Review of Qur’anic Research, Vol. 3 no.6 (2017)

In the latest installment of the Review of Qur’anic Research, Daniel Brubaker reviews François Déroche’s Qurʾans of the Umayyads: A First Overview (Leiden: Brill, 2014), “a book that brings the full and mature range of Déroche’s multifaceted work in this field to bear upon the question of the state(s) and stages of development of the Qur’an as an object during the Umayyad period (41–132/661–750). The book’s subtitle appropriately reflects the size and complexity of the task; the closer one works with the manuscripts, the more one realizes that for each question answered others yet remain. Still, Déroche’s work has been substantially based upon the belief that the task is doable since these extant objects have something to tell us and serve as windows to the times of their production (and thereafter) and to the practices, values, and views of those who commissioned them, as well as those who produced them…”


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© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

Les origines du Coran, le Coran des origines

In the latest installment of Review of Qur’anic Research 2 no. 6, W. S. Chahanovich reviews Les51eB39p7vaL origines du Coran, le Coran des origins, a volume edited by Francois Déroche, Christian Robin, and Michel Zink. Les origines is a testimony to the robust tradition of European qur’anic scholarship and provides the reader with focused contributions touching on several topics, including qur’anic philology, paleography, epigraphy, and codicology. Comprised of fourteen articles – nine French, one German, three English –Les origines is the result of a conference held in 2011 in France that honored the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Theodor Nöldeke’s groundbreaking work Die Geschichte des Qorâns (1860).

Full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR) is available in the members-only area of our IQSA website. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!

Facsimile Editions of Early Qur’an Manuscripts: A Survey

by Ahmed Shaker*

There are numerous Qur’an manuscripts, complete and partial, dating from the first century A.H. onward. Although there is no official count of Qur’an manuscripts in existence today, Muhammad Mustafa Al-A‘zami (2003) estimates the number at about 250,000. They may be found in mosques, museums, libraries, and institutions all over the world. In the past century, several early manuscripts have been published in facsimile editions, which reproduce as closely as possible the texts in their original manuscript forms, and may be purchased from specialized centers like IRCICA or borrowed from university libraries. Facsimile editions offer researchers in Qur’anic studies and Arabic paleography easy—if indirect—access to early Qur’an manuscripts.

The following is a concise chronological survey of select facsimile editions of early Qur’an manuscripts, including original title, date of publication, and—when possible—an estimated percentage of the total text of the Qur’an represented in the manuscript/facsimile.

1- Coran coufique de Samarcand: écrit d’après la tradition de la propre main du troisième calife Osman (644-656) qui se trouve dans la Bibliothèque Impériale Publique de St. Petersbourg. Ed. S. Pissaref. St. Petersberg, 1905.

Pissaref edition (1905)

Pissaref’s facsimile edition (1905) of the “Samarqand Qur’an.”

In 1905, the Russian orientalist S. Pissaref published a facsimile edition of the famous Samarkand Qur’an (now Tashkent) attributed to the third caliph ‘Uthman. Many Muslims today, in Central Asia and elsewhere, believe that the Tashkent manuscript was ‘Uthman’s personal copy of the Qur’an, from which he was reading when he was attacked and killed in 35 A.H./656 C.E. It is estimated that the manuscript originally consisted of about 950 folios, but over the years individual folios were removed. Pissaref’s facsimile edition includes 353 folios. In 1992, fifteen of the original folios were stolen and sold in auctions, so today only 338 folios of the manuscript remain.

2- The Unique Ibn al-Bawwab Manuscript: Complete Facsimile Edition of the Earliest Surviving Naskhi Qu’ran, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Manuscript K. 16. Ed. D. S. Rice. Graz, 1983.

This is a complete facsimile edition of the famous naskhi Qur’an manuscript of Ibn al-Bawwab written in 391 A.H. and preserved in the Chester Beatty Library (No. K.16).

3- Sources de la transmission manuscrite du texte coranique. Eds. François Déroche and Sergio Noga Noseda. Lesa, 1998-.

The first volume (1998) is a facsimile edition of a Hijazi manuscript from the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Arabe 328a), consisting of 56 folios representing about 25% of the total text of the Qur’an. The second volume (2001) is a facsimile edition of the oldest Qur’an manuscript from the British Library (Or. 2165). The original manuscript consisted of 121 folios representing 53% of the total text of the Qur’an, but the 2001 facsimile edition includes only the first 61 folios, with the remaining scheduled for future publication.

5- Koran ‘Usmana: Sankt-Peterburg, Katta-Langar, Bukhara, Tashkent. Ed. Efim Rezvan. St. Petersburg, 2004.

This is a facsimile edition of the “Qur’an of ‘Uthman” (St. Petersburg, Katta-Langar, Bukhara, Tashkent), containing about 40% of the total text of the Qur’an.

6- Al-Muṣḥaf al-sharīf: Attributed to ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān (The Copy at the Topkapı Palace Museum). Ed. Tayyar Altıkulaç. Istanbul, 2007.

Al-Muṣḥaf al-sharīf al-mansūb ilā ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān: Nuskhat matḥaf al-āthār al-turkīyah wa’l-islāmīyah bi-Istānbūl. Ed. Tayyar Altıkulaç. Istanbul, 2007.

Al-Muṣḥaf al-sharīf al-mansūb ilā ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān: Nuskhat al-Mashhad al-Ḥusaynī bi’l-Qāhirah. Ed. Tayyar Altıkulaç. Istanbul, 2009.

In 2007, Tayyar Altıkulaç published facsimile editions of two Qur’an manuscripts attributed to the third caliph ‘Uthman. The first, at the Topkapı Palace Museum (No. 44/32), is an almost complete manuscript, with only two folios missing and representing over 99% of the total text of the Qur’an. The second, at the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum (No. 457), is also almost complete. In 2009, Altıkulaç published a facsmile edition of another manuscript attributed to ‘Uthman at the Central Library of Islamic Manuscripts in Cairo, which has more than 99% of the total text of the Qur’an and only 4 folios missing (while some other folios were rewritten in a later hand).

7- Al-Muṣḥaf al-sharīf al-mansūb ilā ‘Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib: Nuskhat Ṣanʿāʾ. Ed. Tayyar Altıkulaç. Istanbul, 2011.

This is a facsimile edition of the manuscript attributed to the fourth caliphs ‘Ali at the Great Mosque in Sana‘a. It contains about 86% of the total text of the Qur’an.

More facsimile editions are expected to be published in the coming years by scholars like Tayyar Altıkulaç, François Déroche, Efim Rezvan, Alba Fedeli, and others. It is also worthwhile to note that Qur’an manuscripts are not only being published as facsimile editions but also in digital format. The Corpus Coranicum project has been working on digitizing ancient Hijazi and Kufic manuscripts since its launch in 2007.

* Ahmed Shaker is an independent researcher on Qur’an manuscripts.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2015. All rights reserved.

Recently released – Le Coran: Nouvelles Approches

By Gabriel Reynolds

On November 28th, French publisher CNRS Editions released Le Coran: Nouvelles Approches, the fruit of a colloquium of leading francophone scholars of the Qur’an that took place at l’Institut d’études de l’Islam et des sociétés du monde musulman (Paris, 2009).

The work presents thirteen studies divided into three sections: L’histoire du texte (“history of the text”), Le contexte d’émergence (“the context of the Qurʾan’s origins”), and L’analyse littéraire (“literary analysis”). In a detailed introduction, Mehdi Azaiez—editor of the work, along with Sabrina Mervin—presents an insightful analysis of the complicated state of Qur’anic studies, along with an overview of the work’s articles. [See below for the full Table of Contents listing].

Le Coran: Nouvelles Approches includes articles from leading francophone scholars—along with a contribution by Angelika Neuwirth on the Qurʾan and Late Antiquity, translated into French—on topics of significant interest at the current moment in Qurʾanic Studies. It will thus serve readers as a guide to the most important work of contemporary French language research in the field. Le Coran: Nouvelles Approches is dedicated to the memory of Mohammed Arkoun, and fittingly so. The conference on which it is based took place at the institute which Prof. Arkoun founded, and the level of the scholarship in Le Coran: Nouvelles Approches does justice to his memory.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Mehdi Azaiez

Première Partie : l’Histoire du texte

1. Contrôler l’écriture. Sur quelques caractéristiques de manuscrits coraniques omeyyades
François Déroche

2. Le Coran silencieux et le Coran parlant. Problématique des sources scripturaires dans le shi’isme ancien
Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi

3. Le Coran des pierres : statistiques et premières analyses
Frédéric Imbert

Deuxième partie : le contexte d’émergence

4. Le Coran – Un texte de l’Antiquité tardive
Angelika Neuwirth

5. Le Coran avant le Coran : la piste syriaque. Nazaréens et Nazaréisme dans le Coran et chez les anciens exégètes
Claude Gilliot

6. La possibilité du Coran
Jacqueline Chabbi

7. L’abrogation selon le Coran à la lumière des Homélies pseudo clémentines
Geneviève Gobillot

Troisième partie : l’analyse littéraire

8. Le Coran : l’écrit, le lu, le récité.
Pierre Larcher

9. Le contre-discours coranique : premières approches d’un corpus
Mehdi Azaiez

10. Métatextualité et autoréférence dans le texte coranique
Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau

11. La question de l’abrogation dans son contexte rhétorique. (Une analyse des versets 2, 87-121)
Michel Cuypers

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Fragmentation and Compilation” Workshop at the Institute for Ismaili Studies, London

By Holger Zellentin

This past week, an exciting conversation took place at the Institute for Ismaili Studies in London. The event was convened by one of the Institute’s researchers, Dr. Asma Hilali, who brought together a broad range of researchers in Qur’anic studies. The workshop was the second installment in a series titled “Fragmentation and Compilation,” which seeks to explore the difficult conceptualization of partial transmission and re-arrangement of various “particles” relating to the Qur’an. Among the elements considered in terms of their fragmentation and subsequent compilation were sketches of individual Qur’anic verses and their arrangement within the Qur’an (and beyond), Qur’anic reading instructions and textual variants, and the role of Jewish literary frameworks and exegetical traditions in our understanding of the Qur’an. Presentations were given on material evidence such as: the Ṣan‘ā’ palimpsest (Asma Hilali), early Qur’anic graffiti from Arabia (Frédéric Imbert), the various voices used in Qur’anic discourse (Mehdi Azaiez), the Qur’an’s integration of Jewish exegetical topoi (Holger Zellentin), and on the compositional features of Tafsir collections (Stephen Burge).

Photo by Frédéric Imbert

Photo by Frédéric Imbert

The presenters’ initially distinct points of departure were united by more than their common focus on the text of the Qur’an. Aziz Al-Azmeh served as a brilliant and erudite discussant, probing the theses and turning the focus of the public discussion towards one overarching topic: the palpability of both unity and dynamism within the Qur’anic text, in its traditional form as well as in its various early iterations. The discussion among the presenters and the notable guests (such as François Déroche, Gerald Hawting, and Hermann Landolt) explored two topics in particular. The first constituted the possibilities and challenges inherent to integrating a study of Qur’anic manuscripts with a study of the Arabian Qur’anic graffitis from the first two centuries after the Hijra. Adjacent foci here were the dating of the earliest graffitis; the importance of the Parisino-Petropolitanus codex from Fusṭāṭ (Ms. Arabe 328); and the difficulties pertaining to the carbon-dating, the palaeography, and the reconstruction of the Ṣan‘ā’ 1 palimpsest. Secondly, the discussion repeatedly returned to the limits and imperatives of considering a basic chronology of the Qur’an, and the need to differentiate between the development of micro- and macroforms: i.e. between individual stories or traditions and the Surahs as a whole. A more objective way of establishing an inner Qur’anic chronology, it was suggested, is perhaps the increasingly precise tracing of the relatively pointed appearance of Syriac and Rabbinic literary form and content in specific Surahs.

More than a few doctoral theses are yet to be written covering even the most basic preliminaries connecting the material evidence of the text with its relationship to Late Antiquity. The conference was framed by a discussion of the state of the field of Qur’anic studies, and included a presentation of recent research projects housed in Berlin, Notre Dame, and Nottingham. Overall, the open atmosphere and spirit of respectful inquiry was a great success for the organizer and the hosting institution. Those who have missed the event will be able to read the proceedings in a publication edited by Dr. Hilali.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Qur’ans of the Umayyads: Interview with Dr. François Déroche

By Dr. Keith Small

Prof. François Déroche, one of the leading scholars in Arabic manuscript studies, has a new book due out this October: Qur’ans of the Umayyads, A Preliminary Overview, (Leiden, Brill, 2013, 226+46 ill. ISBN 9789004255654). Early Qur’anic manuscript studies is a lively and growing discipline in the academy, and Déroche’s contributions have been essential reading—substantial in providing a framework for understanding the development of the Qur’anic manuscript tradition during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. This new book promises to bring into focus the current state of knowledge of this very early stage in the Qur’an’s manuscript tradition. I had the privilege of asking him some questions about his new book on behalf of IQSA.

