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A Qur’an written over the Qur’an – why making the effort?

The manuscript of the Qur’an presented here is a very special case. It is a palimpsest, a page whose script has been completely washed off and has again been written upon. After some time the first layer reappeared and can be discerned, somewhat faded, beneath the second layer. It was probably produced not more than a few decades after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 and is considered one of the earliest textual witnesses of the Qur’an. At first glance the fact that both layers contain parts of the Qur’an, that is, parts of one and the same text, is highly astonishing. The question is: for what reason did someone wash off a text, only to overwrite it with the same text, using more or less the same style of script?


A palimpsest Qur’an

The palimpsest, of which roughly three dozen fragments have survived, was discovered in 1972 during restoration works on the western wall of the Great Mosque of Sanaa. The chamber in which it had been deposited together with 40,000 other manuscript fragments of the Qur’an seems to have functioned as a kind of storeroom, because one did not dare to throw away religious texts – a practice which can also be found in Judaism.

Among the other fragments of the trove, which are of great importance for Qur’anic studies, the palimpsest takes an exceptional position. That both layers contain parts of the same text is remarkable, and equally interesting is the fact that they are written in the same type of script. This last point indicates that both layers must have originated within a relatively short time interval. This phenomenon can be explained by taking into account the historical context. The rapid expansion of the Islamic Empire after the death of the Prophet Muhammad led to disputes about the exact wording of the Qur’an, because the experts who were scattered over vast areas remembered things differently. Faced with this situation of growing divergences, Caliph Uthman (r. 644-656) – as much is reported by Islamic sources – eventually selected a group of men who where entrusted with the task of reconstructing the authentic wording of the revelation, using all oral and written testimonies that had survived as a basis for this work. The result was an official standard text, the so-called canonical version, and all other prevalent deviating versions were ordered to be destroyed – an order that was not in every place complied with immediately or without resistance.


Original version and graphical reconstruction of the lower layer (detail of fol. 23r). The strong curvature of the lines of the washed-off script that can be particularly observed in the lower part of the page could be a result of the remanufacturing process of the parchment in preparation for the new writing.

But how is the “Qur’an written over the Qur’an” concerned by this? A closer look at the lower layer reveals significant deviations from the uthmanic standard version (which, however, do not change much of the meaning of the text). Hence it is very likely that we have here a precanonical version of the Qur’an that in consequence of the event of the uthmanic redaction had become undesirable and was therefore extinguished. Producing such a manuscript containing a non-official version after the standardization under Uthman is highly improbable. The more so, as already the material value shows that it must have been an expensive specimen. To produce a complete copy of the Qur’an of this size, the skin of more than 200 animals, presumably sheep or goats, would have been needed! This also seems to be one reason why the “old” manuscript had not simply been thrown away: by preparing the pages and rewriting them in the now official version the expensive parchment could be preserved. This makes the palimpsest Qur’an from Sanaa a witness of a significant event in the history of Islam: the final redaction of the Qur’an text.

But not only as such the palimpsest is of great importance. Given the early origin of both layers and given the fact, that the physical conditions reveal their relative chronological order beyond doubt, this manuscript allows valuable insights into the development of the Arabic script and orthography, the dating of manuscripts by comparing the features of different scripts and the production and ornamentation of Qur’an manuscripts in the 7th century.

The rarity and significance of this manuscript are also reflected by its monetary value. Four pages somehow made their way to western auction houses and the last of them – sold in 2008 at Christie’s – broke the world auction record for any Islamic manuscript by fetching the amazing sum of £2,484,500! This even earned it a mention in the British magazine Country Life, that is dedicated to the auctioning and sale of English country houses and, this is noteworthy, some of them are cheaper to buy than the palimpsest page.

