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What is the Blue Qur'an?

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The Blue Qur’an

The Blue Qur’an is a unique manuscript of the Qur’an that was created in North Africa during the 9th or 10th century. The manuscripts was first described in 693 H/1292-1293 in the inventory of the library of Sidi Uqba Mosque in Kairouan. The inventory refers to the Qur’an as follow: “in seven volumes of great writing in gold Kufic script on parchment blue-black format. The number of verses is written in silver, wrapped in embossed wood lined with silk”.

This manuscript is renowned for its unique blue pages adorned with golden lettering, as well as its intricate geometric and floral patterns. It’s worth noting that there may have been other blue Qur’ans produced during the early centuries of Islam. Historical records mention that the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun commissioned one such manuscript. This tradition continued in North Africa until the fifteenth century, albeit on paper rather than parchment.

One example of this tradition is a folio featuring reddish-brown paper with silver and gold calligraphy, preserved in the National Library of Paris (BNF). This particular folio dates back to the reign of the Hafsid sovereign Abu Faris ‘Abd al-‘ Aziz al-Mutawakkil (1394-1434). Another Qur’an from the same period, housed in the National Library in Rabat, is written in a cursive Maghribi script with silver ink on green paper.

The Script and Format

Each page of the manuscript features fifteen lines of gold Kufic script on blue vellum, devoid of vowels and diacritical marks which makes reading the text more challenging. To demarcate the end of each verse, a decorative floral pattern illuminated in oxidized silver is used. Additionally, every set of five verses is highlighted with an illuminated pattern in the margin. The manuscript follows an oblong format, known as the “Italian” format, which was typical for ancient productions in the western part of the Muslim world. This format was adapted to accommodate the Kufic style, where some letters occasionally appeared stretched and out of proportion compared to more compact letters. This practice, known as “mashq,” was popular between the ninth and tenth centuries.

Historically, religious works were often copied onto parchment made from goat or sheepskin until the twelfth century when paper became the norm. However, vellum made from the skin of a stillborn calf, treated and dried under tension, was reserved for prestigious works like the Blue Qur’an. While parchment dyed in yellow or orange with saffron dye is more common, the use of blue indigo dye in this manuscript appears to be unique. The concept of using colored dyes may have been influenced by the Byzantine imperial codex, which employed imperial purple color derived from the murex.

The apparent simplicity of the Kufic calligraphy, the harmonious composition, and the striking contrast between the gold letters and the deep blue background make this manuscript one of the most extraordinary creations of its kind.