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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 6    Issue 15   01-15 February 2012

Professor A. R. Momin

A Rare Quran Manuscript at British Library

The Quran, which is believed by Muslims to be the last testament in a long series of divine revelations, is a compact text of about 500 pages. It is divided into 114 chapters, known as Suras. The Quran was revealed to the Prophet, who was unlettered, incrementally over a period of 23 years. Since the Quran was destined to be the last and final message of God, its preservation in its original form and language was of utmost importance. The Prophet adopted, under divine instruction, two methods for the preservation of the text: memorization and writing. As soon as the verses of the Quran were revealed, the Prophet would memorise them and recite them in his prayers and in the course of his conversations. He also encouraged his companions to invoke and memorise the verses of the Quran as much as possible. During his lifetime, scores of his companions, including some women, had memorised the entire text of the Quran.

The Prophet appointed a number of his companions—reportedly 40--to write down the verses of the Quran as and when they were revealed. After dictating the revealed verses, the Prophet used to ask the scribe to read out what he had written. The chapters and verses of the Quran were arranged according to his instructions, which were divinely mandated. During the time of the Prophet, the verses of the Quran were written on stone tablets, ribs of palm branches, camel ribs, shoulder blades, pieces of wooden board and parchment.

During the Prophet’s lifetime, the written fragments of the Quran existed in a scattered state. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, seventy companions of the Prophet, who had memorized the Quran, were killed in the battle of Yamama in the twelfth year of the Hijra (633 AD.) This unfortunate event caused great anxiety and apprehension among the Prophet’s senior companions, particularly Umar, who urged Abu Bakr to have the scattered fragments of the Quran collected in one volume. After initial hesitation Abu Bakr agreed to the suggestion and commissioned Zayd ibn Thabit, who had served as the Prophet’s secretary, to execute this task. Zayd transferred on parchment, which was made from calf hide or goat skin, the verses of the Quran from stone slabs, palm branches and shoulder blades. Before doing so he cross-checked each verse on the testimony of at least two companions who had memorized the Quran. The work of compilation and arrangement was completed in a year. The completed manuscript of the Quran was kept in the custody of Abu Bakr, who passed it on to Umar before he breathed his last. After Caliph Umar’s assassination the manuscript came in possession of his daughter and the Prophet’s wife Hafsa, who had also memorised the Quran.

During the caliphate of Uthman, a Companion of the Prophet, Hudhaifa ibn al-Yaman, took part in the battle of Armenia and Azerbaijan and thereafter travelled far and wide in the course of his other military campaigns. He was astounded and disturbed to find that Muslims in the farther regions of the Islamic state pronounced certain words of the Quran differently from those of mainland Arabia. On his return to Madina he approached Caliph Uthman, informed him about the disturbing situation he had witnessed and requested him to have a phonetically standardized copy of the Quran prepared.

Realising the gravity of the problem, Caliph Uthman requested Hafsa to hand over the manuscript of the Quran which was prepared at the instance of Abu Bakr, so that it could be used as a model for the preparation of a fresh codex. He then appointed a four-member committee, which included the veteran Zayd ibn Thabit, to oversee and execute the preparation of a standardized text of the Quran according to the diction of the Quraysh, to which the Prophet belonged. The committee prepared seven copies of the standardized text, and the original copy was returned to Hafsa. These copies were dispatched to the provincial capitals of the Islamic state along with an accredited “reciter” (qari) who would recite the verses of the Quran according to the standard Arabic diction. One copy was kept in the Prophet’s mosque at Madina. Historians and travellers have testified to the existence of these copies in different parts of the Islamic world.

Fortunately, two of these copies are still extant. One of them, in a complete form, is preserved at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This is the copy which Caliph Uthman was reading when he fell to an assassin’s sword. Traces of dried blood stains spilled over the verse (but Allah will suffice you against them…..2:137) are still visible. The copy measures about two feet in length and about the same in width. The ink appears to be of dark brown hue. An incomplete copy, one of the seven prepared under the direction of Caliph Uthman, is preserved in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In 1905, the Cazar of Russia had the manuscript, which was then in the capital St Petersburg, photographed. Fifty photographed copies of the codex were prepared at his instance. Some of these copies are extant. A facsimile edition of this copy was published, with a brief introduction and editorial notes by the late Muhammad Hamidullah, from Philadelphia, USA, in 1980. A carbon-14 test on a folio from the Tashkent manuscript was carried out at Oxford. The results showed a 68 per cent probability of a date between 640 and 765 and 95 per cent probability of a date between 595 and 855.