Text by Hadiya Gurtmann
© for all pictures: DATI / Ch. Robin & H. Gurtmann / BBAW Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Source: Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC)

Huruf dan Abjad

Sebelum kemunculan pengangkaan Arab (Arabic numerals) pada sekitar kurun kelapan, sistem pernomboran abjad (alphabetic numbering) merupakan sistem yang biasa digunakan untuk tujuan pernomboran. Sistem ini wujud bagi kebanyakan bahasa pada ketika itu, terutamanya untuk bahasa-bahasa samawi (semitic), termasuklah bahasa Arab. Sistem dibawah ini boleh diibaratkan sebagai Roman numerals versi Arab dimana I, V, X dan L melambangkan 1, 5, 10 dan 50 dan seterusnya. Sama seperti itu, alif, ha, ya dan nun masing-masing melambangkan 1, 5, 10 dan 50 dan seterusnya.

ا – 1
ب – 2
ج – 3
د – 4
ه – 5
و – 6
ز – 7
ح – 8
ط – 9
ي – 10
ك – 20
ل – 30
م – 40
ن – 50
س – 60
ع – 70
ف – 80
ص – 90
ق – 100
ر – 200
ش – 300
ت – 400
ث – 500
خ – 600
ذ – 700
ض – 800
ظ – 900
غ – 1000

Penghafalan sistem yang sukar ini dimudahkan dengan mengelompokkan nombor-nombor yang berturutan bagi membentuk perkataan yang boleh dilagukan.

ابجد – abjad: 1–2–3–4
هوز – hawwaz: 5–6–7
حطي – hutthi: 8–9–10
كلمن – kalaman: 20–30–40–50
سعفص – sa’fash: 60–70–80–90
قرشت – qarasyat: 100–200–300–400
ثخذ – thakhidz: 500–600–700
ضظغ – dhazhagh: 800–900–1000

Perkembangan ilmu matematika pada kurun kedua dan ketiga hijrah amat pesat hinggakan tertubuhnya pelbagai pusat ilmuwan di serata dunia Islam. Ternyata, sistem pernomboran abjad tidak mampu menampung perkembangan ilmu bagi tujuan perhitungan yang kompleks, kerana penulisannya menjadi terlalu rumit. Penggunaan sistem ini menyorot dengan mendadak setelah sistem pengangkaan Hindu-Arab diperkenalkan. Sistem ini digunapakai secara meluas, hingga ke hari ini.

٠ 0 sifr صفر
١ 1 wahid واحد
٢ 2 ithnan إثنان
٣ 3 thalatha ثلاثة
٤ 4 arba’a أربعة
٥ 5 khamsa خمسة
٦ 6 sitta ستة
٧ 7 sab’a سبعة
٨ 8 thamaniya ثمانية
٩ 9 tis’a تسعة

Perkataan ‘abjad’ dalam bahasa Melayu mengambil nama dari empat nombor yang pertama dalam sistem Arabic alphabetic numbering, dan perkataan ‘huruf’ juga diambil dari perkataan Arab ‘haraf’ yang bermaksud single letter word.


Women are very much different in private than they are in public. They may seem petite on the outside, but not so much on the inside. And that’s perfectly okay with me. I know, because I grew up with two sisters. I know that when they leave the house, besides putting on a veil that covers their hair, they also put on a mask that covers their true identity. In fact, I’ve noticed that women have many masks that they put on for the world, and one mask that they have in the home. And that home mask, is the same one they’ve been wearing since they were a child. That home mask, to me at least, is who a woman really is. I’ve also come to realise that women are more what they hide then what they show.

My sister sometimes sings in front the mirror with a hairbrush microphone, hijab off, hair done, with full makeup, stereo blazing on high. Pretending to be a superstar, or a princess is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about who’s watching. When I stumble into her room and see her do the things she does, I am reminded of how Allah has created men and women so differently. And yes sometimes I do get annoyed at her idiosyncrasies that only we siblings know about, but those are the little things that make her mine.

Sometimes on a hot sunny day, I know that my sisters secretly wish they could just flip off their tudungs, and let the wind blow in their hair. Or let the cool breeze whisk on their skin, with the car window down, short sleeves and all. I know how they would love to just jump in the public pool for a dip, or walk on the white sandy beaches and swim in the crystal blue sea without having to worry about covering up. Only I know what they look like when they don’t have to. But again, those are the things that make them mine.

