive forms of these scripts.  Writing material also changed with time. Traditions suggest that in the time of the Holy Prophet, Qur`an was written on materials such as animal skin and bone. Early manuscripts of the Qur'an were generally written on animal skin with an ink prepared from soot. Later, a paper-like material came into use.






Early Manuscripts of the Qur`an


For Muslims the Qur`an was never a book whose copies were to be preserved for modern museums but a book to be preserved in their hearts and put into practice in their lives. In the ancient world in any case the concept of preserving manuscripts for posterity as museum items was all but absent. It is therefore not surprising that most of the early Qur`an manuscripts, complete or in substantial parts, currently available to us belong to the second century or to a still later period. An indication of this is provided by the fact that the earliest Qur`an  manuscript exhibited in the British Museum during the 1976 World of Islam Festival dated from the late second century.

It is also to be expected that the number of surviving original manuscripts of the Qur`an reduces sharply as we approach the time of the Prophet. In fact, none of the manuscripts prepared in the time of the Prophet, Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar or claimed to be written in their time have been preserved. But starting with the time of ‘Uthman, the manuscripts begin to survive, with the probability of the validity of the assigned dates increasing with time.


Manuscripts connected with ‘Uthman

There are some extant manuscripts that are claimed not only to be written during the time of ‘Uthman but are said to be among those that were prepared under him.

Samaqand/Tashqand manuscript

Of these the most famous is the manuscript brought to Samarqand in 890/1485 and which has been in Tashqand, Uzbekistan since 1924 CE. It is kept under lock and key by the governor of Tashqand. Only a photographic copy, of the same size as the original (65x50), is kept at the Islamic Center of Uzbekistan for visitors.

Is this manuscript an ‘Uthmanic original or at least from his time?

One argument used to support the ‘Uthmanic origin of the manuscript is that a series of reports starting from the third Islamic century exist, which suggest that one of the copies of the Qur`an prepared under ‘Uthman survived.

Thus al-Kindi (died after 256/870) says that three out of four copies prepared under 'Uthman were destroyed by fire and wars, while the copy sent to Damascus was still found in his time at Malatja (Ahmad von Denffer, Ulum Ul Qur`an). Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 626/1228) writes in his Mu'jam al-Buldan that one of the 'Uthmanic originals existed in the jami' (grand mosque) of Damascus. Ibn Fadl Allah al-‘Umari (d. 749/1348) also mentions the Damascus manuscript (Kazim Mudir Shanehchi, “Some Old Manuscripts of the Holy Qur`an”). Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372) relates that he had seen a copy of the Qur'an attributed to ‘Uthman, which was brought to Damascus in the year 518 from Tiberias (Palestine). He said it was “very large, in beautiful clear strong writing with strong ink, in parchment, I think, made of camel skin”. Ibn Battutah (d. 778/1376) has recorded his observation of the mosque in Damascus thus:

“In the eastern side of the hall of worship, facing the mihrab is a big repository where the Qur'an sent to Syria by Amir al-Mu`minin ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan is preserved. This repository is opened to the public after the congregational prayer and the people throng to embrace it. It is at this place that parties to disputes take oath from defendants and debtors.”

For the subsequent fate of this Damascus copy, reports are inconsistent. It is said to end up in England without leaving a trace or to stay in Damascus until the fire of 1310/1892, which destroyed it. According to Kurd ‘A1i, Khutat al-Sham this Qur'an existed in the mosque of Damascus until the year 1310/1892, when it was destroyed in a fire at the mosque (Shanehchi, op. cit.)

Ibn Battutah also knows of other copies made under ‘Uthman, or sheets thereof, in other cities. Sometimes a copy is said to have traces of ‘Uthman’s blood on it. In the third century Ibn Sa‘d reports in his Tabaqat that ‘Uthman was killed while reading the Qur`an and some of his blood fell on his copy of the Qur`an. The blood flowed on a page till it came to the words, “God will suffice you against them, as he is the hearing, the knowing” (2:137).

