MENU
/
About Images & Intersections

A ‘Baptized’ Qurʾān?

On a Unique Illuminated Manuscript at the University of Otago

MS 11 of the Shoults Collection of the University of Otago. All images of MS 11 are provided courtesy of the Special Collections of the University of Otago Library (photo credit: M. Daneshgar).

Majid Daneshgar


The Special Collections of the University of Otago in New Zealand have much to offer to scholars of history, culture, and religious studies.1 Several important manuscripts in this collection have yet to receive the attention they deserve.

These include philosophical treatises, travellers’ reports and novels by influential European figures, and a wide range of classical and pre-twentieth-century works of the Muslim world. The Islamic manuscripts include Maḥmūd b. ʿUsmān’s fourteenth-century commentary on the Preface (Dībācheh) of the Gulistān of the Persian poet Saʿdī; the Dalāʾil al-khayrat by al-Jazūlī; an Arabic translation of Genesis and Exodus; and Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn’s translation and Thābit b. Qurra’s revision of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. They also include the unique manuscript of the Qurʾān that is the subject of this research report.

A Unique Qurʾān Manuscript

While investigating the manuscripts of the Canon William Ardene Shoults (d. 1887) Collection, I came across a manuscript identified simply as “the Koran” (MS 11), seemingly produced around 1846, comprised of 103 folios.

Top: Q 25:47 was accidentally omitted from the main text of the chapter and inserted in the margin. Bottom: Q 37 has been given a title other than the standard one, Al-Ṣāffāt (possibly Al-Yaqīn). Note that the title of the sūrah and supporting information are outlined in yellow, and the basmalah outlined in black, to set them apart from the verses of the chapter.

Top: Q 25:47 was accidentally omitted from the main text of the chapter and inserted in the margin. Bottom: Q 37 has been given a title other than the standard one, Al-Ṣāffāt (possibly Al-Yaqīn). Note that the title of the sūrah and supporting information are outlined in yellow, and the basmalah outlined in black, to set them apart from the verses of the chapter.

In many places, the handwriting is not clear and the copyist(s) occasionally missed some words, phrases, or even a whole verse, which has been inserted in the margin of the manuscript, perhaps by someone else (e.g., Q 25:47 is missing in the original body of the text and was later added in the margin). It should be noted that this is very uncommon in copies of the Qurʾān.

Also, the names of some chapters are not given correctly or are shown with a secondary title.

For instance, the name of Q 37, Al-Ṣāffāt, has been changed to something else (the substituted name is illegible).2 Chapter 38, Ṣād, uses the secondary title Dāwūd (David).

In this qurʾānic manuscript, verses often end with a three-dot sign resembling that found in early Qurʾāns. In most cases, hamzah (glottal stop) and hamzat al-waṣl are shown with a blue or yellow dot. Many words and phrases, such as ṣāliḥan in Q 23:51, are illegible.

ms11-02

Top: ṣāliḥan in Q 23:51, written in thick black lines, perhaps to cover up an error. Bottom: fīhā, written twice in Q 24:35, is marked with a dotted line.

 

 

The catchwords are sometimes missing, too. The color of the diacritics as well as the quality of sheets are occasionally changed.

Frequently, orthographical and structural errors are placed inside circular dotted lines.

For instance, Q 24:35 wrongly repeats the term fīhā, presumably due to dittography: fīhā miṣbāḥun al-miṣbāḥ was mistakenly changed to fīhā miṣbāḥun fīhā al-miṣbāḥ.

Interestingly, the Qurʾān ends with the name of Sūrat al-Fātiḥah (Q 1), which is identified by the copyist as a Medinan chapter. Here, as elsewhere, the titles of sūrahs are clumsily outlined to make them stand out from the verses of the chapters.

 

Christianizing Elements in MS 11

Apart from the abovementioned (rather uncommon) errors in the qurʾānic text itself, my report addresses the illuminations and ornaments used in MS 11. These elements, which coincide with those commonly used in Christianity, have prompted me to call this manuscript a ‘baptized’ one. That is, by adding these elements, the copyist may have intended to visually mark this Qurʾān as associated with Christians or Christianity somehow.

ms11-03

Surprisingly, MS 11 starts with Sūrat Maryam (Q 19), and the first page features an ornament of six crosses in red placed inside a circle surrounded by geometrical shapes, with the ornament overall resembling a flower.

