Rare copy of Qur'an on display at British Museum

LONDON: The British Museum witnessed the installation of one of the oldest known copies of the Holy Qur’an from the 8th century as an exhibit for a major Islamic exhibition.

The British Library has lent the copy of the Holy Qur’an to the British Museum for the exhibition: Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, which is set to open to the public on Jan. 26.

The Ma’il Qur’an is the oldest object to go on public display as part of the British Museum’s major exhibition dedicated to the Haj, the pilgrimage to Makka in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

This manuscript is from Arabia, probably copied in Makka or Madina and dates from the 8th century, one of the earliest in existence. The script is known as Ma’il, meaning sloping, on account of the pronounced slant to the right, and it is one of a number of scripts developed in the early Islamic period of the copying of the Qur’an.

In this copy of the Qur'an, as in other ancient fragments, there are no vowel signs or other aids to pronunciation, and the end of each verse is indicated by six small dashes in two stacks of three.

David Jacobs, a senior conservator at the British Library, told Arab News: “The copy of the Ma’il Qur’an has been owned by the British Museum since the 19th century.

The Qur’an is integral to Islamic faith. That’s why it’s (the copy of the Ma’il Qur’an) so significant and it’s in this exhibition. It mentions the pilgrimage (Haj) and it’s one of the first manuscripts that does so.”

With regards to how the British Library preserves this historical copy of the Qur’an, he added:

“The material is on parchment development so the actual substrate needs to be stable. The problem with that particular manuscript is pigments that are quite friable and flaky, so obviously it needs care and attention and constant monitoring of its condition. So it’s not on display continuously.”

The exhibition will examine the significance of Haj as one of the five pillars of Islam, exploring its importance for Muslims and looking at how this spiritual journey has evolved throughout history.

It will bring together a wealth of objects from a number of different collections including important historic pieces as well as new contemporary art works which reveal the enduring impact of Haj across the globe and across the centuries. This exhibition concludes the British Museum’s series of three exhibitions focused on spiritual journeys.

This exhibition has been organized in partnership with the King Abdulaziz Public Library in Riyadh and will examine three key strands: The pilgrim’s journey with an emphasis on the major routes used across time (from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East). HSBC Amanah has supported the exhibition’s international reach outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The British Museum said in a press release: “A wide variety of objects will be lent to the exhibition. Loans include significant material from Saudi Arabia including a seetanah that covers the door of the Kaaba as well as other historic and contemporary artifacts from key museums in the Kingdom.

Other objects have come from public and private collections in the UK and around the world, among them the British Library and the Khalili Family Trust. They include archaeological material, manuscripts, textiles, historic photographs and contemporary art.”

The exhibition will be open to the public from Thursday January 26 until Sunday April 15.




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