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Some Old Manuscripts of the Holy Qur'an

This article appeared in the journal Mishkat (No 4, Spring 1363 H. Sh.), published by Idareh-ye Umur-e Farhangi, an academic and research institution attached to Astaneh-ye Quds-a Radawi, that is, Imam Rida's Shrine at Mashhad. The author is a well-known Iranian scholar.

Undoubtedly, no other book has been the subject of discussion to the extent of the Qur'an, the number of treatises, books and exegeses written on which far exceeds those written about any other book. Although the Torah and the Gospel have been translated into more languages, the Qur'an has a lead over other scriptures in respect of the variety of studies, the number of exegeses and the various aspects of it that have since long been the topic of discussion and writing.

Even in respect of the number of copies circulated the Qur'an has a lead over all other books. Muslims believe that a spiritual reward (thawab) lies in not only writing and reciting the Qur'an but even in looking at its sacred script. Accordingly, as we know, there have been Muslims who in their lifetime produced more than a hundred hand written copies of the Qur'an for the sake of thawab. Many others have bought hundreds of copies of the scripture and donated them to mosques and shrines to be kept for reading .by visitors. And-if we take into account the age-old Iranian custom of reading the Qur'an in majalis-e khatm where copies of it - usually in thirty, sixty or hundred and-twenty parts, each separately bound - are kept to be read by those attending, the total number of printed and hand-written copies reaches an amazingly large number. If to these is added the number of copies written by young pupils in the traditional schools (maktab khanah) in the course of their Qur'anic instruction, the-number would be a truly stupendous one.

The tradition of writing the Qur'an commenced from the time of the Noble Prophet (S) himself, who had assigned certain persons to write down and record the Qur'anic revelation as and when it came and was recited by him. They are known as kuttab al-wahy, Scribes of the Revelation. These were different from the secretaries who wrote letters, pacts and treaties for the Prophet (S) or wrote agreements and contracts between parties in his presence. 

Compilers of the Qur'an:

Ibn al-Nadim writes that from among the Companions of the Prophet (S) 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A), Said ibn 'Ubayd ibn al-Numan, Abu al-Darda', Mu'adh ibn Jabal, 'Thabit ibn Zayd and 'Ubayd ibn Mu'awiyah ibn Zayd compiled the Qur'an during the Prophet's lifetime. 

Al-Bukhari narrates from Anas ibn Malik that Ubayy ibn Ka'b, Mu'adh, Zayd ibn Thabit and Abu Zayd had collected the Qur'an during the Prophet's era.  In another narration he mentions the names of Abu al-Darda', Mu'adh ibn Jabal, Zayd ibn Thabit and Abu Zayd in this regard. 

Al-Zarakshi narrates from al-Sha'bi that those who collected the Qur'an during the Prophet's lifetime were these six: Ubayy, Zayd, Mu'adh, Abu al-Darda', Sa'id ibn 'Ubayd and Abu Zayd, and lastly, Mujamma' ibn Jariyah, who had collected all the Qur'an except for two surahs. 

Ibn al-Nadim describes the order of the surahs in the compilation of 'Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, which shows that Ibn Mas'ud too had compiled the Qur'an; or perhaps he did so after the Prophet's demise.

In al-Tamhid, Abu Musa al-'Ash'ari and Miqdad ibn al-'Aswad are mentioned among the compilers of the Qur'an. It adds that before the standardization of the codices by the order of 'Uthman, the people of Kufah recited according to the compilation of Ibn Masud, the people of Basrah according to the codex of Abu Musa, the people of Damascus according to the codex of Miqdad, while the rest of Syrians recited according to the codex of Ubayy ibn Ka'b. 

Ibn al-Nad'im, al-Ya'qubi and many Shi'i traditionists have mentioned the episode of the compilation of the Qur'an by 'Ali (A) after the Prophet's demise. The arrangement of thesurahs in 'Ali's mushaf, as mentioned by al-Ya'qubi in his history,  is different from those of Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, which have been described by Ibn al Nadim. There are minor differences also in the names of the surahs from the well-known and presently popular names. There is also a difference of sequence in the above-mentioned masahif. For instance, in Ibn Mas'ud's mushaf the Surat al-'Anfal is the twenty-fifth surah, while it is the ninth one in Ubayy ibn Ka'b's arrangement and the eighth one in the present compilation. And as we know, the present compilation is the one made by Zayd ibn Thabit at the order of Abu Bakr, the first caliph.

Zayd says, "Abu Bakr sent for me after the Battle of Yamamah, in which a large number of the Prophet's Companions and qurra' (reciters) of the Qur'an were killed. He told me, "'Umar, who is now here, says that qurra' of the Qur'an have been martyred at Yamamah. If a similar incident should recur, it is feared that a part of the Qur'an retained by them in their memories would be lost. Since you are an intelligent man and happen to be one of the scribes of the revelation and are trustworthy as well, I ask you to collect the Qur'an.' Accordingly, I collected the Qur'an from original recordings, and from the memories of men." 

According to al-Ya'qubi twenty-five men from among the Quraysh and fifty from among the Ansar helped Zayd in this task, among whom 'Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and 'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Harith ibn Hisham were permanent members of the committee.

According to al-Tamhid, the work was started by Zayd ibn Thabit along with some other;, but later Ubayy ibn Ka'b assumed responsibility for reading and Zayd for writing down.

