The Birmingham Qur’an and the art of Qur'an Manuscripts

Whilst the Qur’an and its teachings have a central focus in the worship, culture and everyday life of Muslims, the Qur’anic text has also been a focus for Islamic art across the centuries.

The term Islamic Art is used to refer to three major forms of visual culture in the Islamic world:

  • architecture,
  • crafted objects, and
  • the arts of the book.

All of these forms of Islamic art have incorporated or been influenced by the Qur’anic text in some way. In this unit, we will concentrate on the Islamic arts of the book, examining the various styles and techniques used in producing and decorating the Qur’an, and how this had a wider influence on the manuscript culture and arts of the book.

We will begin by tracing some of the major developments in the way the Qur’an was presented in its written form: developments in the way Arabic script was written and the evolution of reading aids in Qur’an manuscripts.

We will then look in more detail at the arts of decorating and ornamenting manuscripts of the Qur’an: what kinds of artistic styles and techniques were used in producing manuscripts? And how did this change over the centuries?

We will discuss the characteristics of the three main types of (non-figural) decoration used to ornament Qur’an manuscripts – calligraphy, geometric design, and vegetal patterns and motifs. How did these styles and techniques influence the Islamic arts of the book and manuscript culture more widely?

By the end of this week you will:

  • Have a basic understanding of the place of the Qur’an in the Arabic written tradition.
  • Be able to recognise features of the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript and how they relate to developments in the way the Qur’an was presented in the written form
  • Be able to trace developments in Arabic script and calligraphy and how they relate to Qur’an manuscripts.
  • Recognise some of the decorative features used in Qur’an manuscripts.
  • Understand the relationship between the Qur’an, Arabic calligraphy and the decorative features used in Islamic arts of the book.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham