Divination by the Qurʼan


This single sheet of a Fal-i Qurʼan lays out in rhyming Persian distichs (couplets) the means of fal (divination) by letters selected at random when opening to a page of the Qurʼan. This folio originally was included at the end of a Safavid Persian Qurʼan, immediately after the last surah (chapter), Surat al-Nas, and a closing prayer on behalf of the Prophet and his family. The layout of the divination text, the script, and the remaining original illumination in the text frame are typical of fals placed at the end of Qurʼans made in Shiraz or Qazvin during the second half of the 16th century. The pasting of the rectangular bands in two vertical columns, as well as the illumination running around the text frame, may be a form of censorship by the Sunni Ottomans, perhaps at the request of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703–30), whose tugra (royal emblem) appears on the folio’s verso. The pasted bands in the right vertical column hide individual letters of the alphabet, beginning with the letter lam (l), from which a poetical divination was extracted. The poetical prognostication remains, while the letters themselves have been concealed. This fragment must have been the third folio of the original divination text. The title and the first two pages (containing the letters alif through kaf) of the fal do not survive. Although divination by the Qurʼan appears largely in a Safavid Shiite context, examples of fals by means of the Qurʼan also appear in Sunni Ottoman artistic traditions during the latter part of the 16th century. The reason prognostication by the Qurʼan has largely been seen as a Shiite phenomenon is that the practice is often attributed to 'Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

Last updated: February 12, 2016