Triangular signs evoking the Trinity, circles, and images that appear to resemble Christian architectural elements are found throughout this manuscript. Also, two wheels that look like flowers encompassing six white crosses are vertically positioned between Q 34:30-33. These verses address disbelievers’ rejection of the Qurʾān and earlier scriptures. They also refer to the comments of the oppressed community to the arrogant people that they “disbelieved in Allah …”

Before finishing Q 54:40 and starting 54:41 (and there certainly came to the people of Pharaoh a warning), we find an ornament that includes three interconnected circles, a symbol readily associated with Christianity.

ms11-04

The last verses of Q 66, referring to the wives of Noah, Lot, and Pharaoh, and ending with a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus (66:12), are shown here to the left. The space between 66:12 and the next chapter (al-Mulk) is filled with an image that includes circles, pillars, crosses and other popular Christian symbols.

Elements commonly used in Christian literature and visual culture are displayed at the beginning of Q 87 (Sūrat al-Aʿlā). The first verse of this chapter, [O Prophet], praise the name of your Lord, the Most High (al-aʿlā)…, is explained as a reference to tawḥīd, the oneness of God, and His uniqueness in classical commentaries. Thus, Tanwīr al-Miqbās, also known as Tafsīr Ibn ʿAbbās, paraphrases the verse: “…Remember, O Muhammad, the divine oneness (tawḥīd) of your Lord…”3 Three yellow crosses on top of each other inside an oval separate the phrases of Q 87:1-6 from each other.

 

Some early Qur’an manuscripts included a few “cross-shaped devices” as well as “cross-like elements,”4 but one wonders why a nineteenth-century Qurʾān manuscript is replete with signs and elements associated with Christianity.

Several pages of this Qurʾān have a watermark with an image of Britannia, “a seated female figure, with helmet, shield and trident,”5 apparently holding the stem of a flower6 or leaves in her right hand in an oval. The shield’s center shows the British flag. This, along with other watermarks that appear in the manuscript, indicates that the paper was produced by two different companies: W. Warren & Sons (with the date 1846 given with the watermark WWARREN & SONS 1846) and Moinier’s (some pages being marked MOINIER’s PATENT).

ms11-05

A watermark generally proves the authenticity of a document. The Britannia watermark was produced extensively in eighteenth– and nineteenth–century Europe (e.g. Holland) and in America for the English market.7 It was used “to distinguish English foolscap size of paper.”8 WWARREN & SONS 1846 and MOINIER’s PATENT are both lettering watermarks that tell us the names of the manufacturers.

The formal characteristics of an extant manuscript of the Brahmānandayogānanda by Mādhava, dated 1850, a treatise of “Hindu philosophy from the perspective of the Advaita (non-dualism) Vedānta School of philosophy,” are very similar to those of MS 11. For example, mistakes and corrections are also shown in the margin with different colors. This manuscript of the Brahmānandayogānanda is kept in the library of the University of Pennsylvania. Its folios bear watermarks “with the date 1847 together with the name W. Warren & Sons and a crest with a seated Britannia on it,” similar to MS 11 of the University of Otago.9 Clearly W. Warren & Sons produced the papers used in both of MS11 and UPenn Ms. Coll. 390 in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Comparison with other Manuscripts

An Islamicized Bible

MS 11, a unique example of a Qurʾān ‘baptized’ by its copyist – for reasons we cannot be sure of – is complemented by another manuscript in the Otago collection, MS 10. This is an Arabic translation of the Bible, copied in the early nineteenth century, that appears to have been ‘Islamicized’ by the translator.

For example, the common Arabic translation of Genesis 20:1, compatible with the Hebrew version, says: intaqala Ibrāhīm min hunāk ilā arḍ al-janūb wa-sakana bayna Qādish wa- Shūr wa-tagharraba fī Jarār: “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar…”

However, MS 10 gives this verse as thumma raḥala min thamma Ibrāhīm ilā balad al-qiblah wa-aqāma bayna Raqīm wa’l-Ghifār wa sakana fī’l-Khulūṣ.