Ibn Battutah says that a copy in the mosque of Kufah had traces of blood on it. This is according to Shanehchi in the article cited. Shanehchi also mentions that al-Nabulusi (d.1105/1693) has been quoted to the effect that in the mihrab of the ancient mosque in the fort of Hums a copy of the Qur`an in the Kufi script existed, bearing traces of blood. In the time of al-Nabulusi people used to approach it during times of drought to pray for rain. But von Denffer quotes Ibn Battutah as saying that a copy with traces of blood was in Fas (Morocco). This copy, according to some was taken by the Umayyads from Damascus or Madinah to Andalusia, from where it came to Fas (Morocco).

The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded World War I, contains the following clause: “Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Germany will restore to His Majesty, King of Hedjaz, the original Koran of Caliph Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Turkish authorities and is stated to have been presented to the ex-Emperor William II" (Article 246). This suggests reference to some manuscript in Madinah believed to be an ‘Uthmanic original that was removed by the Turkish authorities from Madinah. A possible candidate for such a manuscript is the one Ibn Jubayr (d. 614/1217) says he saw in the mosque of Madinah in 580. Contrary to what is stated in the Treaty, the manuscript did not reach Madinah.

Clearly, the above reports do not provide very strong links between any ‘Uthmanic original and the Samarqand manuscript. We have only unconnected sightings of an ‘Uthmanic original that do not allow us to know whether it was the “imam” (master copy) ‘Uthman kept for himself, tragically leaving it with traces of his blood, or one of the other copies he sent to various cities such as Damascus. The reports also do not enable us to trace the movement of the manuscript. Thus we can trace the history of the Samarqand manuscript only from 890/1485 when it is known to be present in that city. This may be due to the fact that Muslims generally did not show much interest in religious objects, in which case the possibility remains that the Samarqand is the “imam” manuscript that first went to Andalusia, then to Fas (Morocco), from where it was brought to Samarqand, and finally to Tashqand, Uzbekistan. If so, it should be possible to verify whether it has any traces of human blood, assuming that the story of the drops of ‘Uthman’s blood falling on his copy of the Qur`an is historical. But some have suggested that the Samarqand manuscript was brought to that city from Damascus by Taymur as part of his booty, and in accordance with his will was kept at his tomb at Samarqand. Taymur conquered Damascus in the year 803/1400 and his army pillaged the city and set it on fire. “Although Taymur had ordered that the grand mosque should not be touched, its wooden roof caught fire and its eastern minaret was totally destroyed” (Shanehchi, op. cit.). So, if we accept the theory that Taymur brought the Damascus manuscript with him to Samarqand, then we need to assume either that Taymur brought the codex to his camp before the mosque caught fire or that the manuscript survived. But then what about the report that the Damascus manuscript was destroyed in fire or lost somewhere in England? One explanation given is that the codex at Hums, a city not attacked by Taymur, was transferred to Damascus and it was this manuscript that was destroyed in the fire of 1310/1892 or lost somewhere in England.

Makhdum (Tarikh al-Mushaf al-‘Uthman fi Tashqand) and others have also argued for the ‘Uthmanic origin of the Samarqand manuscript on the following grounds: 1) The manuscript is written in a primitive script used in the first half of the first Islamic century; 2) It is written on parchment made from gazelle while later manuscripts use paper-like material; 3) There are no diacritical marks which were introduced in the later half of the first century; 4) It does not have the vowel marks which were introduced by Du`ali, suggesting that the manuscript is earlier than 68 H, the year of Du`ali’s death.


Clearly, no single reason given above is conclusive. For example, in relation to point 4, it may be noted that a Qur`an manuscript with vowel marks may be quite early because it is possible that the marks were supplied to the manuscript later, especially if those marks consisted of dots in a different color. It is also possible that a manuscript without marks is rather late. Indeed, there are examples of manuscripts without the vowel marks prepared as late as the fourth century.


However, the cumulative force of the above arguments makes at least this much very probable: the Samarqand manuscript is very early and belongs to the first half of the first century.


Topkapi manuscript


Another manuscript said to be prepared under ‘Uthman is the one found in the Topkapi  Palace/Museum (Topkapu Sarayi) in Istanbul. At first it was at Mosul and was taken away from there by the invading Tatars. Eventually it was returned to Istanbul, the Ottoman capital. At present it is kept at al-Amanah collection, with the serial number one. Its microfilm is present at Mahad al-Makhtutat al-Arabiyyah, Cairo, under serial number 19 (Shanehchi, op. cit.).