In any case, the Qur'an was compiled in this manner and the compiled text was deposited first with Abu Bakr and after him with 'Umar and was a source of reference for the people. After the death of 'Umar, this compilation remained in the possession of Hafsah until the year 22/642, when differences of reading appeared during the reign. of 'Uthman. Thereupon, on the Caliph's order, the mushaf was taken from Hafsah for transcription, and from it Zayd ibn Thabit (who was the main scribe) prepared several copies with the help of 'Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Hisham (both members of the original committee that compiled the Qur'an) and Said ibn al-'As. While the original was returned to Hafsah, one of the copies was kept with the Caliph at Madinah and the rest were sent to major Islamic cities. Thereafter, the handwritten compilations of the Qur'an were destroyed on the Caliph's order for the sake of eliminating differences among Muslims. 

The compilation written during Abu Bakr's days remained with Hafsah until the reign of Marwan ibn al-Hakam. Marwan wanted to burn it also, but Hafsah refused to hand it over to him. He waited until her death and thereat destroyed that compilation also. 

Thus the task of ensuring the uniformity of the Qur'an was carried out in the year 22/642, though 'Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud refused to hand over his compilation to 'Uthman, who wanted to destroy it. Similarly, the compilation made by 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) was retained by him and later preserved by his family.

The 'Uthmani Codices:

The copies of the Qur'an prepared by 'Uthman's order by the committee formed for this purpose, apart from the first copy which came to be known as the 'master copy' (al-mushaf al-imam), numbered, according to the different narrations, from four to nine. These were assigned to Kufah, Basrah, Makkah, Syria, Bahrayn, Yemen, Egypt, al-Jazirah and Madinah. Each of these copies of the Qur'an served as a referential authority for the people of the city, from which they made copies and to which they referred in event any difference in reading should arise among them. Also occasionally, in cases of difference between the masahif of the cities, the Qur'an at Madinah (al-mushaf al-'imam) served as the final criterion.

'Uthman also despatched a qari along with each copy sent to the cities, so as to demonstrate the correct reading to the people. Thus 'Abd Allah ibn Sa'ib in Makkah, Munirah ibn Shihab in Syria, Abu 'Abd Allah Salami in Kufah, 'Amir ibn 'Abd al-Qays (or 'Amir ibn 'Abd al-Rahman) in Basrah, and Zayd ibn Thabit in Madinah were responsible for qira'ah in the respective areas. 

These masahif, which became famous as "'Uthmani Codices," remained intact for a long time. As Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 626/1228), writes in his Mu'jam al-buldan one of the 'Uthmani Codices existed in the grand mosque (jami') of Damascus. Ibn Fadl Allah al-'Umari (d. 749/1348), the author of Masalik al-'absar, also mentions the Damascan codex. Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372), who had seen it, describes it.  Ibn Battutah (d. 778/1376) has recorded his observations as follows:

In the eastern side of the hall of worship, facing the mihrib 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? 

According to Kurd 'A1i, this Qur'an existed in the mosque of Damascus until the year 1310/1892, but that year it was destroyed in a fire at the mosque.

However, Dr. Ramyar, without mentioning any source, writes: "It appears that fragments of the verses of the Qur'an attributed to the 'Uthmani script were taken by Amir Taymur Gorkani with him from Syria to Samarqand with the intention of having them placed at his tomb. This manuscript was later transferred to the library of the Imperial Institute of Archeology at Leningrad and in 1905 C.E. fifty copies of it were lithographed, of which twenty-five were gifted eminent figures from Islamic countries." 

Ibn Battutah also mentions having seen in the mosque of Kufah another Qur'an ascribed to 'Uthman which bore traces of his blood. Al Nabulusi (d.1105/1693) has been quoted to the effect that in the mihrab of the ancient mosque in the fort of Hums there existed a copy in the Kufic script bearing traces of blood. In the time of al-Nabulusi the people used to approach it during times of drought to pray for rain. 

Several manuscripts pertaining to the 'Uthmani codices have existed in various cities, and as mentioned by some they were as many as sixteen.  Even now some copies ascribed to 'Uthman (i.e. the Uthmani codices) exist in Egypt, Turkey and at Tashkand. Their details are as follows:

1. The Egyptian Codex of the Qur'an is kept at the repository at al-Mashhad al-Husayni at Cairo. Written in the old Kufic script,, it is a big and voluminous size.

2. The Turkish Codex is the one which was at Mosul at first and was subsequently plundered 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 Ma'had al-Makhtutat al.'Arabiyyah, Cairo, under serial number 19.

3. The Tashkand Codex is commonly believed to have been brought from Syria to Uzbekistan by Taymur as part of his booty, and in accordance with his will was kept at his tomb at Samarqand. Later it was transferred to Petrograd (the present Leningrad), the capital of the Russian Empire. After the October Revolution it was returned on the orders of Lenin to Tashkand where it still exists. A brief account of this copy's transfer has been mentioned briefly in Dr. Ramyar's Ta'rikh 'al Qur'an,  and apparently its source is the popular belief. Dr. Subhi :a1-Salih states in this regard: "Some researchers opine that this copy, remained for a period of time at the Leningrad Imperial Museum before being transferred to Uzbekistan. Then in the footnote he refers the reader, for details to the tenth volume of Chavin's, Bibliographie des ourages Arabes ou relatifs aux Arabes, Liege, p. 45-56. He adds that other researchers believe that this codex remained safe at the grand mosque of Damascus until 1310/1892 when it was destroyed by fire. 

We know that Taymur conquered Damascus in the year 803/1400 and in the same year his army conquered the city pillaging it and setting 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, though the 'Arus minaret (about which the Prophet [S] had reportedly foretold) remained intact. 

Accordingly, it is probable that before the mosque of Damascus caught fire, Taymur had the Qur'an transferred to his own camp and had later on taken it to his capital Samarqand. If this has not happened, it is unlikely that the codex has survived the devastating, fire that consumed Damascus and its mosque.

