The Qur'an in Manuscript and Print
THE QUR'ANIC SCRIPT
Writing, although not very widespread in pre-Islamic time,
was well-known among the Arabs. The script used in the
seventh century, i. e . during the lifetime of the Prophet
Muhammad, consisted of very basic symbols, which expressed
only the consonantal structure of a word, and even that with
While today letters such as ba, ta, tha, ya, are easily
distinguished by points, this was not so in the early days and all
these letters used to be written simply as a straight line.
>From this very basic system of writing there developed over
the ages, various types of script, such as KdfF, Maghribl,
Naskh, etc., which spread all over the world.
The later invention of printing with standardised types has
contributed to formalising the writing.
However, as far as the actual script of the Qur'an is con-
cerned, there were two important steps which brought about
the forms in which we have the Qur'anic text as it is today.
These were the introduction of:
- Vowelling marks (tashkil).
- Diacritical marks (i'jam).
Tashkil is the name for the signs indicating the vowels in
Arabic scripts. They were apparently unknown in pre-lslamic
times. These signs help to determine the correct pronunciation
of the word and to avoid mistakes.
Example: Byt Baitun
When more and more Muslims of non-Arab origin and also
many ignorant Arabs'  studied the Qur'an, faulty pronunciation
and wrong readings began to increase. It is related that at the
time of Du'all (d. 69H/638) someone in Basra read the follow-
ing aya from the Qur'an in a faulty way, which changed the
meaning completely: :
That God and His apostle dissolve obligations with the
pagans' (9: 3).
'That God dissolves obligations with the pagans and the
The mistake occurred through wrongly reading rasulihi
in place of rasuluhu, which could not be distinguished
from the written text, because there were no signs or accents
indicating the correct pronunciation. Unless someone had
memorised the correct version he could out of ignorance
easily commit such a mistake.  The signs or accents to prevent
such problems were introduced not long before the i'jam and
then got the shape they have to this day: 
Name Old Style New Style
Fatha XXX XXX
Kasra XXX XXX
Damma XXX XXX
For an example of the old style see plate 5.
It has been suggested that the origin of fatha is alif, the ori-
gin of kasra is ya (without dots as in early books), and the
origin of damma is waw. Hamza was previously written as 2
1 Yaqut reports in his book irshad that al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf himself once
read ahabba in 9: 24 wrongly as ahabbu, see GdQ. 111, 124, note 6.
2 See also fihrist, 1, pp. 87-8.
3 Hughes,T.P.: A Dictionary of Islam London,1895 p.687.
4 Abbott, N.: The Rise of the North-Arabic Script and its Koranic
Development, Chicago, 1939, p. 39
I'jam (to provide a letter with a diacritical point)
The Arabic letters, as we know them today, are made up of
lines and points. The latter are called i'jam. The ancient
Arabic script did not have them, but consisted of strokes only.
The addition of diacritical points to the plain writing of
strokes helped to distinguish the various letters which could
be easily mixed up.
Example: XXX XXX
Without dots this word cannot be easily recognised. With
i'jam, the letters of this word can easily be distinguished.
Although the i'jam (diacritical points) were already known
in pre-Islamic times, they were rarely used. The very early
copies of the Qur'anic manuscripts (and Arabic writing in
general) did not have these signs. They were apparently intro-
duced into the Qur'anic script during the time of the fifth
Umayyad Caliph, 'Abd al-Malik bin Marwan
(66-86H/685-705) and the governorship of Al-Hajjaj in Iraq,
when more and more Muslims began to read and study the
Qur'an, some of whom did not know much of the Qur'an, and
others were of non-Arab origin. It is said of the well-known
tabi'l Al-Du'all that he was the first to introduce these points
into the Qur'anic text.
Early manuscripts of the Qur'an were typically written on
animal skin. We know that in the lifetime of the Prophet,
parts of the revelation were written on all kinds of materials,
such as bone, animal skin, palm risps, etc. The ink was pre-
pared from soot.
All old Qur'anic script is completely without any diacritical
points or vowel signs as explained above. Also there are no
headings or separations between the sSras nor any other kind
of division, nor even any formal indication of the end of a
verse. Scholars distinguish between two types of early writing:
- Kufi, which is fairly heavy and not very dense.
- Hijazi, which is lighter, more dense and slightly inclined
towards the right.
Some believe that the Hijazi is older than the Kufi, while
others say that both were in use at the same time, but that
Hijazi was the less formal style. 
Some Peculiarities of the Ancient Writing
Numerous copies of the Qur'an were made after the time of
the Prophet Muhammad and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs,
and the writers of these manuscripts strictly observed the
autography of the 'Uthmanic Qur'an. There are, compared to
the usual Arabic spelling, some peculiarities. Here are a few
of them, only concerning the letters alif, yti, WtiW, by way of
- The letter alif is often written on top of a letter instead of
afterit, e.g XXX
- The letter ya (or alif) of the word is omitted, e.g.: XXX
- Some words have the letter waw in place of alif, e.g.: XXX
OLD MANUSCRIPTS OF THE QUR'AN
Most of the early original Qur'an manuscripts, complete or
in sizeable fragments, that are still available to us now, are not
5 This is the view of N. Abbott: 'We can no longer draw a chronological
demarcation line between what are commonly termed the Kufi and the
Naskhi scripts, nor can we consider the latter as a development of
the former. This ... now demands a more general recognition. Our
materials show that there were two tendencies at work simultaneously,
both of them natural ones' (Abbott, op. cit., p.16) . See plates 5 and 6.
