The Cambridge Digital Library now has online access to some of their Islamic manuscripts. Details below, as described on the website:

Cambridge University Library’s collection of Islamic manuscripts dates from the origins of Arabic scholarship in Cambridge in the 1630s when the University founded a Professorship in Arabic and William Bedwell donated a Qur’an to the Library. Since that time the collection has grown in size and diversity to over 5,000 works, including the collections of Thomas Erpenius, J.L.Burckhardt, E.H.Palmer and E.G. Browne. These manuscripts shed light on many aspects of the Islamic world, its beliefs and learning.

The collection was further enriched over the centuries through the activities of scholarly collectors and skilled librarians, adding more depth to the already impressive range of manuscripts. Yet this extraordinary collection has remained relatively unknown outside Cambridge. Now we hope to draw better attention to its treasures through cataloguing and digitisation. We have collaborated with the Bodleian at Oxford and other research libraries to provide an online catalogue of the collection. We will be offering a selection of digitised manuscripts through the Foundations project and will seek funding for further digitisation. (more…)

Note: The Qur’an can be divided into thirty equal parts. One part takes only twenty-four reading minutes, and the whole Book requires 12 reading hours. There are 114 chapters, and 6,236 Arabic verses (Abu ‘Amr Al-Dani in his book Al-Bayan), containing 77,439 Arabic words (reported by Al-Fadl bin Shadhan) made up of 371,180 Arabic letters (Abdullah b. Kathir reporting Mujahid, although there are different accounts). By contrast the King James Version of the Christian Bible (OT and NT) has 783,137 words and 3,566,480 letters. Muslims believe the Quran in Arabic is the actual Word of God given to Muhammad through a series of revelations from 610-632 C.E. and not written down as a “book” until after Muhammad died.

Given the general ignorance in American society of Islam, especially the theology based on the teachings in the Quran, it is important to go back to the beginning, the essence, the opening, the words that are by definition significant to all Muslims. This eloquent key is the opening (fatiha) of the text, a set of verses as repeated by Muslims daily as the Lord’s Prayer is by Christians. (more…)

Kufic Quran, second/eighth century

by John F. Healey and G. Rex Smith

The Kufic Quran has reached its fully developed form by the end of the second/eighth century. It was invariably written on parchment, the letters in a black ink with dots, often red and green (the latter used with initial hamza) though sometimes in gold only, representing short vowels, and black strokes, single and double, distinguishing letters. The text thus written is made difficult by the spacing which would seem to be more to do the calligrapher’s artistic inclinations and his desire to justify his text precisely than with Arabic orthography. “Justification” here refers to what became the standard practice in printed books of making the lines even in length both at the beginning and at the end of the lines. Verse endings and other pauses call for gold: usually a cluster of three balls, one sitting on two others and quite elaborate roundels. (more…)

Historic Arabic medical manuscripts go online

Researchers may now search and browse the Wellcome Library’s Arabic manuscripts using groundbreaking functionalities in a new online resource that brings together rich descriptive information and exceptionally detailed images.

Arabic medicine was once the most advanced in the world, and now digital facsimiles of some of its most important texts have been made freely available online. The unique online resource, based on the Wellcome Library’s Arabic manuscript collection, includes well-known medical texts by famous practitioners (such as Avicenna, Ibn al-Quff, and Ibn an-Nafis), lesser-known works by anonymous physicians and rare or unique copies, such as Averroes’ commentaries on Avicenna’s medical poetry.

The Wellcome Arabic Manuscript Cataloguing Partnership (WAMCP) combines the efforts of the Wellcome Library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and King’s College London Digital Humanities Department and is funded by JISC and the Wellcome Trust. It offers a rich digital manuscript library available online for free, which represents a significant resource for a wide range of researchers – including Arabic studies scholars, medical historians and manuscript conservators – to aid and enhance their work.

The resource is now available online. (more…)

Portrait of the infant Rustam shown to Sam (folio 30b)

On Thursday night I had the privilege of attending a reading of portions of the Shanamah by Iraj Anvar.
The reading was held as part of the superb series called “Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World,” which is a series of readings and events that began in March with a lecture by Bruce Lawrence on the Quran and continues through May 7. This is an extraordinary opportunity to hear and learn more about the variety of poetic production in Islamic cultures worldwide.

While the reading of the Shanamah is over, you can still see the exhibit of the mid 15th century Muhammad Juki’s manuscript of the Shanamah at the Asia Society through May 1.

by F. E. Peters, NYPL Website, October 18, 20120

For very long time, Jews, Christians and Muslims have behaved toward one another like members of a dysfunctional family, like the competitors for an immense inheritance, the favor of Almighty God. But the current exhibition at the New York Public Library uncovers quite another strain of familiarity among the three, their devotion to the book.

Many cultures value the written word, the art of writing and a reverence for books, but Jews Christians and Muslims are unique in their devotion not merely to books – the scribe was always among their elite members before the age of printing – but to the Book. (more…)

Calligraphic frieze in tomb of Moulay Ismail, Meknes, Morocco, 2008; photography by Daniel Martin Varisco

-“Blessed is Allah” and “This is what GOD has given me (Ma Sha Allah)” Artist: Baker Masad

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