Sheikh Mohammed Shaibanee from the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society in Kuwait considers the manuscript as ‘Uthmanic. Mohammed Hamidullah is also inclined towards the same conclusion. But other writers such as Martin Lings put its origin in the second century on the ground that its writing style is comparatively developed and sophisticated. Again, it should be kept it mind that arguments based on style are far from conclusive.

‘Uthmanic manuscript in al-Mashhad al-Husayn at Cairo

One of the ancient manuscripts in this shrine is also said to be of ‘Uthmanic origin. It is in the old Kufi script and has a big size.


Manuscripts connected with ‘Ali and other companions


Although ‘Ali is not as firmly connected with the writing of the Qur`an, he is said to have transcribed the Qur`an. The following information on the reports of past sightings of the copy or copies of the Qur`an connected with ‘Ali and on the extant copies that are ascribed to him is based mostly on Shanehchi, op. cit.


Extant Qur`an manuscripts ascribed to ‘Ali are found in the following locations:

Al-Mashhad al-Husayn, Cairo

We have already seen that one of the ancient manuscripts in this shrine is ascribed to ‘Uthman. Another is ascribed to Ali. The writing of this manuscript is early Kufi and has many similarities to Madani writing.


Ibn al Nadim in al Fihrist (written in 377/987) says that he saw a manuscript written by ‘Ali in the possession of Abu Ya'la Hamzah al-Hasani and it remained as a legacy in the family of Imam Hasan.


Al-Maqrizi (d. 845/1441) mentions in Khutat Misr a Qur'an manuscript written by ‘Ali that existed in the library of the Fatimid caliphs in Cairo. This manuscript was initially safeguarded in a silver chest in the ancient grand mosque (al-Jami' al-'Atiq) of Egypt when Ma'mun Bata'ihi, a minister of the Fatimid caliph Amir Billah, ordered a golden chest to be made for it.

 “It is not unlikely that it is the same one which existed at the ancient grand mosque of Egypt and was later transferred from there” to the shrine of Husayn.

Dar al-Kutub al-‘Alawiyah, Najaf

“Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Dawudi al-Hasani, known as Ibn Inabah (d. 825/1422) mentions in Umdat al-Talib a Qur'an manuscript which existed in the collection at 'Ali's shrine at Najaf. He also mentions another Qur'an manuscript written by 'Ali which he had seen at the shrine of 'Ubayd Allah ibn 'Ali”.


“Even today there exists a Qur'an in the collection at ‘Ali's shrine at Najaf, which some scholars believe to be the one mentioned by the author of Umdat al-Talib …Sayyid Ahmad al-Husayni al-Ashkawari in Fihrist Khizanat al-Rawdat al-Haydariyyah, quoting Mawsu'at al-'Atabat al-Muqaddasah (chapter on Najaf), writes that in the year 755/1354 the shrine of ‘Ali was affected by fire in which many rare possessions of the collection were lost including the Qur'an manuscript written by ‘Ali in three volumes. On the margin of the manuscript of 'Umdat al-Talib present at the library of Astanah Quds Radawi, there are useful notes written by a librarian of Nassabah named Husayn, which include a description about the Najaf codex. The relevant note says: ‘The codex seen by al-Sayyid al-Naqib (i.e. Ibn Inabah al-Hasani Nassabah, author of Umdat al-Talib) at Najaf still exists in the collection at Najaf. However, a considerable part of it was burnt and only one volume remained, and that too without the marginal notes since all the margins along with a part of the text were destroyed in the fire’.”


According to Attar, as quoted by von Denffer, it is written on it: "Ali bin Abi Talib wrote it in the year 40 of the Hijrah” (Attar, D., Mujaz ‘Ulum al-Qur'an, Beirut 1399/1979, p. 116).