As to the story of its existence until 1310 at Damascus, as quoted by Dr. Subhi al-Salih fromKhutat al-Sham, it is not improbable that after the end of Taymur's domination and the resumption of Mamluk rule over Syria, the Uthmani Qur'an of Hums, which al-Nabulusi reported to exist at the old citadel mosque in, Hums, was transferred to Damascus. Hums had remained un-attacked by Taymur's forces in 803/1400 because it accepted his suzerainty and paid tribute.  As per this probability, the Damascan codex, after many a change of place, has finally come to remain at Tashkand, and the Hums codex, after being transferred to Damascus after the 11th/17th century, was destroyed by fire at the mosque in the year 1310/1892.

However, this writer was told by the Director of the Islamic Centre of Uzbekistan at Tashkand that the aforesaid codex is kept under lock and key by the governor of Tashkand. But a photographic copy of it, of the same size as the original (65x50), is kept at the Islamic Centre for display for visitors.

The Codex of 'Ali (A):

The first person to start the collection of the Qur'an after the demise of the Prophet (S) was 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A). He did so in accordance with the instructions and testament of the Prophet (S). [33] He arranged the verses chronologically and mentioned their context and place of revelation.

Ibn al-Nadim writes: "After the demise of the Prophet (S) 'Ali (A) vowed not to leave his home until he had collected the Qur'an. He remained at home for three days and collected the Qur'an. He was the first one to have compiled the Qur'an from memory; this compilation remained in the custody of the family of Ja'far". 

It is inferred from the observations of Ibn al-Nadim that 'Ali (A) had already memorized the Qur'an before the demise of the Prophet (S) and after his (S) demise he retrieved it from his memory and compiled it. Perhaps he had already written parts of it, because even a highly skilled scribe cannot write the entire Qur'an in three days from memory or copy it from another copy. Since there is no evidence that 'Ali (A) copied the Qur'an from another copy, it follows that he had previously written the Qur'an as and when it was revealed in that order, and since the Prophet (S) was aware of 'Ali's (A) work and his writing of the Qur'an, he (S) instructed him (A) to collect and compile the same, so that it was safeguarded from destruction and tahrif like the revealed scriptures of the past.

Ibn al-Juzzi in at-Tashil and al-Zarakshi in al -Burhan  observe That during the time of the Holy Prophet (S) the Qur'an was scattered In the form of suhuf, loose pages and in the memories of the Companions. Some of them, like 'Uthman and 'Ali (A), even used to recite it in presence of the Holy Prophet (S). Al-Shaykh al-Mufid cites the statement in his tract,Ajwibat al-masa'il al-Sarawiyyah. [36]

From the foregoing account that 'Ali (A) collected and compiled the Qur'anic text in the order of its revelation, it is inferred that the 'short surahs, which are generally Meccan, were placed at the beginning "of the Qur'an, followed by the longer ones revealed at Madinah. Further, the context of revelation of the verses was also mentioned and the nasikh and mansukh verses were also specified.

Al-Ya'qubi in his Ta'rikh (Najaf, ii, 113) mentions the order of the surahs as arranged by 'Ali (A). Ibn al-Nadim, while discussing 'Ali's (A) codex in al-Fihrist, had left some empty space but apparently could' not record the order of the surahs from the codex written by 'Ali (A) which he had seen. This is in itself an evidence that the surahs were arranged differently by 'Ali (A).

Codices Attributed to 'Ali (A):

The codex compiled by 'Ali (A) existed until the time of Ibn al Nad'im, i.e. the last decades of the 4th/10th century." As mentioned in al Fihrist, he saw this codex in the possession of Abu Ya'la Hamzah al-Hasani and it remained as a legacy in the family of al-'Imam al Hasan (A).Probably, the aforementioned person is al-Sharif Abu Ya'la - Hamzah ibn Zayd ibn al-Husayn al-Hasani al-'Aftasi who was a disciple of al-Sayyid al-Murtada. Considering thatal-Fihrist was written in the year 377/987 and al-Sayyid al-Murtada was probably born in 355/966, Abu Ya'la's meeting with Ibn al-Nadim must have preceded his discipleship of al Sayyid al Murtada for it is unlikely that Abu Ya'la may have become the Sayyid's pupil before the latter had reached the age of 22 years.

The Egyptian Codex:

Al-Maqrizi (d. 845/1441) mentions in Khutat Misr a Qur'an written by 'Ali (A) that existed in the library of the Fatimid caliphs in Cairo. This codex 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. Presently a Qur'an attributed to 'Ali (A) exists in the collection at the shrine of al-Husayn (A) at Cairo. It is not unlikely that it is the same one which existed at the ancient grand Mosque of Egypt and and was later transfered from there.

The Najaf Codex:

Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Dawudi al-Hasani, known as Ibn 'Inabah (d. 825/1422) - mentions in'Umdat al-talib a Qur'an which existed in the collection at 'Ali's shrine at Najaf. He also mentions another Qur'an written, by 'Ali (A) which he had seen at the shrine of 'Ubayd Allah ibn 'Ali. Any connection between these two Qur'ans and their link with the'one in Egypt requires further investigation.

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. It is possible that the codex at the tomb of 'Ubayd Allah ibn Ali might have comprised some parts of the one at Najaf.

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 (A) was affected by fire in which many rare possessions of the collection were lost including the Qur'an written by 'Ali (A) in three volumes.