The terms used by the translator given in bold here are clearly Islamic-qurʾānic names. The term balad al-qiblah is used to designate the biblical Holy Land (the Negev being in southern Palestine), which makes sense if we consider the translator has referred to the former qiblah of Muslims there. Using the term raqīm (Q 18:9) again suggests that the translator was interested in Islamicizing the Bible. Replacing Kadesh with Raqīm does not make sense here, unless we refer to early qurʾānic commentaries, among others, Tanwīr al-miqbās min tafsīr Ibn ʿAbbās. In this commentary, the interpreter said that the term “refers to the valley where this cave [i.e. the cave of the Ahl al-kahf or ‘People of the Cave’ mentioned in Sūrah 18] was; and it is also said that it refers to a city …”10 The Genesis account is thereby made to refer to a qurʾānic place-name.

In another place, אֲדֹנָי (adonai, my Lord) in Genesis 19:18, “And Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords,” which has been commonly translated as sayyidī, has been replaced with rasūl Allāh, the messenger of God. This proves that the translator made an effort to Islamicize the Bible. Interestingly, this Bible manuscript also has the Britannia watermark.

Another Qur’an Manuscript

MSR-35, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand (image credit: M. Daneshgar).

MSR-35, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand (image credit: M. Daneshgar).

My impression is that the Qurʾān manuscript MS 11 was produced for and circulated in one of the territories of the British Empire in the nineteenth century.

An interesting comparison may be made with MSR-35, another Qurʾān manuscript, this one preserved in the National Library of New Zealand, in the Alexander Turnbull Library Collections in Wellington.

In terms of handwriting and paper quality, MSR-35 resembles MS 11, and it likewise includes a few images, including crosses, used in Christianity. It is also an incomplete version of the Qur’ān, starting with Q 18 (the aforementioned Sūrat al-Kahf).

According to an acquisition notice attached to MSR-35, this Qurʾān was donated to the British and Foreign Bible Society by one Mrs. E. F. Denton Leech of Dunedin, New Zealand, sometime in the first half of the twentieth century. The manuscript had been in her family for a number of decades, having been found by an unnamed ancestor in British military service in the Punjab during a ‘frontier incident’ sometime around 1887.

Conjectures

It is apparent that the scribe or copyist of MS 11 did not overtly change qurʾānic terms and phrases to conform to the Bible (i.e. biblicization), for the qurʾānic text itself remains intact and conforms by and large to the standard textus receptus of the Qurʾān.

Instead, when particular passages in this Qurʾān allude to biblical names, older Judeo-Christian scripture, and the uniqueness of God (a theological principle compatible with Christianity), the copyist added Christian visual elements into the manuscript. Adding a full page with six crosses to the beginning of chapter 19, Sūrat Maryam, dedicated to the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, suggests that the copyist wanted to place special emphasis on this chapter. We may infer that he was impressed by Christian theology, or may even have been a Christian believer. In this connection, it is also worth noting again that MS 11 actually begins with Sūrat Maryam, presumably to emphasize that chapter, relocating Sūrah 1 to the end of the manuscript.

It is not farfetched to imagine that his manuscript (and possibly MSR-35) was, culturally or politically, produced for the colonial subjects of the British Empire. The evidence suggests that British authorities in general and Queen Victoria (d. 1901) in particular, despite maintaining Britain’s dominion over colonized people, respected their religion and tried to show that they valued God’s word. This recalls earlier attempts by French leaders in Egypt; for example, Napoleon Bonaparte (d. 1821), “to gain the trust of the Egyptian people… issued proclamations that stated his respect for the Islamic religion…”11

A painting dated to around 1863 by Thomas Jones Baker (d. 1882) in the National Portrait Gallery in London depicts Queen Victoria offering a copy of the Bible to an ambassador from East Africa, where Christians used to live. Both the British government and the Queen seemingly invoked scripture in conducting international affairs: “To the ruler of Abeokuta the Yoruba region of Nigeria – in 1849, Victoria sent copies of the Bible in English and Arabic ‘to show how much she values God’s word’.”12 Further documents also show that Queen Victoria was interested in Islamic language and culture. With the help of her Muslim servant, Abdul Karim, she tried to learn Urdu and the “Indian language Hindustani.”13

While we cannot be sure about the circumstances under which this qurʾānic manuscript was produced, we might surmise that British agents and companies sought to create such unique versions of the Qurʾān and other religious texts, enlisting individuals more or less familiar with the culture and literature of colonized peoples.

CAPTION

Detail, “The Secret of England’s Greatness” by Thomas Jones Baker, c. 1863. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, United Kingdom.

Additionally, one wonders how such ‘baptized,’ Islamicized, and, more importantly, Anglicized manuscripts shaped Muslims’ and Christians’ understanding of their respective religions. For example, the reader of MS11 would be encouraged to imagine Christian elements while reciting the Qurʾān. Similarly, for the reader of MS 10, Negev and Palestine are not ‘biblical’ anymore, but rather carry Islamic and qurʾānic associations

We may also wonder about the effect these ‘colonial’ scriptures’ overt association with Britain had on their colonized readers. Did the appearance of Britannia on the pages of the Qurʾān or an Arabic Bible encourage subordination and acceptance of imperial authority, or rather instead induce a feeling of humiliation?

 

MAJID DANESHGAR is a lecturer at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He teaches Islamic Studies and his research interests pertain to the connection between Islamic intellectual and exegetical progress in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as Malay Islamic studies. His main volumes are The Qur’ān in the Malay-Indonesian World: Context and Interpretation, co-edited with Peter G. Riddell and Andrew Rippin (Routledge 2016) and Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, co-edited with Walid A. Saleh (Brill 2016). His monograph on the modern Qurʾān exegete Tantawi Jawhari (d. 1940), Tantawi Jawhari and the Quran: Tafsir and Social Concerns in the Twentieth Century, will be published in 2017.

 

  1. I thank Donald Kerr and Romilly Smith of the Special Collections of Otago University and Anthony Tedeschi and Audrey Waugh at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, for providing me with copies of various Islamic manuscripts, and David S. Powers for reading a draft of this report. I acknowledge the National Portrait Gallery, UK for granting me the permission to use the image of the painting “The Secret of England’s Greatness.” I also thank Thomas McLean, Orhan Elmaz, and Ronny Vollandt for providing me with their helpful comments. Of course, all errors are mine.
  2. The illegible title given to Q 37 here (which looks like Al-Yaqīn) does not seem to correspond to the commonly attested alternate title for Sūrat al-Ṣāffāt, Al-Dhabīḥ. A number of other sūrahs appear with their secondary titles: Al-Ghāfir, Muḥammad, Qāf and Al-Bayyinah appear as Al-Ṭawl, Al-Qitāl, Al-Basiqāt and Lam Yakun, respectively.
  3. Available in English translation at www.altafsir.com (http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=87&tAyahNo=1&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2).
  4. See François Déroche, Qurʾans of the Umayyads: A First Overview (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
  5. Tatsuo Tokoo, A Catalogue and Index of the Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and a General Index to the Facsimile Edition of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, Volumes 1-22 (New York: Routledge, 2002), 12.
  6. On this, see the National Galley of Australia article on the iconography of the Pro Patria watermark (http://nga.gov.au/Conservation/Watermarks/details/ProPatria.cfm#_ftn1).
  7. Ibid. Regarding watermarks in American papers, see Kirsten Tyree, “Hunting for Watermarks,” The Bigger Picture: Exploring Archives and Smithsonian History, November 29, 2012.
  8. W. A. Churchill, Watermarks in Paper: In Holland, England, France, etc., in the XVII and XVIII Centuries and Their Interconnection (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger & Co., 1967), 43.
  9. Penn Ms. Coll. 390, Item 900 (http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/detail.html?id=MEDREN_6243177).Other samples of watermarks may be found here: http://papermoulds.typepad.com/photos/m255_bachelor_son_laid_mo/m255c-batchelor-son-britannia-watermark.html.
  10. Moreover, the term khulūṣ connotes purity, freshness and deliverance, and so suggests a connection with the wells reopened by Isaac in the valley of Gerar according to Genesis 26.
  11. Janet Swatscheno and Patricia Denci, “Napoleon Bonaparte’s Proclamations, Speeches and Letters during his Campaign in Egypt 9-16” DePaul University Libraries Napoleon Translations, January 2009, Paper 8. See also Majid Daneshgar, “Behind the Scenes: A Review of Western Figures’ Supportive Comments Regarding the Qur’an,” Al-Bayan Journal of Qur’an and Hadith Studies 11 (2013): 131-153.
  12. For more information about this painting and its context, see www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw00071/The-Secret-of-Englands-Greatness-Queen-Victoria-presenting-a-Bible-in-the-Audience-Chamber-at-Windsor.
  13. See the digital ‘Scrapbook’ produced by the Royal Archives for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee: http://www.queen-victorias-scrapbook.org/contents/5-6.html.

