Annabel Gallop and Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd about Qur'an manuscripts in the West.
We have a fresh opportunity to reflect about Qur'an Manuscripts. At this point Dr. Annabel Gallop is going to speak about her views on Qur'an Manuscripts.
Annabel Gallop is Lead Curator for Southeast Asia at the British Library, and author of several studies on the art of the Islamic book in Southeast Asia, including the following:
The art of the Malay Qur’an. Arts of Asia, Jan-Feb 2012, pp.84-95.
The Boné Qur’an from South Sulawesi. Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the book and calligraphy, ed. Margaret S. Graves and Benoît Junod. Istanbul: Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sakip Sabanci University & Museum, 2010, pp.162-173.
The art of the Qur’an in Southeast Asia. Word of God, Art of Man: the Qur’an and its creative expressions. Selected proceedings from the International Colloquium, London, 18-21 October 2003. Edited by Fahmida Suleman. Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007, pp.191-204.
Islamic manuscript art of Southeast Asia. Crescent moon: Islamic art & civilisation in Southeast Asia, ed. James Bennett. Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2005, pp.156-183.
Q: First of all I know your efforts are great, I wonder what made you focus on Qur'an Manuscripts?
A G: As curator for Malay and Indonesian collections at the British Library, I have always been interested in Malay manuscript art, but there are very few finely illuminated Malay manuscripts.
After a long while, I realised that this was because the main artistic energies of manuscript artists in the Malay world of maritime Southeast Asia were channelled into beautifying the Supreme Book, the Qur’an – and it is therefore Qur’an manuscripts which are the finest manifestations of Islamic illumination in Southeast Asia.
Q: Could you elaborate on Southeast Asian Qur'an Manuscripts in the west?
A G: Not easily, because early Western scholars of the Malay world and collectors of manuscripts were not very interested in Islam; they preferred to delve into the pre-Islamic Hindu-Buddhist past of the region. As a result, there are very few Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts in British or European collections; the finest examples are in Southeast Asia itself.
Q: Can you give us some examples of your findings in Qur'an Manuscripts?
A G: I have found that illumination in Qur’an manuscripts exhibits strongly regional characteristics, and therefore on the basis of the structure, pigments and ornamentation of illuminated frames alone it is possible to identify the regional origin of a Qur’an manuscript from Southeast Asia. For example, there are distinct styles of illumination associated with Aceh in north Sumatra, with the states of Terengganu, Kelantan and Patani on the east coast of the Malay peninsula, and with the southern part of the island of Sulawesi.
Q:There are distinct styles of illumination associated with Aceh in north Sumatra, Could you elaborate on that please?
A G: The Acehnese style is very distinctive because the illuminated frames always adhere to a clear architectural model: the vertical borders on either side of the text block are extended upwards and downwards, and three outer sides of the frame on each page are adorned with arches. The arches on the outer vertical borders are always flanked by a pair of ‘wings’ or elaborate finials.
The colour scheme is always red, yellow, black and ‘reserved white’, which is not white pigment but the background colour of the paper, and ‘reserved white’ plays the most important role in carrying the main scrolling motif. Gold is never found in Acehnese manuscript illumination. The fine typical example shown here is from the Aceh Museum (07.1570).
Q: I wonder how you like Qur'an Manuscripts?
AG: I am impressed by their austere beauty, and the aesthetic balance between space and decoration, which aids the contemplation of the Divine.
Q: Islamic manuscripts from the Philippines in U.S. collections: a preliminary listing, including two printed Qur’ans. Could you elaborate on that please?
A G: After some years of studying Qur’an manuscripts from present-day Malaysia and Indonesia, I wondered what Qur’ans from the Muslim regions of the southern Philippines looked like. It was difficult to answer this question, as they are very rare and no pictures had been published.
Through research on the internet, I was able to find out that a number of Qur’an manuscripts and prayer books had been captured by U.S. forces in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao in around 1910, and these were now held in U.S. institutions, including the Smithsonian, and so I wrote an article about these for publication in an online journal, Our Own Voice:
which included the listing that you mentioned above:
Q: I read them they seem to be so interesting, Focusing on the distinctive and exquisite illuminations and other decorative elements found in Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, you discussed the characteristics of the art of Qur’anic manuscripts in the region. Could you show us Qur’anic manuscripts?
A G: This is an exquisite Qur’an manuscript from Kelantan or Patani, dating from around the early 19th century, held in the British Library (Or. 15227):
Q: No doubt you have been looking for Qur'an Manuscripts in west, what about the newest in this field?
A G: There is a very fine Qur’an dated 1804 from the kingdom of Bone in Sulawesi, Indonesia, that is held in the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKM 00488), currently in Geneva, but which will eventually move to the new Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
Q: Could you elaborate on Qur'an Manuscripts Arabs have never seen or known that you’ve seen in western Museums?
A G: I was thrilled to find a Qur’an from the Philippines in Bristol University Library (DM 32). This is the only Philippine Qur’an manuscript in Europe, as far as I am aware.
Q: Me too, I wonder what it was like.
A G: It is quite simple, written on locally-made paper, but with an illuminated page at the end. It was written at what is perhaps geographically the furthest edge of the Islamic world, and yet conforms to all the standards expected of a manuscript of the Qur’an. It is also a reminder that there are probably many other such hidden treasures, waiting to be discovered.
Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd: Thank you very much.
Annabel Gallop: Thank you for inviting me to discuss a subject which interests me so much.
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