8. the Codex At Topkapu Sarayi Collection

Two more codices exist in Turkey which are attributed to 'Ali (A). Both of them are kept at al-'Amanah Library (which is presently a part of the Topkapu Sarayi library). The first codex bears the al-'Aminah library number (no. 2). Its microfilm, numbered 18, is kept at Ma'had al-Makhtutat al-'Arabiyyah, Cairo. The second codex bears the number 29 and its microfilm, numbered 14, is kept at Ma'had al Makhtutat al 'Arabiyyah, Cairo. 45 46

It is appropriate here to consider the following points.

  1. The handwriting of the codices attributed to 'Ali (A) shows mastery, harmony and elegance, while in the first half of the first century Arabic writing (the Kufic script) had not yet developed that finesse and harmony and was consequently not very elegant. Therefore, how, is it possible to ascribe these codices to 'Ali (A) whose martyrdom occurred in the year 40/660?

  2. Considering that 'Ali (A) had many engagements, is it possible that he might have written several copies of the Qur'an?

  3. According to the traditions, 'Ali's (A) codex was compiled in a chronological order and mentioned the context of the revelation of various verses, while these codices follow the customary order.

However the above-mentioned doubts concerning the authenticity of the attribution of the above codices can be answered as follows:

There is no doubt that 'Ali (A) compiled the Qur'an in the chronological order, 47 but it is not unlikely that he might have subsequently written it in the customary order.

As to the numerous preoccupations of 'Ali (A), there is no doubt that after the demise of the Holy Prophet (S) he was one of the central figures of Madinah and an authority on issues confronting the Muslims, especially judicial issues. But since he did not directly intervene in these affairs and did not participate personally in the wars, it is not improbable that during that period in times of leisure he may have applied himself to copying the Qur'an, especially when we consider that at that time there were few copies of the Qur'an and any addition to those available was conducive to its preservation. In such a situation it was a duty for anyone having this ability to apply himself to this task.

As to the beauty and harmony of the, script of these codices, which create an impression of un-likeliness of their belonging to the era of the beginnings of the Kufic script, it can be explained by the fact that 'Ali (A) was one of the masters of calligraphy in his time. 'Ali (A) is reported to have taught calligraphy to his secretary 'Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Rafi. 48 It is reported that an accomplished scribe was writing the Qur'an, 'Ali (A) admired his writing as he examined it, though he disapproved of his use of diminutive writing for the Qur'an.

In Ibn al-Nadim's al-Fihrist there is a reference to Khalid ibn Abi al-Hayyaj, a companion of 'Ali (A), as one of master calligraphists of the Qur'an. 50 Khalid was employed after 'Ali's martyrdom by the chamberlain of Walid ibn 'Abd al-Malik for making copies of the scripture and for writing poems and traditions for him. It was he who wrote the inscription in gold of the qiblah of the Prophet's Mosque, which runs from Surat al-Shams to the end of the Qur'an. 51 Despite all this, the authenticity of the attribution of each these codices to 'Ali (A) is a matter that requires a separate study.

9. Script of Early Qur'anic Manuscripts

Doubtlessly the script of the Qur'an in the times of the Prophet (S), the Sahabah and the Tabi'un, was the Kufic script: This script, which is a variation of the Hiran script (belonging to the city of al Hirah came to the Hijaz from Iraq about the time of the outset of the Prophet's (S) ministry and the companions of the Prophet (S) learnt to read and write it during his lifetime.

According to some the Kufic script has its origin in the Nabataean scriptr 52 Some others say that it evolved from the Syrian script 53 because both in the Kufic and Syrian scripts the alif is not written when it occurs in the middle of a word. For instance, the words , and are written as and However, a style of writing other than the Kufic existed in Hijaz at the time of the Prophet (S). This was the Nabataean script from which the Nakshi style evolved later. The Nabataean script being easier, was commonly used except by the people of Arabia. 54

Malik al-Shu'ara' Bahar observes in Sabkshinasi that from that which can be gathered from the bulk of traditions is that the Islamic script, from the very beginning, was the Nabataean script, which was called al-Naskhi and al-Darij. The Arab had taken it directly from the late Nabataean script. The Nabataean script had come to the Hijaz from Huran (an ancient Syrian town), but, as mentioned earlier, the Qur'an was usually written in the Kufic script and the practice lasted for several centuries. Some even claimed that writing the Qur'an in any script other than the Kufic was improper because the Qur'an was written in Kufic script in the times of the Prophet (S) and his companions. They considered any change of script to amount to bid'ah.55

Evidently there is no justification for the aforesaid argument, because the medium of recording in those days was exclusively limited to this script. Further if we extend this logic, the use of paper and print, which did not exist at that time, should also be prohibited. Incidentally, the scholars of the Ottoman Empire had proscribed for a long time the printing of the Qur'an 56 in the vast regions under Ottoman rule although the process of printing had become prevalent in its domains. 57

10. The Naskhi Script

With the development of sciences and arts in Islam, especially during the 'Abbasid period, the character of script also improved and reached its zenith. Rules were formulated for the art of calligraphy and masters emerged in this art. However, since the Naskhi script was simpler than the Kufic, the former received greater attention of both the calligraphers and the common people. A group of calligraphers devoted their attention to the refinement of the Naskhi script. To it belonged Ibn Muqlah - Muhammad ibn 'Ali ibn Husayn ibn Muqlah (272-328/885-939).

Some even believe him to be the inventor-of the Naskhi script, though this is not true. Like all other sciences, arts and crafts, script too evolved gradually towards excellence, and hence it is not possible to consider the writing of Ibn Muqlah the beginning of the Naskhi script (fortunately manuscripts attributed to him or resembling his writing still exist). 58

As a result of my study of the invaluable collection of Qur'anic manuscripts at Astanah-ye Quds-e Radawi and the Qur'ans preserved at Dar al-Kutub at Cairo, the Zahiriyyah Library at Damascus, the Library of Jama'at al-Qarwiyyin at Fas, and the library of Topkapu Museum, Istanbul, I have found that the Naskhi script was used even before Ibn Muqlah. This view is further affirmed by writings that preceded those of Ibn Muqlah, whose samples can be found in the following books:

  1. A1-Khatt al-'Arabi al-'Islami by Turki 'Atiyyah.
  2. Atlas-e Khatt.
  3. Intishar al-khatt al-'Arabi by Ustad 'Abd al-Fattah 'Ibadah.
  4. AI-Khattat al-Baghdadi by Dr. Suhayl Anwar.
  5. Al-Khatt al-'Arabi wa adabuhu by Muhammad Tahir ibn 'Abd al-Qadir al-Makki.
  6. Musawwir al-khatt al-'Arabi by Naji Zayn al-Din. 59
  7. Ahwal wa athar-a khushnawisan by Mahdi Bayani (the section on Naskhi).

A perusal of these works would remove all doubts for the reader. Therefore, Ibn Muqlah only attempted to perfect the six styles (which include the Naskhi) which were already prevalent two hundred years before him. 60 A study of the aforementioned works and of the Qur'anic manuscripts in libraries and museums mentioned above leads us to conclude that the Naskhi script was derived from the Kufic, not the Nabataean as claimed by some.