On the margin of the manuscript of 'Umdat al-talib present at the library of Astanah-a Quds-e 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. " 

The Codex at al-'Imam al-Rida's Shrine:

Apart from the Qur'an kept on the sarcophagus (dari') at the tomb of 'Ali (A) at Najaf, two more Qur'anic codices exist in the collection at al-'Imam al-Rida's shrine at Mashhad that are attributed to Imam 'Ali (A). 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." 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 (A). 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 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. We quote below the endowment deed written in al-Shaykh al-Bahai's hand:

This Glorious Qur'an written by the Amir al Mu'minin, Sayyid al Wasiyyin, Asad Allah al-Ghalib, Imam ahl al-mashariq wa al-magharib, Mazhar al'aja'ib wa Muzhir al-ghara'ib, Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) has been endowed to the sacred, luminous, immaculate, compeer to the Throne, and blessed shrine of Rida, on whose dweller be thousands and thousands of salutations and benedictions, by the shadow of God, the dust of the threshold of the Best of Mankind (i.e. the Prophet), the disseminator of the righteous faith of the Twelve Imams (A ), the sincere slave of Amir al-Mu'minin Haydar, Shah 'Abbas al-Husayni al-Musawi al-Safawi Bahidur Khan, may God immortalize his kingdom and authority and bestow his kindness, justice and goodness upon mankind. Amin Rabb al-'Alamin. Written by the dust of the Shrine of al-Rida - peace be upon him - the humblest of creatures, Baha' al-Din Muhammad in the year 1009.

The Codex at Topkapu Sarayi Collection:

Two more codices exist in Turkey which are attributed to 'Ali (A). 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-'Aminah library number (no. 2). Its microfilm, numbered 18, is kept at Ma'had al-Makhtutat al-'Arabiyyah, Cairo. The second codex bears the number 29 and its microfilm, numbered 14, is kept at Ma'had al Makhtutat al 'Arabiyyah, Cairo. 

* * *

It is appropriate here to consider the following points.

1. The handwriting of the codices attributed to 'Ali (A) shows mastery, harmony and elegance, while in the first half of the first century Arabic writing (the Kufic script) had not yet developed that finesse and harmony and was consequently not very elegant. Therefore, how, is it possible to ascribe these codices to 'Ali (A) whose martyrdom occurred in the year 40/660?

2. Considering that 'Ali (A) had many engagements, is it possible that he might have written several copies of the Qur'an?

3. According to the traditions, 'Ali's (A) codex was compiled in a chronological order and mentioned the context of the revelation of various verses, while these codices follow the customary order.

However the above-mentioned doubts concerning the authenticity of the attribution of the above codices can be answered as follows:

There is no doubt that 'Ali (A) compiled the Qur'an in the chronological order, but it is not unlikely that he might have subsequently written it in the customary order.

As to the numerous preoccupations of 'Ali (A), there is no doubt that after the demise of the Holy Prophet (S) he was one of the central figures of Madinah and an authority on issues confronting the Muslims, especially judicial issues. But since he did not directly intervene in these affairs and did not participate personally in the wars, it is not improbable that during that period in times of leisure he may have applied himself to copying the Qur'an, especially when we consider that at that time there were few copies of the Qur'an and any addition to those available was conducive to its preservation. In such a situation it was a duty for anyone having this ability to apply himself to this task.

As to the beauty and harmony of the, script of these codices, which create an impression of un-likeliness of their belonging to the era of the beginnings of the Kufic script, it can be explained by the fact that 'Ali (A) was one of the masters of calligraphy in his time. 'Ali (A) is reported to have taught calligraphy to his secretary 'Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Rafi. It is reported that an accomplished scribe was writing the Qur'an, 'Ali (A) admired his writing as he examined it, though he disapproved of his use of diminutive writing for the Qur'an.

In Ibn al-Nadim's al-Fihrist there is a reference to Khalid ibn Abi al-Hayyaj, a companion of 'Ali (A), as one of master calligraphists of the Qur'an.  Khalid was employed after 'Ali's martyrdom by the chamberlain of Walid ibn 'Abd al-Malik for making copies of the scripture and for writing poems and traditions for him. It was he who wrote the inscription in gold of theqiblah of the Prophet's Mosque, which runs from Surat al-Shams to the end of the Qur'an. Despite all this, the authenticity of the attribution of each these codices to 'Ali (A) is a matter that requires a separate study.

Script of Early Qur'anic Manuscripts:

Doubtlessly the script of the Qur'an in the times of the Prophet (S), the Sahabah and the Tabi'un, was the Kufic script: This script, which is a variation of the Hiran script (belonging to the city of al Hirah came to the Hijaz from Iraq about the time of the outset of the Prophet's (S) ministry and the companions of the Prophet (S) learnt to read and write it during his lifetime.

According to some the Kufic script has its origin in the Nabataean scriptr Some others say that it evolved from the Syrian script  because both in the Kufic and Syrian scripts thealif is not written when it occurs in the middle of a word. For instance, the words  and are written as and .

However, a style of writing other than the Kufic existed in Hijaz at the time of the Prophet (S). This was the Nabataean script from which the Nakshi style evolved later. The Nabataean script being easier, was commonly used except by the people of Arabia. 

Malik al-Shu'ara' Bahar observes in Sabkshinasi that from that which can be gathered from the bulk of traditions is that the Islamic script, from the very beginning, was the Nabataean script, which was called al-Naskhi and al-Darij. The Arab had taken it directly from the late Nabataean script. The Nabataean script had come to the Hijaz from Huran (an ancient Syrian town), but, as mentioned earlier, the Qur'an was usually written in the Kufic script and the practice lasted for several centuries. Some even claimed that writing the Qur'an in any script other than the Kufic was improper because the Qur'an was written in Kufic script in the times of the Prophet (S) and his companions. They considered any change of script to amount tobid'ah. 