Add comment

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry, you must be logged in to post a comment.

A ‘Baptized’ Qurʾān?

On a Unique Illuminated Manuscript at the University of Otago


Majid Daneshgar


The Special Collections of the University of Otago in New Zealand have much to offer to scholars of history, culture, and religious studies.1 Several important manuscripts in this collection have yet to receive the attention they deserve.

These include philosophical treatises, travellers’ reports and novels by influential European figures, and a wide range of classical and pre-twentieth-century works of the Muslim world. The Islamic manuscripts include Maḥmūd b. ʿUsmān’s fourteenth-century commentary on the Preface (Dībācheh) of the Gulistān of the Persian poet Saʿdī; the Dalāʾil al-khayrat by al-Jazūlī; an Arabic translation of Genesis and Exodus; and Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn’s translation and Thābit b. Qurra’s revision of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. They also include the unique manuscript of the Qurʾān that is the subject of this research report.

A Unique Qurʾān Manuscript

While investigating the manuscripts of the Canon William Ardene Shoults (d. 1887) Collection, I came across a manuscript identified simply as “the Koran” (MS 11), seemingly produced around 1846, comprised of 103 folios.

Top: Q 25:47 was accidentally omitted from the main text of the chapter and inserted in the margin. Bottom: Q 37 has been given a title other than the standard one, Al-Ṣāffāt (possibly Al-Yaqīn). Note that the title of the sūrah and supporting information are outlined in yellow, and the basmalah outlined in black, to set them apart from the verses of the chapter.

Top: Q 25:47 was accidentally omitted from the main text of the chapter and inserted in the margin. Bottom: Q 37 has been given a title other than the standard one, Al-Ṣāffāt (possibly Al-Yaqīn). Note that the title of the sūrah and supporting information are outlined in yellow, and the basmalah outlined in black, to set them apart from the verses of the chapter.

In many places, the handwriting is not clear and the copyist(s) occasionally missed some words, phrases, or even a whole verse, which has been inserted in the margin of the manuscript, perhaps by someone else (e.g., Q 25:47 is missing in the original body of the text and was later added in the margin). It should be noted that this is very uncommon in copies of the Qurʾān.

Also, the names of some chapters are not given correctly or are shown with a secondary title.

For instance, the name of Q 37, Al-Ṣāffāt, has been changed to something else (the substituted name is illegible).2 Chapter 38, Ṣād, uses the secondary title Dāwūd (David).

In this qurʾānic manuscript, verses often end with a three-dot sign resembling that found in early Qurʾāns. In most cases, hamzah (glottal stop) and hamzat al-waṣl are shown with a blue or yellow dot. Many words and phrases, such as ṣāliḥan in Q 23:51, are illegible.

ms11-02

Top: ṣāliḥan in Q 23:51, written in thick black lines, perhaps to cover up an error. Bottom: fīhā, written twice in Q 24:35, is marked with a dotted line.

 

 

The catchwords are sometimes missing, too. The color of the diacritics as well as the quality of sheets are occasionally changed.

Frequently, orthographical and structural errors are placed inside circular dotted lines.

For instance, Q 24:35 wrongly repeats the term fīhā, presumably due to dittography: fīhā miṣbāḥun al-miṣbāḥ was mistakenly changed to fīhā miṣbāḥun fīhā al-miṣbāḥ.

Interestingly, the Qurʾān ends with the name of Sūrat al-Fātiḥah (Q 1), which is identified by the copyist as a Medinan chapter. Here, as elsewhere, the titles of sūrahs are clumsily outlined to make them stand out from the verses of the chapters.

 

Christianizing Elements in MS 11

Apart from the abovementioned (rather uncommon) errors in the qurʾānic text itself, my report addresses the illuminations and ornaments used in MS 11. These elements, which coincide with those commonly used in Christianity, have prompted me to call this manuscript a ‘baptized’ one. That is, by adding these elements, the copyist may have intended to visually mark this Qurʾān as associated with Christians or Christianity somehow.

ms11-03

Surprisingly, MS 11 starts with Sūrat Maryam (Q 19), and the first page features an ornament of six crosses in red placed inside a circle surrounded by geometrical shapes, with the ornament overall resembling a flower.