Allah has created men and women differently, because I believe that they were meant to complement each other. For my brother and I, being the emotionless, quiet, introspective thinkers as opposed to feelers that we are, I know that without my sisters, our lives would have been very dull, black and white, without colour nor depth. As for my sisters, who wear their hearts on their sleeves, probably having some sombre in their lives would have helped at times as well. I don’t really know why I wrote this, just something bouncing around in my head that I needed to let out. Oh and also maybe because I’m already missing home so much. And skyping with my silly sister on her birthday made it a little easier to bear.

Be Weak

“We deceive ourselves when we fancy that only weakness needs support. Strength needs it far more.” – Madame Swetchine

I live in a community where being weak is shunned and looked down upon. Where it’s not okay to make a mistake, and if you slip up, then you’ve disgraced yourself and earned the wrath of Allah, punishable by death and you will be condemned to eternal damnation in hell. Where people will judge you before they even know you. Where good impressions are the ultimate goal, the only goal, instead of sincerity, humility, conscience, manners, courtesy and respect.

We are preoccupied with the details of religion, the nitty gritty, instead of taking it and embracing it as a whole, a universal and timeless guidance for each and every soul that walks the face of this earth. We are concerned with what is furu’ (branch) instead of what is usul (root). We ask things like why doesn’t she wear the hijab? And why does he have a tattoo? Why do they eat from that shop? Why don’t they boycott those products? And then some.

We have set ourselves up for self-destruction. A misconstrued perception of our religion and our prophetic tradition. A pressure cooker under severe stress and strain. We live with split personalities, veils if you will, one for ourselves, and one for the world. And a veil for each and every other situation.

We are not prophets. We are babies in our religion. We will make mistakes. In fact even the prophets made mistakes. We are on this very planet due to the mistake Adam AS made, which was eating an apple from a tree. So let me tell you here and now, it’s okay to not be okay. You have been strong for far too long. You refrained and withheld your true nature. Now it’s your turn to be weak. To be vulnerable. To let your guard down. To let yourself go. And be free.

To My Dear Beloved Child

Assalamualaikum my sweetheart, who may Allah love, guard and protect. I praise Allah for there is no god but Him. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad, who was sent as a mercy to all of humanity, upon his family, companions and on all those who hold fast to the deen until the Day of Judgement.

My child, I pray that you are in the pink of health and in the best of iman. As I write this, you are yet to be born. I have no clue what your name is, how old you will grow up to be and what age you will be when you finally read this. The only thing I know about you now is that I already love you so much and I am dying to meet you. If these lines could magically transform into arms, I would give you a big bear hug right now, and hold you tight. But I’m stuck in the past, and you’re stuck in the future.

I wonder sometimes, whether you will stumble upon this letter by yourself, or whether you are old enough to understand what I am penning down. If not now, then wait till you’re older and read it again. I knew that one day you would open up my old writings in this blog of mine, maybe to know what I was like back in the day. What sort of person I was before I became your dad, what used to occupy my worried mind.

If you’re curious, then know that I had dreams too. I was once young like you. I had a whole life ahead of me, just waiting for me. I wanted to be a scientist, a philosopher. I traveled, I met people, I tried out different things. I was a little foolish and naive. I have had my fair share of ups and downs in life. I have had false friends and real enemies. I still remember the time I left for New Zealand, at that time I felt like I was on top of the world. And that feeling lasted forever. But I met stumbling blocks along the way too, I learnt the true meaning of friendship, loyalty and trust.

I think about you alot lately, my dear. Am I a good father to you? Do I bathe you and put your clothes on for you? Do I feed you and read you to sleep? Do I teach you how to ride a bike? Do I braid your hair? Do I scold you too often? Do I tickle you too much? Do I hug you too little? Do I hold your hand when you cross the street? Do I pick you up when you fall? Do I kiss your paper cuts and plaster them? Do I get angry when you spill coffee on my shirt? I really want to know.

How am I to mom? Do I take good care of her? Does she pray beside me? The day she was pregnant with you was the happiest day of my life. Did you know she loves you like I do, if not more. I wonder how I managed to take care of her while you were still in her tummy, my world turned upside down and inside out. I’ve never taken care of a pregnant woman! For bearing with me, your mom is my hero. And for bearing you, she is your queen.

