Qurʼanic Verses


This folio contains verses 1–4 of the second chapter of the Qurʼan entitled al-Baqarah (The cow), the fourth of five folios belonging to a dispersed Qurʼan manuscript in the collections of the Library of Congress. Together, these folios constitute the first five folios of a beautiful, albeit damaged, 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼan. The title of the chapter, executed on a blue and gold background in the top and bottom rectangular panels, gives the name of the surah and the total number of verses (286), words, and letters. The interest in counting the total number ayat (verses), words, and letters in various chapters and throughout the Qurʼan not only provides an indexing apparatus for the Holy Book, but also may serve various practices concerned with letter mysticism or the 'ilm al-huruf (esoteric sciences of letters). These first four verses include the three abbreviated letters alif, lām, and mīm, followed by a discussion stating that the Qurʼan gives guidance to the believer in God, divine revelation, and the afterworld. The triple letters alif-lām-mīm appear in six chapters of the Qurʼan (2–3, and 29–32). The script in the main text frame is Naskh, a cursive style preferred in Qurʼans made in Cairo during the 14th and 15th centuries. This particular Naskh contains more angular strokes used for the letters qaf (q) and 'ayn (glottal stop), and the loops of the 'ayns are filled in with black ink. The main text, executed in six lines and provided with ayah markers in the shape of six-petal gold flowers, is outlined in cloud cartouches and set on a background decorated with medium-brown interlacing scrolls containing now-worn yellow and blue leaves. Below the scrollwork appear a number of parallel vertical striations, creating a delicate striped pattern as the text's backdrop. Both the scrollwork and striations can be found in a number of Mamluk Qurʼans made in Egypt during the first half of the 14th century. Some Qurʼans of the period also placed the text in cloud cartouches on a ground hatched in red. The left margin of the folio includes a decorative ansa (handle or finial) to mark the page as the beginning of a surah. It contains a decorative gold leaf-and-bulb motif on a blue ground, a design in which palette and composition echo the chapter's heading in the top and bottom rectangular panels. The verso of this folio contains verses 5–16 of al-Baqarah, which stress the importance of true faith and belief in God and warn of the consequences of false conviction. Verse 5, at the top of the folio, and the last few lines at its base have been lost to water damage.

Last updated: April 6, 2015