Shrine of al-Imam al-Rida

Two “more Qur`anic codices exist in the collection at al-Imam al-Rida's shrine at Mashhad that are attributed to Imam 'Ali. The first bears the number 6 and is kept at the library. It is written in Kufic script on deerskin with the note: "Katabahu 'Ali ibn Abi Talib [‘Ali ibn Talib wrote it]" On the first page there is a dedication by Shah 'Abbas, the Safawid monarch, in the writing of al-Shaykh al-Bahai and with his signature with the date 1008 H. There, al-Shaykh al-Bahai mentions it as having been written by ‘Ali. This Qur'an in 68 folios contains a part of the scripture from Surat Hud to the end of Surat al-Kahf.”

“The second Qur'an bears the number 1. Parts of its margins are gone and verses are missing from in between. For instance, between Folios 33 and 34 nearly 79 verses are missing. This Qur'an has been written on deerskin and has 341 folios comprising the whole Qur'an. It was endowed by Shah 'Abbas in the year 1009/1600 to the shrine.”

Topkapi Palace/Museum

“Two more codices exist in Turkey which are attributed to 'Ali. Both of them are kept at al-Amanah Library (which is presently a part of the Topkapu Sarayi library). The first codex bears the al-Amanah library number (no. 2). Its microfilm, numbered 18, is kept at Mahad al-Makhtutat al-'Arabiyyah, Cairo. The second codex bears the number 29 and its microfilm, numbered 14, is kept at Mahad al Makhtutat al 'Arabiyyah, Cairo.”


The Great Mosque of Sanaa`


A copy of the Qur`an in the Great Mosque of Sana‘a` is reputed to be in the handwriting of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Zayd ibn Thabit and Salman al-Farsi. It is in two parts, each of 150 pages, in large unpointed Kufi script.


Some other manuscripts ascribed to companions and to the first half of the first century

There are at least two manuscripts in existence that are ascribed to Imam Hasan. The first one is kept in the Qur`anic collection of Astaneh Quds-a Radawi. It bears the serial number 12 and contains from the twenty third juz' to the twenty-fifth juz' of the Qur'an in 122 folios of deerskin. In Kufic script, it has inscribed on it the words: "al Hasan ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib" with the date 41 H. On the first folio is a dedication (waqfnameh) by Shah 'Abbas Safawi and bearing the signature of al-Shaykh al-Bahai who attributes it to al-Imam al-Hasan.

The second codex is the one placed upon the sarcophagus at the tomb of 'Ali at Najaf.

There is at least one manuscript connected with Imam Husayn. It consists of 41 folios of deerskin in the Kufi script with the inscription “kataba hu Husayn ibn ‘Ali” the sixteenth juz' of the Qur'an starting from verse 72 of surah al-Kahf and ending with the last verse of surah Ta Ha. Each of the pages of this pocket-size codex has seven lines. Its serial number is 14.

There is one manuscript ascribed to ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir. It was written in the Kufic script in 52/672 by ‘Uqbah ibn 'Amir, a Companion of the Prophet (S) who lived in Damascus. He was appointed in 44/664 by Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan as the governor of Egypt where he died in 58/678. “He used to recite the Qur'an in a good voice. In Taqrib al-Tahdhib, his tenure in Egypt is mentioned as three year and it goes on to add that he was a faqih and a scholar. Al-Suyuti, in Husn al-Muhadarah [fi Akhbar Misr wa al-Qahirah] writes: He was an eloquent qari and a faqih among the sahabah.”

“This Qur'an is kept at the al-Amanah Library, Istanbul, with the serial number 40. Its microfilm, numbered 10, exists at Mahad al Makhtutat al-'Arabiyyah, Cairo.”

“Another codex exists in the Maghribi script by Khadij ibn Mu'awiyah ibn Salamah al-'Ansari, who is definitely other than the father of Rafi' ibn Khadij, a Companion, because the grandfather of Rafi (the father of Khadij) is 'Adi and the father of this Khadij is Mu'awiyah. Khadij completed this codex in 47/667 at the city of Qayrawan for Amir 'Aqabah ibn Nafi' al-Fahri. It is kept at the al-Amariah Library, Istanbul, with the number 44. Its microfilm, numbered 9, is at Mahad al Makhtutat al 'Arabiyyah, Cairo.”