My child, this is my first letter addressed especially for you, and if Allah wills, there will be more to come. Dearest, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you when you live with a proper intention and a noble purpose, and when you seek knowledge with a sound endeavor and to a dedicated cause. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you as you serve Islam with the finest fruits of your talents. Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.

Missing you, from the past,

Best of You

خَيْرُكُمْ مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ وَعَلَّمَهُ

 “The best of you is the one who learns the Qur’an and teaches it.” (Hadeeth)

“Ha mama, this is Lutfi,” he said, pointing his finger to me. “Ohh, ni lah dia Lutfi,” replied his mom, studying me up and down through her thin glasses. I felt awkward, what she was looking for in me, I didn’t know. “Ajar Hafiz agama banyak-banyak tau,” she continued, then wound up the car window, and soon after drove off with her son.

Wait a minute, pause. That’s it? What a short meeting, barely an introduction. The night was cold, I was in my pajamas and winter jacket outside my house on College St. OK, rewind.

Hafiz had told me earlier to come meet his mom that night. She might not get another chance to see me, since she would be leaving New Zealand soon. She had come to spend time with her son here and decided she wanted to see me in person. So by hook or by crook I had to make some time to see her. I humbly agreed, but was wondering what the big deal was. Was she going to give me something?

“Dah sampai. Kat luar.” read the text on my phone. I left my room and hurried outside. There was a Daihatsu, the small white rickety car they rented. In the dark, I could barely make out two figures inside the car, the one at the driver’s seat was recognizably Hafiz.

I dashed to the passenger side of the car and a woman who wore a shawl wrapped around her head appeared through the window, now wound down. She looked familiar, sort of like Kak Norzam, our masjid caretaker, in her facial features and figure.

She told me to teach her son more of the deen. I didn’t expect that, no, not from her. Not from someone who had traveled out of her way to come see me. Not from someone who was rushing to catch a plane soon. Not from someone much older and more experienced. Not from my friend’s mother.

And then she left just as unexpectedly. She left me there standing in the dark, confused, trying to make out what had just happened. A minute and it was all over. I walked slowly to my flat, passed through the front door and straight to my room. I closed the door behind me and sat down.

“What does she mean? Teach him the deen? Me? Who am I to teach? Why me? What has Hafiz been telling his mom about me? She had obviously been mistaken. I need to explain myself!”

I had been teaching Hafiz how to recite the Qur’an for some time, since he didn’t know much on how to read it. He didn’t have the privilege to attend any formal Qur’anic classes in Sweden. And as with teaching the Qur’an, I naturally had to teach him other things that went along with it like adab (manners) and some seerah (Prophetic way of life). I had also persuaded him to get involved in the MSA, and he had been the secretary for a whole academic term in Massey.

I fell to my knees and cried with my palms covering my face as I remembered our Prophet’s words, “If Allah intends good for someone, He gives him understanding of the deen.

And my thoughts were rushing back to me. I was right, she did come to give me something. She gave me an amanah (trust). That was the heaviest thing I could ever bear. And that she placed it upon me, made my spine shiver in fear, what if I was not able to uphold it?

Alhamdulillah, that was years ago, and I am now able to write about it. Hafiz has now managed to complete half his deen, he is happily married and I was able to be there and witness it first hand. I foresee a long lasting friendship between us Hafiz. And I hope I will live up to that amanah, inshaAllah.

Hafiz and Hafizah’s wedding reception. I am to his right.

Because She Asked

There was once a woman who lived long ago in a city in a desert land. She was a noble woman, respected and upright. She was married and had children of her own, but one day her husband passed away and she was widowed. She spent the days of her life as a single mother, busying herself with her business she had running. It was a big business, she was a merchant and she used to trade goods.

She was not a normal trader, she was intelligent and always invested in the best products. She had the natural ability to discern something of that which had quality. Out of her brilliant mind, the business grew and she became wealthy and successful in her career. She was instantly known amongst her peers and became praised in her community.

