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The Qur’an Manuscripts in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif Islamic Museum, Jerusalem

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:

This Week in Palestine

October 2005

By Khader Salameh

Garnet Publishing, UK, and UNESCO Publishing, France, 2001, 206 pages.

This large format, hardcover book includes illustrations of the unique collection of the Qur’an manuscripts of Al-Haram Al-Sharif which were donated or endowed to the Holy Mosque by devout individuals and famous rulers from different parts of the Islamic world. Some of the Qur’an manuscripts date back to the third century of Islam (ninth century AD). However, two thirds of the manuscripts date from the Ottoman period, as many of the earlier manuscripts may have been worn out from usage and/or poor storage conditions. Each manuscript included in the book is catalogued, and prominent panels of it, in terms of calligraphic style and/or illumination, are illustrated and described. The first part of the book includes information on the historical evolution of the different arts included in the Qur’anic manuscripts.

Besides the manuscripts, the book includes an illustrated section of other museum holdings: furnishings of the two Holy Mosques (the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa) which were replaced during restoration works that took place at different periods. These include stone and wood panels, glazed ceramic tiles, doors and windows. Intentionally or not, the book conveys a message about a sister art of calligraphy, namely Islamic architecture; the latter being centred traditionally on the Mosque and the former on the Qur’an; hence the importance of the holdings of the Islamic Museum of the Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

The book delves briefly into the origin and evolution of the art of Arabic calligraphy and illumination which found its highest form of expression in transcribing the Qur’an. The author cites many and different scholarly works, ancient and modern, to describe the evolution of the different styles of calligraphy. The reader may feel encumbered a bit. But the information gained is helpful in understanding the author’s description of the calligraphic styles of the illustrated manuscripts’ panels in the book.

The cataloguing system of the manuscripts used by the author differs from that of the museum as it lists the manuscripts by order of their completion date, which is usually written down at the end of the manuscript. The cataloguing system of the museum apparently follows the size of the manuscript; the No. 1 manuscript is the largest of the collection measuring 110x90x15 cm.

The book derives its value from the fact that it is the first published compilation of illustrated panels of the manuscript collection of Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Due credit should go to the Max van Berchem Foundation and the Saudi Arabia Fund for their financial contributions, and to UNESCO Publishing for making it possible to realize the book. Also due credit should go to the author, Khader Salameh, for compiling and recording the holdings of the museum in book form and for putting the manuscript illustrations in context.

This is definitely a nice book to add to one’s collection of illustrated art books. And most definitely a valuable reference to have in schools, universities, museums and public libraries worldwide.

Reviewed by Amal Nashashibi

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