Triangular signs evoking the Trinity, circles, and images that appear to resemble Christian architectural elements are found throughout this manuscript. Also, two wheels that look like flowers encompassing six white crosses are vertically positioned between Q 34:30-33. These verses address disbelievers’ rejection of the Qurʾān and earlier scriptures. They also refer to the comments of the oppressed community to the arrogant people that they “disbelieved in Allah …”

Before finishing Q 54:40 and starting 54:41 (and there certainly came to the people of Pharaoh a warning), we find an ornament that includes three interconnected circles, a symbol readily associated with Christianity.

ms11-04

The last verses of Q 66, referring to the wives of Noah, Lot, and Pharaoh, and ending with a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus (66:12), are shown here to the left. The space between 66:12 and the next chapter (al-Mulk) is filled with an image that includes circles, pillars, crosses and other popular Christian symbols.

Elements commonly used in Christian literature and visual culture are displayed at the beginning of Q 87 (Sūrat al-Aʿlā). The first verse of this chapter, [O Prophet], praise the name of your Lord, the Most High (al-aʿlā)…, is explained as a reference to tawḥīd, the oneness of God, and His uniqueness in classical commentaries. Thus, Tanwīr al-Miqbās, also known as Tafsīr Ibn ʿAbbās, paraphrases the verse: “…Remember, O Muhammad, the divine oneness (tawḥīd) of your Lord…”3 Three yellow crosses on top of each other inside an oval separate the phrases of Q 87:1-6 from each other.

 

Some early Qur’an manuscripts included a few “cross-shaped devices” as well as “cross-like elements,”4 but one wonders why a nineteenth-century Qurʾān manuscript is replete with signs and elements associated with Christianity.

Several pages of this Qurʾān have a watermark with an image of Britannia, “a seated female figure, with helmet, shield and trident,”5 apparently holding the stem of a flower6 or leaves in her right hand in an oval. The shield’s center shows the British flag. This, along with other watermarks that appear in the manuscript, indicates that the paper was produced by two different companies: W. Warren & Sons (with the date 1846 given with the watermark WWARREN & SONS 1846) and Moinier’s (some pages being marked MOINIER’s PATENT).

ms11-05

A watermark generally proves the authenticity of a document. The Britannia watermark was produced extensively in eighteenth– and nineteenth–century Europe (e.g. Holland) and in America for the English market.7 It was used “to distinguish English foolscap size of paper.”8 WWARREN & SONS 1846 and MOINIER’s PATENT are both lettering watermarks that tell us the names of the manufacturers.

The formal characteristics of an extant manuscript of the Brahmānandayogānanda by Mādhava, dated 1850, a treatise of “Hindu philosophy from the perspective of the Advaita (non-dualism) Vedānta School of philosophy,” are very similar to those of MS 11. For example, mistakes and corrections are also shown in the margin with different colors. This manuscript of the Brahmānandayogānanda is kept in the library of the University of Pennsylvania. Its folios bear watermarks “with the date 1847 together with the name W. Warren & Sons and a crest with a seated Britannia on it,” similar to MS 11 of the University of Otago.9 Clearly W. Warren & Sons produced the papers used in both of MS11 and UPenn Ms. Coll. 390 in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Comparison with other Manuscripts

An Islamicized Bible

MS 11, a unique example of a Qurʾān ‘baptized’ by its copyist – for reasons we cannot be sure of – is complemented by another manuscript in the Otago collection, MS 10. This is an Arabic translation of the Bible, copied in the early nineteenth century, that appears to have been ‘Islamicized’ by the translator.

For example, the common Arabic translation of Genesis 20:1, compatible with the Hebrew version, says: intaqala Ibrāhīm min hunāk ilā arḍ al-janūb wa-sakana bayna Qādish wa- Shūr wa-tagharraba fī Jarār: “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar…”

However, MS 10 gives this verse as thumma raḥala min thamma Ibrāhīm ilā balad al-qiblah wa-aqāma bayna Raqīm wa’l-Ghifār wa sakana fī’l-Khulūṣ.

The terms used by the translator given in bold here are clearly Islamic-qurʾānic names. The term balad al-qiblah is used to designate the biblical Holy Land (the Negev being in southern Palestine), which makes sense if we consider the translator has referred to the former qiblah of Muslims there. Using the term raqīm (Q 18:9) again suggests that the translator was interested in Islamicizing the Bible. Replacing Kadesh with Raqīm does not make sense here, unless we refer to early qurʾānic commentaries, among others, Tanwīr al-miqbās min tafsīr Ibn ʿAbbās. In this commentary, the interpreter said that the term “refers to the valley where this cave [i.e. the cave of the Ahl al-kahf or ‘People of the Cave’ mentioned in Sūrah 18] was; and it is also said that it refers to a city …”10 The Genesis account is thereby made to refer to a qurʾānic place-name.

