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Mapping the Blue Qur'an

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Where was the the Blue Qur’an created?

The Blue Qur’an is a unique Qur’anic manuscript that was created in South Europe or North Africa and is thought to have contained 600 parchment folios. Its exact place of creation has been a topic of debate, with suggestions including Tunisia, Spain, or Sicily, all of which are in the western part of the Islamic world.

The script used in the Blue Qur’an features gold lettering on a blue background, similar to inscriptions found on notable monuments like the Great Mosque of Cordoba. However, when examining the paleographic characteristics of the letters, it leans towards a Tunisian origin, perhaps during the Aghlabid dynasty (800-909) or at the outset of the Fatimids while they were still based in North Africa before their relocation to Egypt (909-950).

Furthermore, the fact that the Blue Qur’an was once part of the Great Mosque of Kairouan’s collection, along with similarities to other Qurans in the same collection, strongly indicates a Kairouan origin, the city having been a hub of significant artistic and intellectual activity during the Fatimid period.

Attributing its origin to Andalusia in Spain is less convincing, as there are limited examples of Kufic script from Andalusia available for comparative study.

Where is it in 2023?

The majority of the manuscripts of this period have been dismembered at some point or another in history and the Blue Qur’an is no exception. It is now kept in its great majority in Tunisia, except for the first four juz, which are scattered in museums and private collections around the world. Individual leaves of the blue Qur’an have appeared on the art market since the early twentieth century.

The biggest section of the manuscript is in the National Institute of Art and Archaeology in Tunis, while detached leaves or fragments are found in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; the Harvard University Art Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, the Los Angeles County Museums of Arts, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and in various private collections including the Aga Khan Museum Collection in Toronto, the David collection in Copenhagen, and the Nasser D. Khalili Collection in London.

Overall, over fifty folios of this Qur’an are now dispersed, in public and private museums worldwide: these all belong to the first seventh of the Qur’an.