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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsSPEAKER: With the emergence of Islam at the beginning of the seventh century, and the revelation of the Qur'an in Arabic, the Arabic book was born. Between the seventh and 10th centuries, the Arabic book developed from a simple codex to being at the centre of a burgeoning book culture. There are several factors that influenced this, but the codification of the brand was an important factor. Muslim tradition states, that upon the death of the prophet Muhammad, his companion and successor, Abu Bakr, was concerned about the long-term preservation of the Qur'an after a number of companions who knew the Qur'an were killed in battle.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsHe commissioned a group of scribes, including the Prophet's scribe, Zayd bin Thabit, to consult those who had memorised the Qur'an and the existing written records, to produce a complete manuscript copy, or mushaf. The third caliph, 'Uthman, consulted this mushaf of the Qur'an and had copies made, which were distributed across the Islamic world. Within a short period, Arabic became the language of religious and liturgical expression throughout the regions that adopted Islam. And the Arabic alphabet was also adopted by other languages, including Persian, Ottoman-Turkish, Urdu and Malay. There are 114 surahs, or chapters in the Qur'an. Each surah has a varying number of ayah, verses. A surah can vary in length between three to 286 verses.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 secondsWith the exception of the brief opening surah, Surah al-Fatiha, the Qur'an is then ordered with its longest surahs first, with the following ones arranged in roughly descending order of length. It is thought that the earliest written Qur'ans did not have visual surah separators at the beginning of each surah. The end of one surah, and the beginning of the next was discernible from a gap that was left at the end of the preceding surah, and a basmalah that was written at the beginning of each surah. You can see here, that the scribed writing in the black ink left a space at the end of Surah Maryam. The next surah then begins with a basmalah.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 secondsThe red ink that was used to create the lines between the surahs and ornament the basmalah, was applied at some point after the black ink. Multi-spectral imaging shows that even the black ink that was used was a different black ink than the one used for the writing on the rest of the page. You will learn more about this in the conservation section. We cannot know exactly when this surah separator was added, but we do know it must have been added at a later point. This is another Hijazi manuscript from later in the seventh century. This is another example of the early use of surah separators.

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 secondsAgain, it seems to have been inserted at a later point to the rest of the writing. This way of distinguishing the beginning of the next surah, was soon followed by the introduction of a surah title, often in a different colour at the beginning of each surah. This example from the eighth or ninth century, has the title of the surah written in gold. Here are some other examples from the 14th century onwards that show how surah titles were ornamented in later Qur'ans. You can see that they have included a place name with a surah title either Mecca or Medina to indicate whether it was revealed during the earlier Meccan period of revelation, or the later Medinan Period.

Skip to 4 minutes and 9 secondsThe Birmingham Qur'an manuscript has distinctive groups of dots between the ayahs. These ayah separators were introduced in Hijazi manuscripts of the Qur'an. Although some of the Qur'an manuscripts that have been attributed 'Uthman, are thought not to have any ayah separators, there are others from the first Islamic century, that's the seventh century, that use arrangements of dots to separate ayahs. You can see the use of ayah separators again in this manuscript, which is from later in the seventh century. There are also other examples of the use of ayah separators in the Sunna manuscripts from the first Islamic century. Modern printed Qur'ans tend to number the inside of the ayah separators to help readers navigate and reference the text.

Skip to 5 minutes and 0 secondsThe Qur'an manuscripts were sometimes divided into recitational units of equal length. These were sometimes seven volumes, occasionally 10 volumes, and most commonly 30 volumes, or parts referred to as [ARABIC] Each [ARABIC] is sometimes divided into half, [ARABIC] or quarters, or [ARABIC] Modern printed copies continue to mark these divisions, even in single volume Qur'ans, and it is common to find sets of 30 separate volumes, particularly in mosques and for the purposes of teaching and memorising. This is a beautiful Qur'an manuscript from the Mughal era that carefully writes each [ARABIC] over a pair of facing pages, fitting the entire text of the Qur'an over 30 pages. This would have taken a remarkable amount of planning.

Skip to 5 minutes and 57 secondsOther special markers were also introduced to ornament and refine the presentation of the Qur'anic text. Manuscripts from the second Islamic century, that's the 8th Gregorian century, started to use special markers as counting aids for every fifth or 10th ayah with illuminated roundels. This manuscript has the marker [ARABIC] for every 10, or [ARABIC] verses. Another feature that was introduced was markers for places of prostration.

The structure and division of the Qur’an

As you watch this video think how sūrah (chapter) and āyah (verse) separators can help us to date Qur’an manuscripts.

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This video is from the free online course:

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

University of Birmingham