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Friday, April 13, 2007

Calligrapher: unknown (c.1550-1600)

Dimensions of Written Surface: Recto: 9.5 (w) x 19 (h) cm

Script: Ottoman naskh

This fragment contains on the top line the last two verses (ayat) of the last chapter (surah) of the Qur'an, entitled Surat al-Nas (Chapter of Mankind). This particular chapter extols seeking refuge in the Lord from Satan, who, like the spirits (al-jinn), whispers evil things in the hearts of people (116:5-6). The verses at the top of the folio are separated by two ayah markers shaped like gold disks with five blue dots on their peripheries.

Immediately below the last verse of the Qur'an appears a prayer in five lines praising God, the Prophet Muhammad, and all Prophets (or messengers, al-mursilin) of Islam. The continuation of this terminal du'a (or formulaic prayer) continues in illuminated bands on the folio's verso (see 1-85-154.74 V and James 1992b: 178-9, cat. no. 43). The prayer is beautifully calligraphed in large Ottoman naskh in alternating gold and blue ink.

This prayer is said upon completion of the Qur'an (al-du'a ba'd khatim al-Qur'an), in which God is praised as the all-hearing (al-sami') and the all-knowing (al-'alim). It continues the initial, non-illuminated five-line prayer on the folio's recto (1-85-154.74 R) and serves as an appropriate closing to the Holy Book. In some cases, illuminated terminal prayers in rectangular bands such as this one precede a four-page treatise on how to practice divination (fal) using the letters of the Qur'an (see 1-84.154.42 R).

Although only one illuminated folio remains, it originally would have created a double-page illuminated du'a. This layout is typical of Safavid Persian Qur'ans from the second half of the 16th century (see James 1992b: 178-9, cat. no. 43), as well as Ottoman Turkish Qur'ans from the same period. For instance, a similar prayer appears immediately at the end of an Ottoman Turkish Qur'an dated 980/1573, now held in the Keir Collection in London, England (VII.49; Robinson 1976, 294). Due to similarities in script (in which three lines of text in gold alternate with a line in white ink), composition, and illumination, the prayer fragment here probably dates from the second half of the 16th century as well.

Photograph ©Abdel Kader Haidara,Bibliotheque Mamma Haidara de Manuscrits et la Documentation. Siège: Tombouctou BP 71 RPp.du Mali.
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