Evidently there is no justification for the aforesaid argument, because the medium of recording in those days was exclusively limited to this script. Further if we extend this logic, the use of paper and print, which did not exist at that time, should also be prohibited. Incidentally, the scholars of the Ottoman Empire had proscribed for a long time the printing of the Qur'an in the vast regions under Ottoman rule although the process of printing had become prevalent in its domains. 

The Naskhi Script:

With the development of sciences and arts in Islam, especially during the 'Abbasid period, the character of script also improved and reached its zenith. Rules were formulated for the art of calligraphy and masters emerged in this art. However, since the Naskhi script was simpler than the Kufic, the former received greater attention of both the calligraphers and the common people. A group of calligraphers devoted their attention to the refinement of the Naskhi script. To it belonged Ibn Muqlah - Muhammad ibn 'Ali ibn Husayn ibn Muqlah (272-328/885-939).

Some even believe him to be the inventor-of the Naskhi script, though this is not true. Like all other sciences, arts and crafts, script too evolved gradually towards excellence, and hence it is not possible to consider the writing of Ibn Muqlah the beginning of the Naskhi script (fortunately manuscripts attributed to him or resembling his writing still exist). 

As a result of my study of the invaluable collection of Qur'anic manuscripts at Astanah-ye Quds-e Radawi and the Qur'ans preserved at Dar al-Kutub at Cairo, the Zahiriyyah Library at Damascus, the Library of Jama'at al-Qarwiyyin at Fas, and the library of Topkapu Museum, Istanbul, I have found that the Naskhi script was used even before Ibn Muqlah. This view is further affirmed by writings that preceded those of Ibn Muqlah, whose samples can be found in the following books:

1. A1-Khatt al-'Arabi al-'Islami by Turki 'Atiyyah.

2. Atlas-e Khatt.

3. Intishar al-khatt al-'Arabi by Ustad 'Abd al-Fattah 'Ibadah.

4. AI-Khattat al-Baghdadi by Dr. Suhayl Anwar.

5. Al-Khatt al-'Arabi wa adabuhu by Muhammad Tahir ibn 'Abd al-Qadir al-Makki.

6. Musawwir al-khatt al-'Arabi by Naji Zayn al-Din. 

7. Ahwal wa athar-a khushnawisan by Mahdi Bayani (the section on Naskhi).

A perusal of these works would remove all doubts for the reader. Therefore, Ibn Muqlah only attempted to perfect the six styles (which includes the Naskhi) which were already pervalent two hundred years before him. A study of the aforementioned works and of the Qur'anic manuscripts in libraries and museums mentioned above leads us to conclude that the Naskhi script was derived from the Kufic, not the Nabataean as claimed by some.

Manuscripts Ascribed to the Imams, Sahabah and Tab'iun:

Fortunately we have today some very ancient Qur'anic manuscripts which date back to the time of the Sahabah of the Prophet (S). Though the authenticity of the ascription of each one of them to its purported writer is not certain, to be sure there exist among them Qur'ans of the period of the Sahabah, a number of whom lived until the end of the 1st/7th century. 

Codices Attributed to al-'Imam al-Hasan (A):

Among the codices attributed to some famous sahabah of the Prophet (S) - other than 'Uthman and 'Ali (A), which have been already discussed - are three codices ascribed to al-'Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba (A). The first one is kept in the Qur'anic collection of Astaneh e Quds-a Radawi. It bears the serial number 12 and contains from the twenty third juz' to the twenty-fifthjuz' 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 (A), who is mentioned thus:

The second codex is the one placed upon the sarcophagus at the tomb of 'Ali (A) at Najaf.The third one, written on ten folios of deerskin, was seen by this writer in the library of Ustad Mahmud Farrukh Khurasani. Apparently, it is still in the possession of his family. It starts with the twelfth verse of Sura al Nisa' and ends at the seventh verse of Surat al-Tawbah. It bears the signatures of Hasan ibn 'Abbas, al-Safawi Bahadur Khan and Isma'il al-Musawi al-Hasani Bahadur Khan, indicating that they got the blessed chance to view this manuscript It is not very unlikely that this third manuscript is a part of either the Qur'an at Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi or the one at Imam Ali's tomb, from which it might have been separated. Incidentally, it should be remembered that the Qur'an in the possession of Ustad Farrukh and his family does not contain more than 10 leaves and it cannot comprise nearly six parts (juz') of the Qur'an, i.e. from the fourth to the tenth. Without doubt it consists of scattered leaves of the Qur'an attributed to the Imam that were collected and bound without attention to sequence.

The Codex of al 'Imam al-Husayn (A):

It consists of 41 folios of deerskin in the Kufic script with the inscription the sixteenth juz' of the Qur'an starting from verse 72 of Surat al-Kah f and ending with the last verse of Surat Ta Ha. Each of the pages of this pocket-size codex have seven lines. Its serial number is 14.

The Codex of 'Aqabah ibn 'Amir:

It was written in the Kufic script in 52/672 by 'Aqabah 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 writes: He was an eloquentqari 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. [68]

The Codex of Khadij ibn Mu'awiyah:

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 Ma'had al Makhtutat al 'Arabiyyah, Cairo.

The Codex of al 'Imam Zayn al 'Abidin (A):

It is attributed to al-'Imam al Sajjad Zayn al Abidin 'Ali ibn al-Husayn (A) and is kept at the library of Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi, under the serial number 15. Its deerskin folios of 30x20 cms size contain from verse 180 of Surat al-Baqarah to the end of the Qur'an. Subsequently the original folios were bound and the margins were illuminated.