Thousands of fragments of the Quran, written on parchment in the first century of the Islamic era, were discovered in the course of excavations at the Great Mosque in San’a, Yemen. Carbon-14 tests on some of the fragments indicate the date of the parchments between 645 and 690 AD. Hundreds of manuscripts of the Quran dating to the first and second centuries of the Islamic era are to be found in the Middle East, Central Asia, India, Europe and the United States, such as the al-Husayn mosque in Cairo, Egyptian National Library, Cairo, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Austrian National Library, Vienna, Bayt al-Quran, Bahrain, the Oriental Institute Museum, Chicago, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland, among other places. The fact that the text of the Quran has remained absolutely unaltered and tamper-proof since its revelation more than fourteen centuries ago is attested even by Western orientalists who generally have an unsympathetic attitude towards Islam. In the early part of the 20th century, the Institut fur Koranforschung at the University of Munich in Germany had collected and collated some 42,000 complete and incomplete copies and manuscripts of the Quran from all over the world, and after several years of research had reported that there were no variants in the copies. Unfortunately, the building in which the Institute was located was destroyed in the American bombing of Germany during the Second World War.

The British Library and the British Museum have a valuable collection of Islamic manuscripts, including some very old and rare copies of the Quran, and Islamic art objects. The British Library has a rare copy of the Quran, which dates from the 8th century. This copy, written in the Ma’il calligraphic style, one of the calligraphic styles developed in the early centuries of the Islamic era, has no vowel signs or diacritical marks.

This copy has been lent by the British Library to the British Museum for an exhibition on “Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam,” which opened to the public on January 26, 2012. The exhibition has been organized by the British Museum in collaboration with the King Abdul Aziz Public Library in Riyadh. The exhibits and artefacts displayed at the exhibition, which include manuscripts, textiles and historical photographs, have come from public and private collections from around the world.

Islamic Schools in UK Flourishing

The population of Muslims in the UK is more than2.5 million. According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain’s Muslim population has multiplied ten times faster than the rest of society. In recent years there has come about a resurgence of Islamic consciousness and identity among British Muslims. This is reflected in the growing demand for madrasas and Islamic schools.

There are roughly 2,000 madrasas in the UK, where 250,000 Muslim children are enrolled. Children typically attend these madrasas for about two hours every night until they are 14-15 years of age. Most madrasas are located within the premises of mosques and some are based in Islamic schools and community centres.

There are at present 140 Islamic schools in the country, and 12 of them get funding from the state. About 60 of them have been established in the last ten years. The curriculum in such schools includes, in addition to the prescribed course, instruction in the Quran, Arabic language, prayers and anecdotes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The growing popularity of Islamic schools in Britain is reflected in the clamour for admissions. One school in Birmingham, for example, received 1500 applications for just 60 seats. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, parents have the right to send their children to state-funded education and teaching “in conformity with their religious and philosophical convictions.”

Rise in Self-Immolation in the Arab World

Mohammed Bouaziz, a 26-year-old educated Tunisian, lost his father, a construction worker in Libya, when he was three. His widowed mother married his uncle. Since the family has been in dire straits, Mohammed has been working since his teens. He sold fruits on a handcart to support his mother, uncle and five brothers and sisters at home. On the morning of December 17, 2010, Faida Hamdy, a municipal inspector in Sidi Bouzid, the area where Mohammed lived and earned his livelihood, confiscated his fruits and his cart and slapped him in the face for what the government considers as illegal trade. He was also thrashed by two of her colleagues.

Mohammed walked a few blocks to the municipal building, demanded his cart and fruits back, but was again beaten up. Then he walked to the governor’s office and asked for an audience, which was refused. Around noon, in a street in front of the governor’s office, he poured a can of paint thinner and lit himself on fire. Before he could be taken to hospital, he had already suffered 90 per cent burns, and eventually died on January 4. The even triggered an unprecedented wave of protests and demonstrations across the country.