Other manuscripts from the first century

The ascription of many of the above-mentioned manuscripts to the companions of the Prophet has not been accepted widely. For some of them, e. g. the Samarqand manuscript ascribed to ‘Uthman, we can say with some confidence that they are from the first century. There are other manuscripts for which the same affirmation can be made with even greater confidence. Here are some of them:

Manuscripts from Maktabah al-Jami‘ al-Kabir (Maktabah al-Awqâf), The Great Mosque, Sana'a`, Yemen

The Great Mosque of Sana‘a`, established in 6 H at the command of the Prophet is the first mosque in Yemen and among the oldest in the world. In 1972 some documents including fragments of the Qur`an were discovered there. The fragments have not been fully examined by the community of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars at large. Reading in-between the lines of some very general and fantastic claims and somewhat more scholarly statements it appears the truth may not be far from the following:

Some at least of the Qur`an fragments are from the first century. According to the Islamic-awareness website cited earlier, “the UNESCO, an arm of the United Nations, had compiled a CD containing some of the dated Sana‘a` manuscripts as a part of "Memory of the World" program. In this CD there are more than 40 Qur`anic manuscripts which are dated from 1st century of Hijrah, one of them belonging to early 1st century. More than 45 manuscripts have been dated from the period 1st / 2nd century of Hijrah.”

Below are examples of the 1st century Hijrah manuscripts from the Great Mosque. They are written in the Hijazi (Makkan or Madinan) script and may be viewed on the internet on the site mentioned earlier. We identify them by their contents:

1)                  A manuscript containing verses 42:49 - 43:31 and part of 43:32.

2)                  A manuscript containing verses 3:45 – 54 and  part of 3:55.

3)                  A manuscript containing verses 6:5 – 19 and part of 6:20.

4)                  A manuscript containing verses 16:73 - 88 and part of 16:89.

The fragments do not differ from others like them in the museums and libraries of the world. We only find orthographic differences of the type that are familiar from other extant manuscripts. For example, the oldest of the Sana‘a` manuscripts show an increase in the dropping of alephs. This is a well-known phenomenon, even among printed copies of the Qur`an. For example, we find ibrahim spelled as ibrhm, qur`an as qrn, and so on. Other features are also familiar from existing manuscripts. Thus a manuscript in the possession of the National Library in Paris shares many features with the oldest of the Sana‘a` manuscripts. Indeed, it appears from the statements of scholars that these manuscripts, contained on thirty-five thousand microfilm images, do not show any divergences -- even by a single letter, much less by a word -- from the standard Qur`an used by the Muslims. One reads of a difficulty in distinguishing between qul and qala. However, this “difficulty” arises from the dropping of aleph that we have mentioned. It was found in manuscripts written in the Hijazi script prior to the discovery in Yemen; so this does not add any fresh information. Some non-Muslim writers have attributed this difficulty on the part of present day readers to the Muslims who wrote the fragments. It is even suggested that the Prophet himself was not clear as to whether qul or qala was meant!!! Some suggest that originally the word was qala and the word was meant in the same way as the Biblical “thus says the Lord”. Such constructions on isolated facts, to the exclusion of the rest of a very extensive and solid body of written and oral evidence, characterize many a non-Muslim writer on Islam. Recall how a theory of revision of the Qur`an was built by some orientalists on the late tradition alleging that ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud read hanifiyah in place of al-islam in 3:19.

It is clearly possible that there existed copies of the Qur`an with some differences from the extant text and that fragments of these may be discovered some day. But critical scholarship would have to establish that such variants represent the original reading and are not simply results of different systems of spelling /writing or of copying or other types of errors. Therefore, had there been a manuscript among the Sana‘a` documents containing deviant words, or letters, these could be justifiably attributed to scribal errors and nothing else. But even such a thing does not seem to have been found.

Here are some first century manuscripts from other sources, which may be viewed on the internet:

Vat. Ar. 1605: A Qur`anic manuscript in Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

A Perg. 2: A Qur`anic manuscript in the Austrian National Library, Vienna, written in Makkan script

A Qur`anic manuscript containing verses 5:7- 12 in the Bayt al-Qur`an, Manama, Bahrayn, written in Kufi script

P. Michaélidès No. 32 - A Qur`anic manuscript in the Collection of George Michaélidès, Cairo, Egypt, written in Kufi(?) script

A complete Qur'an in the Egyptian National Library on parchment made from gazelle skin, which has been dated 68 H.