The Codex of al Imam al-Sadiq (A):

The codex attributed to Ja'far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq (A) is kept at the al-'Amanah Library, Istanbul, and has been given the number 39. Its microfilm bearing number 11 is at the Ma'had al Makhtutat al-'Arabiyyah [70]

The Codex of al-'Imam Musa ibn Ja'far (A):

The codex attributed to Musa ibn Ja'far (A) contains verses beginning from verse 265 of Suratal-Baqarah and ending with verse 84 of Surat Al 'Imran. It is written on medium octavofolios with each page comprising 6 lines. It is kept at the library of al-'Imam al-Rida's shrine and bears the serial number 20. It has been endowed to the sacred shrine by Shah 'Abbas Safawi. In earlier times the text and the margins of this Qur'an written on parchment were pasted with a thick paper of the same colour.

The Codex of al-'Imam al-Rida (A):

The codex attributed to al-'Imam al-Rid a (A) bears the number 86 of the library of the Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi. It contains only a part of the Qur'an [71]written on octavo size deerskin folios with each page containing 16 lines. On the first page is written:

"bears an, oval seal with the inscription . In addition to the aforementioned codices, there are many other 'ancient codices in the Kufic script some of which even do not have such marks as the madd and shaddah, which came to be used in Qur'anic writing only later. Most of them have red dots in the place of the now usual diacritical marks (i'rab) because that was the mode of indicating 'vowels before the use of i'rab. Most of them do not contain the name of the scribe and the date of completion, because most of their pages have been lost or have been scattered into several parts. Such manuscripts, which are present in large numbers in museums and libraries around the world, have been - according to the experts who date them - mostly written between the 2nd/8th and 4th/10th centuries when the Naskhi script had not yet replaced the Kufic script. Precious specimens of these manuscripts can be seen at the exquisite collection of the Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi, the Iran Bastan Museum, the museum of the shrine at Qumm, the library and museum of Shiraz and Kitabkhanehye Waziri at Yazd, as well as several libraries abroad.

Specimens in Kufic Pertaining to the 2nd to 4th Centuries:

The codex numbered 11 at the Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi is' one such specimen. It consists of 133 folios of deerskin  and dates back to the earlier part of the 3rd/9th century. Another such codex, which is apparently complete, is the one endowed by Shah 'Abbas and bears the number 42 of the library of al 'Imam al-Rida's shrine. Its writing is attributed to the Infallible Imams (A). There is also a codex numbered 31, in the shrine's library. It comprises 545 octavo folios containing apparently the entire Qur'an and was written in the 2nd/8th or 3rd/9th century. Yet another codex written on parchment exists in the museum at Qumm and dates back to the 2nd/8th century. Then there is the Qur'an bearing number 38 in al-'Imam al-Rida's shrine which belongs to the 3rd/9th century. There is also the codex at the National Library of Tunis which was written at Qayrawan in the 3rd/9th century. 

The Old Dated Codices:

As mentioned above, the Qur'anic codices of the early centuries, except those attributed to the Infallible Imams (A) and the two written by 'Aqabah ibn 'Amir and Khadij ibn Mu'awiyah, are without the names of their scribes and dates of their writing.

The most ancient dated Qur'anic codex, to the best of this writer's knowledge, is the one bearing number 162 at the museum at Qumm and bears the date 198 H. The script is Kufic and the size khishti.

Another codex is the one written by Ibn Muqlah (272-328/ 88E- 939) and present at the Herat Museum.  Yet another codex written by 'Ali ibn Hilal, known as Ibn al-Bawwab (d. 423/1032) is dated 391 H. and is kept at Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

There is a codex in the treasury of the Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi which has been endowed by Abu al-Qasim Mansur ibn Abi al-Husayn Muhammad ibn Abi Mansur Kathir in the year 393 H. Abu al-Qasim's place of birth is Herat and his grandfather, Ahmad, is from Qa'in. His father Abu al-Husayn Kathir was minister under the Samanids and al'Asma'i has eulogized him. Abu al-Qasim Mansur himself was a minister during the time of Sultan Mahmud al-Ghaznawi. According to a report of al-Bayhaqi, he was minister of defence (diwan-e ard) during the reign of Sultan Mas'ud who used to consult him about military matters. Later he became defence secretary (sahib-a diwan) of Khurasan. 

An incomplete codex written in 410 H. by 'Ali ibn Ahmad al Warraq for Hadinah, the nurse of al-Mu'izz ibn Badis al-Maghribi, is now in the museum at Tunis. 

There is a codex in the collection at Imam 'Ali's shrine at Najaf written by 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Muhaddith in 419 H. at Ray Another codex written in the Maghribi script in gold bears the date 400 H. and is kept at the library of John Wilander, at Manchester, England. 

There is also a codex at the Astaneh-ye Quds-e Radawi which Abu al-Barakat endowed to the shrine of al-Rida (A) in Ramadan 421 H. through Abu 'Ali Hawwulah. This Abu 'Ali Hawwulah, whose biographical accounts have been written by his contemporaries al-Tha'labiin Tatimmat al-Yat'imah and al-Bakharzi in Dumyat al-qasr was a learned Shi'ite minister of the Daylamites and served for a long time as the diwan-a rasa'il of Majd al-Dawlah al-Daylami. On taking possession of Ray in the year 420/1029, Sultan Mahmud Ghaznawi honoured Abu 'Ali and took him along with himself to Ghazni and made him a secretary. During the reign of Sultan Mas'ud he was once again made diwan-a rasa'il. He lived a long life. 

An incomplete codex exists at the British Museum that was written in the Naskhi script by Abu al-Kazim Said ibn Ibrahim in 427H. It was Gilded by Naji lbn 'Abd Allah. There are two incomplete parts of the of the Qur'an in the library of al-'Azhar, Cairo, and at the end of the second state of completion given is 465 H. 

At the collection of Imam Ali's shrine at Najaf there is another gilded codex which was written and gilded in 432 H. by Zayd ibn al Rida ibn Zayd al Alawi. 