In another place, אֲדֹנָי (adonai, my Lord) in Genesis 19:18, “And Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords,” which has been commonly translated as sayyidī, has been replaced with rasūl Allāh, the messenger of God. This proves that the translator made an effort to Islamicize the Bible. Interestingly, this Bible manuscript also has the Britannia watermark.

Another Qur’an Manuscript

MSR-35, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand (image credit: M. Daneshgar).

MSR-35, courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand (image credit: M. Daneshgar).

My impression is that the Qurʾān manuscript MS 11 was produced for and circulated in one of the territories of the British Empire in the nineteenth century.

An interesting comparison may be made with MSR-35, another Qurʾān manuscript, this one preserved in the National Library of New Zealand, in the Alexander Turnbull Library Collections in Wellington.

In terms of handwriting and paper quality, MSR-35 resembles MS 11, and it likewise includes a few images, including crosses, used in Christianity. It is also an incomplete version of the Qur’ān, starting with Q 18 (the aforementioned Sūrat al-Kahf).

According to an acquisition notice attached to MSR-35, this Qurʾān was donated to the British and Foreign Bible Society by one Mrs. E. F. Denton Leech of Dunedin, New Zealand, sometime in the first half of the twentieth century. The manuscript had been in her family for a number of decades, having been found by an unnamed ancestor in British military service in the Punjab during a ‘frontier incident’ sometime around 1887.

Conjectures

It is apparent that the scribe or copyist of MS 11 did not overtly change qurʾānic terms and phrases to conform to the Bible (i.e. biblicization), for the qurʾānic text itself remains intact and conforms by and large to the standard textus receptus of the Qurʾān.

Instead, when particular passages in this Qurʾān allude to biblical names, older Judeo-Christian scripture, and the uniqueness of God (a theological principle compatible with Christianity), the copyist added Christian visual elements into the manuscript. Adding a full page with six crosses to the beginning of chapter 19, Sūrat Maryam, dedicated to the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, suggests that the copyist wanted to place special emphasis on this chapter. We may infer that he was impressed by Christian theology, or may even have been a Christian believer. In this connection, it is also worth noting again that MS 11 actually begins with Sūrat Maryam, presumably to emphasize that chapter, relocating Sūrah 1 to the end of the manuscript.

It is not farfetched to imagine that his manuscript (and possibly MSR-35) was, culturally or politically, produced for the colonial subjects of the British Empire. The evidence suggests that British authorities in general and Queen Victoria (d. 1901) in particular, despite maintaining Britain’s dominion over colonized people, respected their religion and tried to show that they valued God’s word. This recalls earlier attempts by French leaders in Egypt; for example, Napoleon Bonaparte (d. 1821), “to gain the trust of the Egyptian people… issued proclamations that stated his respect for the Islamic religion…”11

A painting dated to around 1863 by Thomas Jones Baker (d. 1882) in the National Portrait Gallery in London depicts Queen Victoria offering a copy of the Bible to an ambassador from East Africa, where Christians used to live. Both the British government and the Queen seemingly invoked scripture in conducting international affairs: “To the ruler of Abeokuta the Yoruba region of Nigeria – in 1849, Victoria sent copies of the Bible in English and Arabic ‘to show how much she values God’s word’.”12 Further documents also show that Queen Victoria was interested in Islamic language and culture. With the help of her Muslim servant, Abdul Karim, she tried to learn Urdu and the “Indian language Hindustani.”13

While we cannot be sure about the circumstances under which this qurʾānic manuscript was produced, we might surmise that British agents and companies sought to create such unique versions of the Qurʾān and other religious texts, enlisting individuals more or less familiar with the culture and literature of colonized peoples.

CAPTION

Detail, “The Secret of England’s Greatness” by Thomas Jones Baker, c. 1863. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, United Kingdom.