The Dome of the Rock

In addition to the manuscripts we may also mention the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock which is full of Qur`anic verses both inside and outside. These inscriptions have been dated to 71 H (see Alistair Duncan, The Noble Sanctuary, 1972).


We may conclude from the above that contrary to the views of some orientalists the Qur`an was not only in existence in the first Islamic century but also it existed with substantially the same text as we have it today, if differences in spelling, diacritical, and vowel marks are duly taken into account.


Manuscripts with dates


Some early manuscripts actually provide dates when they were written or presented as waqf to a mosque or a library. The famous paleographer Adolf Grohmann says that “one dated copy exists from the first century of Hijrah and two exist from the second, seven only from the third century of Hijrah”. The first century manuscript is dated 94 AH / 712-13 CE and is from Iran. The two second-century copies, dating 102/720 and 107/ 725, are in the Egyptian National Library, Cairo. Considering that the Prophet died in 10H and that the actual writing of the manuscript generally predates its presentation to a library or mosque, all three came to be written within hundred years of his death. Other Qur`anic manuscripts written in Kufi script are available from 1st century of Hijrah onwards at Bayt al-Qur`an Manama, Bahrayn and Maktabah al-Jami‘al-Kabir. Some missionary writers have questioned the dates of these manuscripts on the ground that Kufi script is developed about a hundred years after the Prophet, but we have already seen that this dating of the script is mistaken.


In we find the following impressive testimonial to the authenticity of the date at least in the case of one of the three manuscripts mentioned above: “This manuscript is a very famous one and is located at the Egyptian National Library (was formerly at ‘Amr Mosque), dated 107/725. Moritz has reproduced a large number of pages from this codex. Arnold and Grohmann assign this specific date. The dating of this manuscript has been recently corroborated by Marilyn Jenkins of Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) by studying the ornamentation. … It is written in mashq script, on vellum. No ayah markers and no surah headings.”


It should be noted that in antiquity dating manuscripts was extremely uncommon, as is shown, for example, by the fact that we have no dated Greek document of any sort, whether pagan, secular or Judeo-Christian, before the 6th century C.E. The first literary manuscript dated by its scribe is a text of Dioscorides from 512 C.E., now found in Vienna.

From the facts that in antiquity documents were not preserved as museum pieces for posterity, that Muslims were especially cool to the idea of attachment to the sacred in its physical form, and that dating the manuscripts was rather uncommon, it is rather impressive that we can find dated and datable manuscripts of the Qur`an written within hundred years of the death of the Prophet of Islam.



The destruction of the mushaf in the possession of Hafsah

Ibn abi Da`ud (died 316 AH) in his Kitab Al-Masahif records the following tradition with continuous isnad:

Salim bin ‘Abd Allah said, When Hafsah died and we returned from her funeral, Marwan sent with firm intention to ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Umar (Hafsah's brother) that he must send him those pages, and ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Umar sent them to him, and on Marwan’s order they were torn up. And he said, I did this because whatever was in it was surely written and preserved in the (official) volume and I was afraid that after a time people will be suspicious of this copy or they will say there is something in it that wasn't written.

No version of this story is found in any early book. Missionaries assume that in the Muslim world this “true” story could be faithfully preserved till it was written down in the third or fourth century, but the same Muslim world could not preserve the original Qur`an that ‘Uthman or someone else supposedly changed!!!

But it is highly plausible that the manuscript in the possession of Hafsah was at some point either buried or burnt. Not viewed as a museum piece the manuscript was probably heavily used over the decades during its existence. When it could not be used further it was destroyed like so many other manuscripts that get damaged. Muslims worship God and not the Qur`an. It is also plausible that reasons for the destruction of the manuscript in the possession of Hafsah included the prevention of unnecessary controversies generated by the petty-minded or negatively minded “Muslims”. This manuscript was written in a very primitive script and therefore could be used to create confusion about the text of the Qur`an among the common people. From the numerous traditions about the collection of the Qur`an that we have discussed in this book, it is clear that there were people in the vast Muslim world who were deliberately or otherwise using every opportunity to create confusion.

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