Recently, parts of an exquisite codex written and gilded by 'Uthman ibn Husayn al-Warraq and dated 466 H. was dug out in the precincts of the shrine of al-'Imam al-Rida (A). Each of these parts has golden frontispiece. They are kept at the Qur'anic collection of the Astanah-ye Quds-e Radawi.

The foregoing are some of the dated codices pertaining to the early centuries. The undated codices or dated codices of the late 5th century onwards are so numerous that their description would virtually take a voluminous work. If life and leisure provide the opportunity, we shall give a summary of the same in a later article with the help of the Almighty, great are His bounties,insha 'Allah ta'ala.


[1] Most of the Prophet's biographers have mentioned the names - more or less - of the scribes of the revelation. Dr. Ramyar in his Ta'rikh-e Qur'an, p. 66, has mentioned the names of forty of them. Dr. Subhi al-Salih, in Mabahith fi 'ulum al-Qur'an, p. 69, ascribes the maximum number of forty to Blachere.' Dr. Hujjati, in his Ta'rikh-e Qur'an, p. 203, mentions the names of these forty scribes. See Dr. Ramyar, op. cit., p. 324 for the names and number of the scribes mentioned in different sources.

[2] This is what is mentioned in al-Fihrist, but it must be Zayd ibn Thabit. Similarly, it is Sa'd ibn 'Ubayd in more correct accounts. See al-'Isabah.

[3] Ibn al-Nad'im, al-Fihrist, Cairo: al-Maktabat al-Tijariyyah, p. 47.

[4] Sahih al-Bukhari, "Kitab fadai'al-Qur'an", "bab al-qurra min ashab al-Nabi (S)."

[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, "Kitab fadai'al-Qur'an", "bab al-qurra min ashab al-Nabi (S)."

[6] Al-Zarakshi, al-Burhani, ed. 'Isa al-Babi al-Halabi, Cairo, i, 241.

[7] Al-Fihrist, 45, 46.

[8] Al-Tamhid, 2, 247.

[9] Ta'rikh-e Ya'qubi, (Persian trans.), ii, 15.

[10] Al-Fihrist, 45.

[11] Such as Ta Sin Sulayman, Ashab al--Hajar, al-Taharah, and Alif Lam Mim Tanzil inUbayy ibn Ka'b's mushaf and a1-Hawariyyun; al-Qiyamah and Inshaqqat in Ibn Mas'ud'smushaf.

[12] Sahih al-Bukhari, "Kitab fada'il al-Qur'in," "bab jam'al-Qur'an"; Ibn al Athir, Kamil al-Tawarikh, as well as other works on history and biography. See also Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist, Persian. trans. 41.

[13] Ta'rikh-a Ya'qubi, Persian trans., ii, 15.

[14] Sahih al-Bukhari; al-Suyuti's al -'Itqan; al-Zarakashi's al-Burhan, i, 240; Ta'rikh al Ya'qubi, Najaf, ii, 147; Subhi al-Salih, Mabahithfri'ulum al-Qur'an, 78.

[15] Sahih, al-Bukhari and al-Zarakshi's al-Burhan, i, 236:

[16] Al-Masahif 24.

[17] Mabahith fi'ulum al-Qur'an, 8th edition, 82.

[18] Al-Masahif 15; Tarikh al-Ya'qubi, ii, 147.

[19] Nine according to al-Ya'qubi, ii, 147, five according to al-Suyuti in al-'Itqan, eight according to Ibn al-Jawzi; Subhi al-Salih in Mabahith fi 'ulum al Qur'an, 84, mentions Abu 'Amr al-Dani's narration according to which they were four copies; he also mentions the tradition stating that they were seven.

[20] Mujaz 'alum al-Qur'an, 166.

[21] Mu'jam al-buldan, Beirut, ii, 469.

[22] From al-Tamhid, 299 and Subhi al-Salih, op. cit, 90.

[23] Safarnameh ibn-e.Battutah, Pers. trans. i, 87.

[24] Khutat al-Sham, v, 219.

[25] Ramyar, Tarikh-e Qur'an, 106.

[26] Ramyar from Goldziher's Madhahib al-tafsir al-'Islami, from Nabulusi's Kitab al-haqiqah wa al-majaz, MS. at Leipzig.

[27] Casanova, as quoted in Rimyar, op. cit., 466.

[28] Ramyar, Ta'rikh-e Qur'an, 106.

[29] Mabahith fi 'ulum al-Qur'an, 88.

[30] Ibid., as quoted from Khutat al-Sham, v, 279.

[31] Rawdat al-safa, vi, 372.

[32] Ibid., vi, 364.

[33] Ta'rikh al-Ya'qubi, ii, 113; Tafsir al-Qummi, 745; Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist, Pers. trans,

[34] Ibn al-Nadim's al-Fihrist, Pers. trans., 47.

[35] Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil fi'ulum al-tanzil, Beirut, 4; al-Zarakshi, al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Qur'an, i, 242, 238.

[36] As quoted by al-Tamhid from al-Majlisi's Bihar al-'anwar.

[37] He wrote al-Fihrist in 377 H.

[38] Al-Fihrist, Pers. trans. 47.

[39] See Riyad al-'Ulama, v, 533.

[40] Al-Maqrizi, al Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khtitat wa al-'athar, ii, 252.

[41] See the article of this author regarding Islamic libraries, Nameh-ye Astane Quds, Nos. 22, 23.

[42] See Fihrist Makhtutat al-Rawdat al-Haydariyyah, 14.

[43] The last part is based on the information provided by my earned friend Hujjat al-'Islam Hajj Sayyid Musa Zanjani (Shabbiri).

