Eleventh-Century Qur˒an

Two Folios from an Eleventh-Century Qur˒an

Qur˒an fragment, in Arabic

Spain or northern Africa
11th century
On vellum
125 x 203 mm

Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1915

MS M.539, fols. 1v–2r
Item description: 

During Muḥammad's lifetime, Islam spread from Mecca and Medina, covering the entire Arabian Peninsula. From there, the new religion expanded throughout the Near East, northern Africa, and southern Spain. Other leaves from this Qur˒an are preserved in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul. Written in Kufic, every fifth verse is followed by a gold letter hā˒ (which has a numerical value of five), and every tenth verse by a gold disc with the cumulative number of verses. The color scheme of the palmette projecting from the heading for sura 90 (al-Balad, or "The City"), a combination of wine red and green with gold and blue, is typical for the western Islamic world, suggesting an origin in northern Africa or southern Spain.

Exhibition section: 

The Qur˒an, the Holy Book of Islam
From a monumental volume used in an Istanbul mosque to a miniature Persian version that served as a talisman, this section features examples of illuminated pages from the holy book of Islam. The Qur˒an (to recite) represents the codification of the words of God that were revealed and transmitted through the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muḥammad (ca. 570–632) over a period of twenty-three years. The visions began in 610 in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca, his birthplace, and continued after his 622 flight to Medina, until his death. His flight—the Hijra—marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

The revelations were arranged into 114 suras (chapters), each named after its theme. The first and shortest ones, at the end of the book, from the Meccan period, establish Muḥammad as the final prophet in a line of monotheists, including Abraham and Jesus. The longest suras, placed at the beginning, are Medinan and deal more with social and political issues.

For centuries, Qur˒ans were written in Arabic, the language of transmission. After Muḥammad's death, his cousin ˓Alī and others compiled the revelations into a text. About twenty years later, under Uthman, the third caliph (644–656) succeeding Muḥammad, a standard version of the Qur˒an —essentially the one used today—was produced. Thereafter Islam (which means "surrender to God") spread from the Arabian Peninsula throughout the Middle East, to northern Africa and southern Spain, and eventually the world.