The Evolution of the Mushaf

The Evolution of the Mushaf

The Quranic mushaf has a rich history; all too often, when we think about the Quran, it’s the physical copy that most of us grew up reading that springs to mind, but there’s much more to it than we know. From the earliest manuscripts written on date palms, leather, and parchment, to the beautifully intricate and illuminated manuscripts of the Islamic Golden Age, to the mass-produced printed versions that we all know today, the evolution of the mushaf is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Quran. Are you curious about your mushaf came to be? We’ll be exploring the centuries of innovation and artistic expression that have shaped this beloved text into the treasured masterpiece that we know today, and how it’s still changing to reflect the technological advancements of the time.

Early Compilation

After the Prophet’s PBUH death in 632 AD, a meticulous process of collecting and verifying the verses began, led by Abu Bakr (RA) who felt it imperative especially after having seen a large number of Sahaba (who had memorized the Quran) martyred in the Battle of Yamamah.

Zayd ibn Thabit was the scribe of the Prophet PBUH during his lifetime, having memorized and recited the Quran beautifully himself, and had the role of writing down the verses as they were revealed. During Abu Bakr’s reign as caliph, Zayd was tasked with collecting Quranic verses from all over Arabia in both physical forms and from those who had memorized it.

When this task had been completed, Zayd left the prepared sheets with Abu Bakr (RA) who, before his own passing, left them with ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA). The original manuscript of the Quran was then entrusted to his daughter, Hafsah (RA).

The Blue Quran Manuscript: late-9th to early-10th century CE

The Canonization of The Quran

Uthman ibn ‘Affan (RA) was the third caliph of Islam and is known for authorizing and carrying out the standardisation of the Quran during his reign, which is why the form in which it exists today is widely recognized as the Uthmanic Codex.

‘Uthman (RA) recognized the need to standardize the Quran to prevent any misinterpretations from occurring; in the 18th year after the Hijrah, he appointed a committee of the Prophet’s PBUH companions to produce a standard copy of the Quran. Much like the early compilation, this task was again spearheaded by our literary hero and scribe, Zayd ibn Thabit.

Once this task had been completed, ‘Uthman (RA) ordered copies of the standardised Quran to be sent to all the major parts of the Islamic world, and existing copies of the Quran were destroyed to prevent confusion. This ensured that all Muslims were reading and reciting the same text, regardless of their location and dialect.

Centuries At a Time

The Umayyad dynasty (661-750 CE) was the first Islamic dynasty to rule after the death of the Prophet PBUH. The Umayyad version of the mushaf is known for its distinctive calligraphy style and script.

Birmingham Quran Manuscript: c.568 AD – 645 AD. This is believed to be one of the oldest Quranic manuscripts in the world!

The Abbasid dynasty (750-1258 CE) was a period of Islamic history known for its contributions to Islamic culture. During their reign, the Quran was studied extensively and many commentaries and interpretations of the Quran were written. The Abbasid version is characterized by a different style of calligraphy and script compared to the Umayyad version - can you spot the key differences?

A Quran in early Abbasid style: late 8th century

Fun fact: the first printed Quran was produced in Venice in 1537, using a style of typeface known as Arabic-Venetian!

The first printed copy of the Quran, the 1537 edition by Fratelli Paganino

In the 20th century, with the growth of Arabic printing and the spread of Islam around the world, new styles of typography emerged. One of the most influential of these was the Cairo Edition of the Quran that was printed in Cairo, Egypt in 1924. This edition is notable for its inclusion of vowel markings and other diacritical marks (Tashkeel), which make it easier for readers to pronounce the text correctly.

The Cairo Edition of the Quran, printed in 1924

The Saudi version of the Quran is a more recent edition that was produced in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. This version is known for its standardized format and its use of modern printing techniques, which make it easier to read and distribute. The Saudi version is widely used in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf region.

Calligraphy and Design

The design of the mushaf is an important aspect of Islamic art and includes elements such as calligraphy, illumination, and manuscript decoration.

The script used in the mushaf varies depending on the time and place of its production, but many styles have been used over the centuries, including the Kufic script which was the first major development in the typography of the Quran that occurred during the reign of the Umayyad caliphs. It is characterized by its angular and straight lines. The Kufic script was widely used in early mushafs and became a hallmark of Islamic calligraphy.

Later 11th century Kufic calligraphy of Surah Al-Fatiha

Thuluth calligraphy, believed to have originated in the 7th century is characterized by its tall, elegant letters and flowing lines which give it a sense of grace and fluidity, and it’s often used for headings and titles of Quranic chapters, as well as for decorative elements such as borders and panels.

Thuluth calligraphy

In the following centuries, other styles of calligraphy emerged, each with its own unique features and characteristics. One of the most significant of these was the Naksh script, which emerged in the 10th century and became widely used in the Ottoman Empire and other regions. The Naksh script is known for its flowing, rounded letters and remains one of the most popular scripts for the mushaf to this day.

Naksh calligraphy in theIbn al-Bawwab Quran manuscript, 391 AH

Illuminated manuscripts are decorated with intricate designs and patterns that incorporate both calligraphy and images. These decorations are often created using gold leaf and vibrant colours, and they also serve to add beauty to the text. Illuminated manuscripts were especially popular in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages and were produced in the centres of Islamic learning such as Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo.

Turkish-inspired Quranic manuscript, A.H. 1268/ 1851–52 CE

In addition to these design elements is also manuscript decoration, as Islamic manuscripts are often decorated with intricate borders as well as geometric patterns, floral designs, and other motifs that are traditional in Islamic art.

The Finer Details

The Quran as we know it is split into several sections and divisions to make it easier to read, recite, memorize, and study. Let’s break it down:

Surah: The Quran consists of 114 surahs (or chapters), which each have a unique name and vary in length and content. The shortest surah is Al-Kawthar which has only three verses, while the longest is Al-Baqarah, containing 286.

Ayah: Each surah is further divided into ayahs or verses. There are over 6,000 ayahs in the Quran, and each one is numbered to make it easier to reference.

Juz: The Quran is divided into 30 juz (or parts), each containing approximately the same number of pages. This division is often referenced during the month of Ramadan when many of us try to read a set number of juz per day in order to complete the entire Quran within the month.

Hizb: Each juz is further divided into two hizb, making a total of 60. This division is often used for recitation group settings, with one hizb recited by one person and the remaining hizb recited by another.

Rub: Each hizb is further divided into four rub, making a total of 240 rub in the Quran. Again, this is useful in recitation group settings.

Manzil: The Quran is also split into seven manzil, each consisting of a group of surahs. This division is often used for daily recitation, with one manzil recited each day to complete the entire Quran in one week.

Here and Now

In the present day, when we have a plethora of resources at our fingertips, we’re fortunate enough to be able to fuse history with modern technology like mobile devices and A.I to create products and services that echo our past while looking to the future, and that’s what Tarteel is.

Vertical scroll of specified Surahs

Tarteel echoes the traditions of our Prophet PBUH and his companions in the way they interacted with, shared and memorized the Quran while integrating innovative technology and design that adds a wealth of support and value to the journey along the way. The Quran doesn’t simply have to be considered a book anymore, and our technology makes it so that you can do more than port the text around. Tarteel interacts with your recitation as you embark on your memorization journey and helps you experience the verses far beyond the page.

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