Just for some background information for our readers, what is current your position in Paris?

The direct translation is: “Director of studies at the EPHE, Department of historical and philological sciences”; it involves teaching and research. My chair is titled “History and codicology of the Arabic handwritten book.” I am also co-director of the French-German Coranica project, which aims—among other things—at publishing systematically the earliest MSS of the Qur’an.

Your book, Qur’ans of the Umayyads, A Preliminary Overview, is due to come out in October 2013. How did writing this book challenge or develop your views on early Qur’ans? For example, did it overturn any of your previous views of the early transmission of the text of the Qur’an?

Qur’ans of the Umayyads is the result of a series of conferences given at LUCIS in Leiden. It is to some extent an offshoot of my previous study of the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus which I suggested to date to the third quarter of the first century. As the subtitle (A preliminary overviewputs it , it is a first attempt at understanding the evolution of the mushaf during the Umayyad period. The focus is different from my previous monograph, as I wanted to explore the broader Umayyad context and to offer a chronology of the period. The material used is undated and I had first to determine the basis on which I could date the largely unpublished fragments I had collected over three decades. Reviewing them led me to revise and enlarge my previous typology of the scripts. I had, for instance, to take a more cautious stance on the early hijâzî copies than in the 1983 catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale collection.

What are some major areas of debate in our field that you think the book informs? For example, does it speak into the issues of dating current manuscripts? Or to the degree of variability of the text in its earliest stages, or the development of Qira’at? (Here you can increase our interest by hinting at what controversial things you might have to say!)

As the book offers a chronology of the MSS, it challenges some views about the canonisation process, as it shows that the development of the handwritten transmission of the text was evolving at a rapid pace, especially the orthography of the Qur’an. It shows that the text was still fluid during the first decades of Umayyad rule and tries to understand also the diversity of the material which I suggest to attribute to this period. Although it is impossible to pinpoint every single copy to a place or a milieu, some clusters emerge. As a whole, one begins to see some rough stages in the history of the mushaf during this period. One can now follow more precisely the introduction of the notation of the short vowels, which of course will lead to new researches into the qirâ’ât—providing them more strength than was the case with the previous conclusions, which relied mainly on the division of the verses. It also draws attention to a field which is yet not researched, that of the intellectual conditions under which the written transmission took place.

How do you see it informing the broader fields of Umayyad studies and Islamic art history?

The book will provide new elements for the history of the Arabic script and shows that the palaeographic approach is a decisive tool for the study of the period. Previous papers, for instance by H.C. von Bothmer, enabled the incorporation of new elements into the history of Islamic art during this period. The book will provide a broader view of this question: it will be possible to speak of an Umayyad art of the book.

This first overview of Qur’anic MSS production under Umayyad rule will also provide new insight towards the position of the ruling elite about the Qur’an. As a whole, it will bring a diversity of new direct witnesses to the awareness of those who are researching the early history of the Qur’an.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the importance of this book?

I hope that I have been able to argue convincingly in favour of the attribution of some MSS to the Umayyad period, but the last chapter can only open the question of the transition from the Umayyad to the Abbasids. I hope that this will help to start new research on this moment, which remains largely shrouded in uncertainty as far as the MSS are concerned.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Qur’an Manuscripts and the History of the Qur’an (Interview Series Part 4)

An Interview with Eleonore Cellard, by Mehdi Azaiez



This week IQSA continues its interview series with Eleonore Cellard, PhD student in Qur’anic codicology at the Institut National des langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris. In this interview, Eleonore Cellard presents her achievements and research in the transmission of Qur’anic manuscripts in early Islam.

Eleonore, what are your academic achievements in the field of Qur’anic studies?

During my masters in the Arabic Language at INALCO, I had the opportunity to attend Déroche’s seminar about the codicology of Arabic manuscripts. A great part of this seminar was dedicated to the Qur’anic manuscripts. I later obtained state funding for my PHD project at INALCO, titled “The written transmission of the Qur’an: Study of a corpus of manuscripts probably from the second/ninth century.” During these three last years, I conducted my research in conjunction with teaching at INALCO.

