Review of Al-Azami’s Ageless Quran Timeless Text.

 

Jul 23rd 201925 tweets, 7 min read  Read on Twitter
I recently reviewed Muḥammad Muṣṭafá al-Aʻẓamī’s (1932-2017) 𝘈𝘨𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘘𝘶𝘳’𝘢𝘯 𝘛𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘛𝘦𝘹𝘵 for @tafsircenter in Arabic [link: tiny.cc/qurn32]. Now, I will be highlighting some of the crucial points I made there, plus some extras. THREAD!
1. *Context. When it comes to reproducing/publishing early Qur’anic manuscripts, we basically have two ways to follow, either diplomatic or facsimile editions. Yes, I know, Digital Humanities counts too.
2. The diplomatic edition is based on the idea of publishing the transcription of a single MS with the attempt to faithfully reproducing the original text of X manuscript. Pictures are not eliminated, as DP usually have some picture samples.
3. Certain conventional symbols are used in diplomatic editions to express the various aspects of the text (corrections, additions, alterations, lacune, etc.). The transcription of early Qurans might look something like that.
Remember, systems vary.
4. Here, I mentioned “Leaves From Three Ancient Qur’ans…” (1914; reprinted 2014) by Alphonse Mingana & Agnes Lewis Smith as being the earliest known example of a Quranic manuscript (hence a palimpsest) published as a diplomatic edition way back in the early 20th century.
5. In modern days, the diplomatic edition is sometimes used by editors when permission—from institutional authorities—to reproduce the originals is not given for whatever reason. For comparisons, I refer you to F. Déroche
(2009) & A. Hilali (2017); both were released w/o pics.

 

6. Before I discuss facsimiles, a quick note on critical edition, that is the establishment of the “best text” through various manuscripts. The editor here chooses a “copy text” based on the most authoritative papers and then corrects it using “variants” found in other MSS
German scholars in the first half of the 20th century—lead by G. Bergsträsser—were working extensively on collecting early Qur’anic manuscripts from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. In addition to editing and publishing qira’at and rasm manuscripts.
7. To establish the “best text” as accurately as possible from dozens of existing MSS, then listing the “variants” in MSS compared to those in Islamic tradition. However, luck was hardly on their side. This edition never came to light mainly because of the Second World War.
8. The *alleged* destruction of the Quranic Archive in Munich by a bomb put an end to the project. “It is thus extremely doubtful if our generation will see the completion of a really critical edition of the text of the Qur’an,” wrote Arthur Jeffery on October 31, 1946.
9. Facsimile edition. It’s a reproduction of the original work as accurately as possible in terms of scale, colour, conditions, and other features. Simply, “to make alike.”
Facsimile editions help scholars and researchers accessing the oldest and finest manuscripts in the world.

10. Early Quranic manuscripts were *systematically* reproduced—as facsimile edition—when French and Italian scholars launched the Amari Project in the late 1990s. On this project, you can read my other article here: quranmss.com/2019/04/13/nos…

Some example of Quranic replicas:

 

11. To avoid some confusion, I prefer to differentiate between a “facsimile” and a “facsimile-like” editions. The latter—which is embodied in the works of Tayyar Altikulaç—doesn’t reproduce the manuscript in its original size but rather minimize it, which is fine.

An example:

12. *The Book. The title reads Ageless Qur’an Timeless Text: A Visual Study of Sura 17 Across 14 Centuries & 19 Manuscripts.
13. al-Aʻẓamī disliked DE:
“We ourselves never see the
original manuscript, the flourish of the quill as it traced its inky path upon parchment, the uncertainty caused by a scribe’s poorly formed letter, the millennia of damage and dirt caking over everything…,” he wrote.
14. Unlike the editions mentioned above, this sequential visual collation of Sūrah al-Isrā’ from 17 different Quranic manuscripts and fragments; is an unprecedented approach in the study of Quranic manuscripts.

15. -At the very top, the modern printed Quran, known as Mushaf King Fahad, is represented.

-The second line is the skeleton text as in the printed Quran but without diacritics or vowels.

-The third line to the rest, Qur’anic MSS from approx. mid-1st c. AH to 7th c. AH

 

16. To perfectly cover Sūrah al-Isrāʼ, al-Aʻẓamī relied upon Quranic manuscripts from several libraries, museums, and institutions in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Germany, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
17. He included tables showing differences in orthography (rasm) between applied MSS and the printed Quran. Most of these “variants” associated with the omission of alifat al-madd:
قال/قل
قالوا/قلو
السموات/السموت
etc.And alif maqsurah/mamdudah:
الأقصى/الأقصا
على/علا

18. As you can see from this table, the text of Surah al-Isrāʼ in MSS compared to that in modern printed Quran (Ḥafṣ via ʻĀṣim); is significantly identical. For experts, this is not a surprise.
19. The scribes of these Quranic manuscripts were so faithful and professional. Out of 111 verses, the scribal errors does not exceed 0.007%. That is a VERY VERY VERY VERY insignificant number. Almost non-existent!
20. This kind of editions enables readers to see each Quranic verse, scrutinize it, and compare it with other manuscripts from 1st cen. AH onward, in one single page. Excellent service!
21. By doing that, you can immediately observe the development of Quranic scripts over time, recognize the orthographic preferences/readings in MSS to that in modern printed Quran. Not to mention the unique aesthetic elements each manuscript has.
22. In the conclusion of my review, I praised this unique “visual approach” in illustrating Quranic manuscripts written in different periods, hands, and calligraphic styles. For the above reasons, I advised that al-Aʻẓamī’s method be implemented in future Quranic catalogues.