6 For more examples see Kamal, op. cit., pp.47-9; a list of these
peculiarities has been provided by M. Hamidullah: 'Orthographical
Peculiarities in the text of the Qur'an, in: Islamic Order, 3 (4),
earlier than the second century after the Hijra. The earliest
copy, which was exhibited in the British Museum during the
1976 World of Islam Festival, dated from the late second
century.' However, there are also a number of odd fragments
of Qur'anic papyri available, which date from the first
There is a copy of the Qur'an in the Egyptian National
Library on parchment made from gazelle skin, which has been
dated 68 Hijra (688 A.D.), i.e. 58 years after the Prophet's
What happened to 'Uthman's Copies?
It is not known exactly how many copies of the Qur'an were
made at the time of 'Uthman, but SuyutP says: 'The well-
known ones are five'. This probably excludes the copy that
'Uthman kept for himself. The cities of Makka, Damascus,
Kufa, Basra and Madina each received a copy. ' 
There are a number of references in the older Arabic liter-
ature on this topic which together with latest information
available may be summarised as follows:
The Damascus Manuscript
Al-Kindi (d. around 236/850) wrote in the early third century
that three out of four of the copies prepared for 'Uthman were
destroyed in fire and war, while the copy sent to Damascus
was still kept at his time at Malatja. 
Ibn Batuta (779/1377) says he has seen copies or sheets
from the copies of the Qur'an prepared under 'Uthman in
Granada, Marakesh, Basra and other cities. 
Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372) relates that he has seen a copy of
7 Lings, M. and Y. H. Safadi: The Qur'an, London, 1976, No. IA. See
also plate 6
8 Grohmann, A.: Die Entstehung des Koran und die altesten Koran-
Handschriften', in: Bustan, 1961, pp. 33-8.
9 Makhdum, 1.: Tankh al-mushaf al-'Uthmdnifi Ta'shqand, Tashkent 1391/1971
10 GdQ, 111. 6, Note 1.
11 GdQ. 111, 6. Note l.
12 Salih, op. cit., p.87.
the Qur'an attributed to 'Uthman, which was brought to
Damascus in the year 518 Hijra from Tiberias (Palestine). He
said it was 'very large, in beautiful clear strong writing with
strong ink, in parchment, I think, made of camel skin'. 
Some believe that the copy later on went to Leningrad and
from there to England. After that nothing is known about it.
Others hold that this mushaf remained in the mosque of
Damascus, where it was last seen before the fire in the year
The Egyptian Manusenpt
There is a copy of an old Qur'an kept in the mosque of
al-Hussain in Cairo. Its script is of the old style, although Ki6,
and it is quite possible that it was copied from the Mushaf of
The Madina Manuscript
Ibn Jubair (d. 614/1217) saw the manuscript in the mosque
of Madlna in the year 580/1184. Some say it remained in
Madlna until the Turks took it from there in 1334/1915. It has
been reported that this copy was removed by the Turkish
authorities to Istanbul, from where it came to Berlin during
World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded
World War I, contains the following clause:
'Article 246: Within six months from the coming into
force of the present Treaty, Gerrnany will restore to His
Majesty, King of Hedjaz, the original Koran of Caliph
Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Tur-
kish authorities and is stated to have been presented to
the ex-Emperor William II." 
13 ibid., p.88.
14 ibid., p.89; Muir, in 'The Mameluke Dynasties' also writes that this
manuscript was burnt in Damascus in 1893; see Abbott, op. cit., p.51.
15 Kamal, op. cit., p.56.
16 Israel, Fred L. (ed.): Major Peace Trearies of Modern History, New
York, Chelsea House Pub., Vol.ll, p.l418.
The manuscript then reached Istanbul, but not Madina. 
The 'Imam' Manuscript
This is the name used for the copy which 'Uthman kept
himself, and it is said he was killed while reading it. 
According to some the Umayyads took it to Andalusia,
from where it came to Fas (Morocco) and according to Ibn
Batuta it was there in the eighth century after the Hijra, and
there were traces of blood on it. From Morocco, it might have
found its way to Samarkand.
The Samarkand Manuscript' 
This is the copy now kept in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). It may
be the Imam manuscript or one of the other copies made at
the time of 'Uthman.