Since 2011, I have been involved in the Franco-German project Coranica, working on the edition of the most ancient fragments of the Qur’an. As part of this project, I presented my research at the event “Les Origines du Corans, le Coran des Origines” in the French Academy (March 2011) and organized a workshop, “Manuscripta Coranica,” in Paris (October 2012).

What is the aim of your research?

The Islamic Tradition has meticulously recorded how the Qur’an was written, reformed and read. This history has been transmitted over the generations, relegating the manuscripts to the obscure nooks of the mosque. As testaments to ancient times, the manuscripts have preserved their own history, and today they are starting to reveal the imprecision of our knowledge of the Qur’an’s history.

The aim of recent academic studies is to better understand the manuscripts, their codes and their contexts. Thanks to this analysis, we hope to reach a new vision of the history of the transmission of the Qur’anic text by rearticulating the Islamic Tradition and Qur’anic materials.

Could you explain your work on Qur’anic manuscripts?

My study is based on a corpus of nine fragments kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris). The homogeneity of this corpus was first established according to paleographic criteria; indeed, all the fragments belong to the C group of Déroche’s classification system. According to this classification, these fragments could probably be dated from the second to the eighth century to the beginning of the third to the ninth century.

My analysis focuses on four main problems:

1. The problem of the manuscripts’ dating, using the paleographic criterion

2. The question of the textual division

3. The orthographic rules involving the notation of long vowels

4. The use of a dotting system for indicating the vocalization

1. As of now, the manuscript’s dating remains the main concern in our studies. Indeed, the physical and chemical analyses cannot propose any precise dating without an important chronological margin of +/- 50 years. This margin is considerable regarding the eventful history of the first three Islamic centuries. The paleographic criterion could be another method of dating. Based on comparisons between letters’ forms, it aims at reconstructing the evolution of the Qur’anic script. However, this approach, still undeveloped, presents two major difficulties for us: first, the lack of dated examples—manuscripts or inscriptions—and second, the existence of interferences between different paleographic styles in our C group. It thus implies the coexistence of different scripts, probably used in various regions, and is therefore at variance with the hypothesis of a linear chronological succession of scripts.

2. The question of the textual division covers two aspects:

  • In the different manuscripts, it is possible to notice different options taken by the copyists for separating the text: the separations of the Sura are represented in different manners: blank space, ornamentation, title with verse number, etc. Another separation—the five- and ten-verse division—also presents some variations in form. What do these variations refer to? It is difficult to answer such a question. My purpose here is to make an inventory of these variations.
  • The second aspect focuses on the semantic division within the verse separation. In our observation of the fragments, we find a great variation between the traditional systems of verse division recorded by the Islamic literature, and the divisions represented in the manuscripts. The problem here is to identify all these variations and to understand their origins.

3. At the orthographic level, the corpus reveals inconsistencies in the notation of long vowels: on one hand, we have no systematic notation of the medial alif, and on the other hand, we notice an important confusion between the values of the alif mamdûda and the alif maqsûra. According to these observations, we may wonder: What exact orthographic rules do these fragments follow? Are the variations some sign of a chronological evolution or a geographical repartition? Could these elements reflect the evolution of the Arabic language during this period?

4. The fourth problem concerns the vocalization of the manuscripts. The systems observed differ from what is recorded in the Islamic Tradition on two specific points:

  • According to the Tradition, the peculiarities which can be noticed in the vocalization of the manuscripts are attributed to a precise reader. In the fragments I have analyzed, some of the peculiarities appear frequently and are not directly connected to a given reading: the position of the dots (mainly in the notation of the hamza), the vocalic harmonization of the pronoun -hu/-hum, and a phonetic alteration of the vowel ‘a’ in the treatment of imâla. We may assume the existence of trends among copyists and readers that follow rules ignored by the Tradition.
  • Regarding the bi-colored dotting system, the Tradition tells us that its use refers to a canonical versus non-canonical reading. In the fragments I have analyzed, there is no systematic opposition or attribution of colors to one of the reading systems mentioned by the Tradition. Moreover red and green dots can alternatively refer to the same reader. We may question the real use of the bicolor system and its meaning. If the bi-colored system differentiates readings, it actually seems to be more the result of a competition between multiple readings than it does a difference between canonical and non-canonical readings.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.