Though the Arab Spring has radically altered the political scenario in the Arab world, the region continues to be faced with political instability and uncertainty, slow pace of economic development, high unemployment among educated youth, the mounting burden of debt, corruption and apathy and indifference of the ruling class and the administration. Though the region’s economy has experienced substantial growth in recent years, employment opportunities remain insufficient and inadequate. The unemployment rate for university graduates is in excess of 20 per cent in Tunisia and more than 16 per cent in Morocco.

Unemployment is a major source of economic insecurity in the Arab world. Data from the Arab Labour Organisation (ALO) show that in 2005 the overall average unemployment rate for the Arab countries was about 14.4 per cent of the labour force, compared to 6.3 per cent for the world at large. Many economists believe that the unemployment rate in the Arab world is much higher. Overall, the unemployment rate among the young in the Arab countries is nearly double than in the world at large. A joint study by the Arab League and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicates that in most Arab countries young people comprise at least 50% of the unemployed—the highest rate in the world. According to the report, rates of poverty remain high, reaching up to 40% on average, which suggests that nearly 140 million Arabs continue to live under the upper poverty line. The report also notes that in the past 20 years there has been no appreciable decline in poverty rates in the Arab world. In Egypt, nearly 50% of the population lives below $2 a day.

Self-immolation by frustrated Arab youth has become increasingly common across large parts of the Arab world, especially in Tunisia, Jordan and Bahrain. The BBC reported that 107 Tunisians tried to immolate themselves in the first six months after Bouaziz’s death. Seven people immolated themselves in Tunisia and Morocco at the beginning of 2012. Five of them were unemployed university graduates. They were part of a 160-member group called Unemployed Graduates who have been occupying a government building for two weeks in January. In January 2012, five frustrated young men immolated themselves in Morocco. A 52-year-old pensioners, burdened with heavy debt and economic hardships, burned himself to death. In Bahrain, a middle-aged woman set herself on fire on the roof of her building. The spate of suicides highlights the alarming economic, social and political conditions across the Arab region.

Outrage Against Corruption in Yemen

The Arab Spring, which began gathering strength last year, has affected a vast swathe of the Arab world from Egypt to Tunisia and from Libya to Yemen. Yemen is faced with a set of formidable challenges and crises, including widespread corruption and nepotism, mismanagement, authoritarian rule, suppression of human rights, insurgency and rebellion and a high rate of unemployment. The Yemeni people have been persistently demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In December 2011, huge protest rallies and demonstrations were staged across Yemen against rampant corruption in the country. One of the first strikes was launched by the employees of Yemenia Airways, which has become practically bankrupt as a result of endemic corruption and nepotism. Flights were halted at Yemen’s main airports, and after two days the government sacked the airline’s director, who is President Saleh’s son-in-law. This was followed by demonstrations and protest rallies by military officers, police personnel and government workers. They did not allow their bosses to enter their offices. The soldiers are calling for the removal of their head, General Ali Hasan al-Shatir. Thousands of disenchanted and frustrated Yemeni youth took out a 250-kilometre “Long March” from Taiz to San’a to express their anger and resentment.

A Fashion Magazine for Headscarved Women

In recent years Turkey has experienced a growing Islamic consciousness and a noticeable yearning for the restoration of the country’ss Islamic legacy. This is reflected in the growing popularity of Islamic literature, the greater visibility of headscarved women in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara and the increasing involvement of young men and women in faith-based voluntary action. One can see an interesting blend of tradition and modernity in the country.

A new monthly fashion magazine “Ala” (meaning “beautiful lifestyle”) was launched in Istanbul in July 2011 to cater to the tastes of modern Turkish women who prefer to wear the headscarf but at the same time are keen to keep pace with trendy fashion. The magazine, started by two former advertising executives, Ibrahim Burak Birer and Mehmet Volkan Atay, is aimed at the promotion of modest Muslim styles in women’s fashion and shows only models in Islamic headscarves.

The magazine, which may be regarded as Turkey’s answer to global fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle, has a glossy finish with an eye-catching layout and photography. It features ads from such international brands as Gucci, Dolbe Gabbana and H&M. The magazine’s policy is to advertise only that clothing which is in conformity with Islamic values and traditions. It features fashion, décor, travel tips, health and child development. It also carries interviews with fashion designers, Muslim businesswomen and philanthropists. The magazine’s sales have surpassed those of Vogue and Elle in Turkey. Since its launch last July, the magazine has been selling more than 40,000 copies, and the demand is rapidly increasing.

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