It came to Samarkand in 890 Hijra (1485) and remained
there till 1868. Then it was taken to St. Petersburg by the
Russians in 1869. It remained there till 1917. A Russian
orientalist gave a detailed description of it, saying that many
pages were damaged and some were missing. A facsimile,
some 50 copies, of this mus haf was produced by S. Pisareff in
1905. A copy was sent to the Ottoman Sultan 'Abdul Hamid,
to the Shah of Iran, to the Amir of Bukhara, to Afghanistan,
to Fas and some important Muslim personalities. One copy is
now in the Columbia University Library (U.S.A.). 
The manuscript was afterwards returned to its former place
and reached Tashkent in 1924, where it has remained since.
Apparently the Soviet authorities have made further copies,
which are presented from time to time to visiting Muslim
17 The same information about this copy was published in a Cairo magazine
in 1938 (Makhdum, op. cit., p.l9). Surprisingly the standard book
Geschichre des Qorans, the third part of which was published in Germany
in 1938, i.e. well after the Treaty of Versailles, although discussing
the 'Uthmanic Qur'an and old manuscripts in detail, makes no reference
whatsoever to this event. Also, the writer of the Hisrory of the Mushaf
of ' Uthman in Tashkent, indicates that he does not know what to make
of this reference.
18 Ibn Said: al-Tabaqatal-kubra, Cairo, n.d., Vol. 111, (1). pp. 51-2.
19 Makhdum, op. cit., p.22ff.
20 The Muslim World, Vol . 30 ( 1940), pp.357-8.
heads of state and other important personalities. In 1980,
photocopies of such a facsimile were produced in the United
States, with a two-page foreword by M. Hamidullah.
The writer of the History of the Mushaf of 'Uthmtln in
Tashkent gives a number of reasons for the authenticity of the
manuscript. They are, excluding the various historical reports
which suggest this, as follows:
- The fact that the mushaf is written in a script used in the
first half of the first century Hijra.
- The fact that it is written on parchment from a gazelle,
while later Qur'ans are written on paper-like sheets.
- The fact that it does not have any diacritical marks which
were introduced around the eighth decade of the first
century; hence the manuscript must have been written
- The fact that it does not have the vowelling symbols
introduced by Du'all, who died in 68 Hijra; hence it is
earlier than this.
In other words: two of the copies of the Qur'an which were
originally prepared in the time of Caliph 'Uthman, are still
available to us today and their text and arrangement can be
compared, by anyone who cares to, with any other copy of the
Qur'an, be it in print or handwriting, from any place or period
of time. They will be found identical.
The 'Ali Manuscript
Some sources indicate that a copy of the Qur'an written by
the fourth Caliph 'Ali is kept in Najaf, Iraq, in the Dar
al-Kutub al-'Alawiya. It is written in Kufi script, and on it is
written: "Ali bin Abi Talib wrote it in the year 40 of the
21 Attar, D.: Mujaz 'ulum al-qur'an, Beirut 1399/1979, p. 116
THE QUR'AN IN PRINT
>From the sixteenth century, when the printing press with
movable type was first used in Europe and later in all parts of
the world, the pattern of writing and of printing the Qur'an
was further standardised.
There were already printed copies of the Qur'an before
this, in the so-called block-print form, and some specimens
from as early as the tenth century, both of the actual wooden
blocks and the printed sheets, have come down to us.22
The first extant Qur'an for which movable type was used
was printed in Hamburg (Germany) in 1694. The text is fully
vocalised.  Probably the first Qur'an printed by Muslims is
the so-called 'Mulay Usman edition' of 1787, published in St.
Petersburg, Russia, followed by others in Kazan (1828),
Persia (1833) and Istanbul (1877). 
In 1858, the German orientalist Fluegel produced together
with a useful concordance the so-called 'Fluegel edition' of
the Qur'an, printed in Arabic, which has since been used by
generations of orientalists.  The Fluegel edition has however
a very basic defect: its system of verse numbering is not in
accordance with general usage in the Muslim world. 
The Egyptian Edition
The Qur'anic text in printed form now used widely in the
Muslim world and developing into a 'standard version', is the
so-called 'Egyptian' edition, also known as the King Fu'ad
edition, since it was introduced in Egypt under King Fu'ad.
This edition is based on the reading of Hafs, as reported by
'Asim, and was first printed in Cairo in 1925/1344H. Numerous
copies have since been printed.
22 Grohmann, op. cit.. p.38; Exhibition in the British Library, London.
23 Al-Coranus, lex islamitica Muhammedis, Officina Schultzio-Schilleriania.
Hamburg, 1694; Exhibition No. 22.
24 Blachere, R.: Introduction au Coran, Paris, 1947, p. 133.
25 Fluegel, Gustav: Corani texn Arabicus. Leipzig, 1834.
26 See e.g. 74: 31, where he makes four verses out of one.
The Sa'd Nursi Copy
Finally, the Qur'an printed by the followers of Sa'id Nursi
from Turkey should be mentioned as an example of combining
a hand-written beautifully illuminated text with modern offset
printing technology. The text was hand written by the Turkish
calligrapher Hamid al-'Amidi. It was first printed in Istanbul
in 1947, but since 1976 has been produced in large numbers
and various sizes at the printing press run by the followers of
Sa'id Nursi in West Berlin (Germany).