The more her business grew, the more people she had to employ to assist her in running it. She had many maidservants, and hired many men to go on trading expeditions for her. Unfortunately, many of those whom she hired were only trying to rob her of her wealth and were dishonest with their dealings with her. This was because they were aware of how much wealth she had earned from her trade. She would regularly hire new people from the city to replace them.

One day, she decided to hire a handsome young man to run her business dealings for her. This man was not like other men, there was something about him that was different, a quality he had, but she could not decide what it was. Days passed and she would notice him, sometimes even sort of spy on him to see what he was up to. When the man returned from his tradings for the day, he would always return with more than what she had expected. His returns would constantly be more than what the others had.

This took her by surprise and she began liking him, although the hired man was completely unaware of the fact that he had caught her attention.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Her business flourished, all thanks to this young man. He was always honest with her, and never tried to cheat her. Her love for him grew, and one day she decided to make a big decision. She wanted to ask for his hand in marriage, but like all women, she was afraid at first.

Why wouldn’t she be? He was a bachelor in his mid twenties, while she was a widow with children. So she decided to consult her elders, and close friends. Upon hearing this great news, her close ones were elated. They were so happy and supportive of her choice, and admitted that the two would make a great match for each other.

So the woman sent one of her trusted maidservants to inquire about this matter to the man, to see if he was available for marriage, and whether he would consider her. A man who had a beautiful character, who was honest, hardworking, trustworthy, and produced amazing results for her business.

And we all know how the man responded. Because if it was not for his response, we would probably not be who we are today. To everybody’s delight, he responded with a yes and graciously accepted her offer. And one the most amazing tales of marriage and shared life was to be told from then on.

So who was this woman? She was none other than the Mother of Believers, Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her. And the man, was our beloved Rasulullah, may peace and blessings be upon him. And the city in which this event took place was in the blessed city of Mecca.

SubhanAllah, doesn’t it sound hard to believe? Here we have the story of Muhammad SAW, his life story, his seerah. A woman older than him, previously married with children, was inquiring about a younger man, from one of the best families in town. The honour of his acceptance wasn’t just Khadijah’s alone. It was his too. He was going to marry one of the most beautiful hearts in all of the city, in all of Mecca. A woman who’s heart would soon sacrifice everything she had to support him, and Islam.

What I would like to highlight is that Khadijah asked for Prophet Muhammad’s hand in marriage. She initiated the communication. She was the one who proposed to Muhammad, not the other way round.

Remember that Khadijah was not just any woman. She was a dignified, honourable lady. Just hearing her name instantly inspires us to want to be a better Muslims, to sacrifice more, to discover inner strength and the true spirit of altruism. Personally, she is the epitome of what I think a woman can be, intelligent, successful and esteemed in character and conduct.

Might I remind you that it is because of her that, after Muhammad, Islam began with a legacy that starts with a woman. It is because of her sacrifices that we are Muslims today. She gave all that she had, everything she owned, from her hands, heart, and soul for Islam. Sometimes we overlook the details and fail to appreciate how this beautiful love story began. Khadijah asked. And it was because she asked, that she got that blessed answer.

Sadly, we have ignored this example from Islam of women sending someone to inquire on their behalf about marriage. That back in the day, women themselves were proactively involved in the marriage process. Sisters nowadays accuse others of being desperate when they let others know they are looking to get married. Families believe that a daughter must be sought after and it is shameful for a daughter and her family to approach a man for marriage.

And so, many beautiful, smart, educated, talented women are waiting and waiting for Mr. Right to knock on their father’s door. And in the silence of a new beautiful day, when no one is looking women may feel sad and despair.

Of course, we all know everything is in the hands of Allah. Of course we know that there is reward in sabr, but in every other area of ibadah, we don’t just sit around and wait for things to happen. For Hajj we save, for money we work, for knowledge we seek it out. Marriage doesn’t have to be an exception.

It’s time to re-examine our value system, and not forbid or look down upon the sunnah. Practiced by one of the best women to have walked the face of this earth. Remember being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. It’s harder to give away your love, when risking the potential to get hurt or disappointed, then it is to receive it. Khadijah did it, so why not follow the sunnah like her? Because she asked, you could too.