[44] Rahname-ye Ganjineh-ye Qur'an, 3.

[45] List of the microfilms of Ma'had al-Makhtutat.

[46] Probably a mushaf attributed to 'Ali (A) also exists at the Shiraz Museum, but since I do not have a precise knowledge of it I refrain from mentioning it. Another Qur'an attributed to 'Ali (A) exists at the Library of San'a', Yemen, about which I came to know through my learned friend Sayyid Ahmad Ashkawari.

[47] See al-Tamhid, i, 226.

[48] 'Ali (A) in the Nahj al-balaghah, "Hikam," is reported as having said to his scribe 'Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Rafi;

[49] I do not remember where I read about this episode.

[50] Ibn al-Nadim's al-Fihrist, Pers. trans. 71.

[51] Al-Tamhid, i, 355.

[52] The Kufic and Naskhi scripts were derived from the Nabataean and Syriac alphabets nearly a century before the Hijrah (Da'irat al-ma'arif musahib, i, 908 ).

[53] Ramyar, Tarikh-e Qur'an, 117.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Al-Bayhaqi in Shu'ab al-iman as quoted in Ramyar's Ta'rikh-e Qur'an, 141.

[56] Tarikh al-tiba'ah fi al-sharq.

[57] In the year 1121 H. Arabic letters started to be used in print (Tarikh al-tiba'ahf i al-sharq, 25).

[58] Such as the mushaf of Herat Museum in Afghanistan. See al Khatt al Arabi al-'Islami,155 and al-Khattat al-Baghdadi, 16.

[59] In this work 249 books, treatises and articles have been referred to and it has been illustrated with 757 facsimiles of the works of eminent calligraphers. It was published in 1388 at Baghdad.

[60] Dairat al-ma'arif musahib.

[61] The last surviving companion of the Prophet (S) was Abu al-Tufayl ('Amir ibn Wathilah.), who died in 110. The names of the last surviving Companions of the Prophet (S) in different countries have been mentioned in this writer's Ilm al-hadith, 24.

[62] Rahnama-ye Ganjineh-ye Qur'an.

[63] Fihrist makhtutat al-Rawdat al Haydariyyah, 15.

[64] Husayn ibn 'AbbAs al-Hasani al Safawi Bahidur Khan had the honour of viewing this blessed and noble mushaf. "Isma'il al -Musawi al-Hasani al Safawi Bahadur Khan had the honour of viewing this blessed and noble mushaf on the 27th of Rajab 9... (the year has been lost as a result of the binding). Mr. Farrukh writes: "That which I know is that this Qur'an was in the library of the late Mirza Askari, the imam jumu'ah. My grandfather, Mirza Husayn Jawahiri, with the takhallus 'Asi, purchased it from the heirs of Mirza 'Askari, and it reached me through my father Sayyid Ahmad Jawahiri, whose takhallus was Dana, as a legacy. It is presently in my possession. Hujjat al-'Islam Hajj Mirza 'Askari, the imam jumu'ah, was the uncle of the famous mujtahid and poet Hajj Sayyid Habib and the son of Hajj Mirza Hidiyat Allah, son of Sayyid Mahdi, the Shahid-a Thalith. The Shahidi family of Khurasin are his progeny. Sayyid Mahdi, the Shahid-a Thalith, was himself a descendant of Shah Ni'mat Allah Wali. He had come to Khurasan from Isfahan and was martyred."

[65] Rahnamaye Ganjineh-ye Quran, 8-13.

[66] Al-Nawawi, Tahdhib al asmda, i, 336.

[67] Husn al-muhadarah, i, 220.

[68] Al-'Amanah Library is presently a part of the big Topkapu Sarayi Library and is independently and separately maintained.

[69] Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalini, Taqrib al-Tahdhib.

[70] It would be very appropriate if the library of the Astinah-ye Quds-e Radawi obtains films and facsimiles of, this and other manuscripts which exist in foreign libraries for displaying them to those interested in the relics of the Family of the Prophet (S) and the general public.

[71] Contains ,the Surahs al Nur, al-Qasas, al-'Ankabut, al-Rum, Luqman, al-Sajdah, al-'Ahzab, al-Mu'min, Fussilat, al-Jathiyah, al-Ahqaf, al-Waqi'ah and al- Hadid.

[72] Considering that deerskin is white, delicate and has a low fat content, it was used for parchments, and the ancient manuscripts were accordingly termed "deerskin", although apparently lambskin, which was available in larger quantities,: has also the same qualities. 'Jafr' or 'jafr-e abyad' were also lambskin parchments on 4 which sacred knowledge was recorded and were in the possession of the Ahl al Bayt. See under 'jafr' in Majma' al-bahrayn.

[73] See its facsimile in Dr. Hujjati's Ta'rikh al-Qur'an, No. 60.

[74] See al-Khatt al-'Arabi al-'Islami, Turki'Atiyyah,155; cf. al-Tamhid, 358.

[75] Rahnama-ye Ganjineh-ye Qur'an, from Lughatnameh-ye Dehkhuda.

[76] Dr. Hujjati, Ta'rikh-e Qur'an, illustration no. 79.

[77] Fihrist makhtutat al-Rawdat al-Haydariyyah, 14.

[78] See of Mustashriqun, ii, 466.

[79] Rahnamaye Ganjineh-ye Qur'an, from the marginal notes of Rahat al-sudur, al-Naqd,and Ta'rikh-e Bayhaqi.

[80] Dr. Hujjati, Ta'rikh al-Qur'an, illustration no. 80.

[81] This author's Yaddashtha-ye safar-e Misr.

[82] Fihrist makhtutat al-Rawdat al-Haydariyyah, 15.