Additionally, one wonders how such ‘baptized,’ Islamicized, and, more importantly, Anglicized manuscripts shaped Muslims’ and Christians’ understanding of their respective religions. For example, the reader of MS11 would be encouraged to imagine Christian elements while reciting the Qurʾān. Similarly, for the reader of MS 10, Negev and Palestine are not ‘biblical’ anymore, but rather carry Islamic and qurʾānic associations

We may also wonder about the effect these ‘colonial’ scriptures’ overt association with Britain had on their colonized readers. Did the appearance of Britannia on the pages of the Qurʾān or an Arabic Bible encourage subordination and acceptance of imperial authority, or rather instead induce a feeling of humiliation?

 

MAJID DANESHGAR is a lecturer at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He teaches Islamic Studies and his research interests pertain to the connection between Islamic intellectual and exegetical progress in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as Malay Islamic studies. His main volumes are The Qur’ān in the Malay-Indonesian World: Context and Interpretation, co-edited with Peter G. Riddell and Andrew Rippin (Routledge 2016) and Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, co-edited with Walid A. Saleh (Brill 2016). His monograph on the modern Qurʾān exegete Tantawi Jawhari (d. 1940), Tantawi Jawhari and the Quran: Tafsir and Social Concerns in the Twentieth Century, will be published in 2017.

 

  1. I thank Donald Kerr and Romilly Smith of the Special Collections of Otago University and Anthony Tedeschi and Audrey Waugh at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, for providing me with copies of various Islamic manuscripts, and David S. Powers for reading a draft of this report. I acknowledge the National Portrait Gallery, UK for granting me the permission to use the image of the painting “The Secret of England’s Greatness.” I also thank Thomas McLean, Orhan Elmaz, and Ronny Vollandt for providing me with their helpful comments. Of course, all errors are mine.
  2. The illegible title given to Q 37 here (which looks like Al-Yaqīn) does not seem to correspond to the commonly attested alternate title for Sūrat al-Ṣāffāt, Al-Dhabīḥ. A number of other sūrahs appear with their secondary titles: Al-Ghāfir, Muḥammad, Qāf and Al-Bayyinah appear as Al-Ṭawl, Al-Qitāl, Al-Basiqāt and Lam Yakun, respectively.
  3. Available in English translation at www.altafsir.com (http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=87&tAyahNo=1&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2).
  4. See François Déroche, Qurʾans of the Umayyads: A First Overview (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
  5. Tatsuo Tokoo, A Catalogue and Index of the Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and a General Index to the Facsimile Edition of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, Volumes 1-22 (New York: Routledge, 2002), 12.
  6. On this, see the National Galley of Australia article on the iconography of the Pro Patria watermark (http://nga.gov.au/Conservation/Watermarks/details/ProPatria.cfm#_ftn1).
  7. Ibid. Regarding watermarks in American papers, see Kirsten Tyree, “Hunting for Watermarks,” The Bigger Picture: Exploring Archives and Smithsonian History, November 29, 2012.
  8. W. A. Churchill, Watermarks in Paper: In Holland, England, France, etc., in the XVII and XVIII Centuries and Their Interconnection (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger & Co., 1967), 43.
  9. Penn Ms. Coll. 390, Item 900 (http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/detail.html?id=MEDREN_6243177).Other samples of watermarks may be found here: http://papermoulds.typepad.com/photos/m255_bachelor_son_laid_mo/m255c-batchelor-son-britannia-watermark.html.
  10. Moreover, the term khulūṣ connotes purity, freshness and deliverance, and so suggests a connection with the wells reopened by Isaac in the valley of Gerar according to Genesis 26.
  11. Janet Swatscheno and Patricia Denci, “Napoleon Bonaparte’s Proclamations, Speeches and Letters during his Campaign in Egypt 9-16” DePaul University Libraries Napoleon Translations, January 2009, Paper 8. See also Majid Daneshgar, “Behind the Scenes: A Review of Western Figures’ Supportive Comments Regarding the Qur’an,” Al-Bayan Journal of Qur’an and Hadith Studies 11 (2013): 131-153.
  12. For more information about this painting and its context, see www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw00071/The-Secret-of-Englands-Greatness-Queen-Victoria-presenting-a-Bible-in-the-Audience-Chamber-at-Windsor.
  13. See the digital ‘Scrapbook’ produced by the Royal Archives for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee: http://www.queen-victorias-scrapbook.org/contents/5-6.html.

A ‘Baptized’ Qurʾān?

On a Unique Illuminated Manuscript at the University of Otago

A ‘Baptized’ Qurʾān?

On a Unique Illuminated Manuscript at the University of Otago