This double-page from a Qur'an comes down to us with the fascinating information that the nursemaid to one of the Zirid rulers of North Africa commissioned it for donation to the Great Mosque of Qairawan. It is written in a form of the 'new style kufic' script that was unique to North Africa, and it was copied on parchment, which remained in use in this region long after paper was commonly used for Qur'ans from Egypt, Iraq or Iran.
This bifolio comes from one of the most impressive manuscripts of the Qur’an, the Mushaf al-hadina or Nurse’s Qur’an, which was produced in North Africa. Among the best-preserved extant leaves of the manuscript, it features calligraphy executed on parchment in brown ink, with diacritical marks in red, blue, and green. Each page contains only five lines, and great attention has been devoted to the contrast between the thick, rounded forms and the thin verticals so characteristic of this distinct "new-style" script. This manuscript is also one of the few indicating that the "new-style" script, traditionally associated with the eastern realms, had spread farther west in the Islamic world than had previously been known. The text, written on both sides, is taken from Sura 6:40–41, 48–49 (al-An‘am, "The Cattle").
Producing a volume as monumental in size as the Mushaf al-hadina would have required a fully staffed workshop of talented calligraphers, illuminators, and binders. That no one calligrapher could have undertaken all the work accounts for the variations in the calligraphy in the Qur’an.
This is an unusually well-documented bifolio. A series of colophons written in cursive maghribi on the original manuscript, part of which is now in the Musée National d’Art Islamique de Raqqada in Tunisia, state that the work was commissioned by Fatima, the nursemaid (al-hadina) of one of the Zirid rulers. The Zirids were Berbers who governed territories in central North Africa (Ifriqiya) on behalf of the Fatimid dynasty, whose capital was Cairo. Since the manuscript is not dated, it is not entirely clear under which Zirid prince it was commissioned. However, the inclusion of A.H. Ramadan 410 / January 1019–20 A.D. as the date when the manuscript was dedicated to the Great Mosque of Qairawan has anchored its current attribution and its association with al-Mu‘izz ibn Badis, the fourth Zirid ruler of Ifriqiya (r. 1016–62). The colophon further notes that the entire manuscript, including its binding, was vocalized, illuminated, and gilded by ‘Ali ibn Ahmad al-Warraq (the papermaker), a renowned calligrapher and artist of the period who was supervised by Durrah al-Katiba (Durrah, the lady scribe).
A number of the surviving Qur’an manuscripts commissioned by Zirid princesses and other powerful women at the Zirid court were dedicated to the Great Mosque of Qairawan. Among them are Umm Milal’s Qur’an and that of Umm ‘Ulu, the sister of al-Mu‘izz ibn Badis. But the Mushaf al-Hadina is probably the best-known and important extant manuscript commissioned by a North African female patron. It serves as a testament to the generosity, faith, and influence of women patrons at the Zirid court.
Maryam Ekthiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. It is estimated that the original manuscript had approximately 3,200 folios, or 1,600 bifolios, and was divided into sixty sections (departmental curatorial files, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum).
4. Ettinghausen, Grabar, and Jenkins-Madina 2001, pp. 285–86.
5. Blair 2006, p. 155. See also Paris 1982–83. De Carthage à Kairouan: 2000 ans d’art et d’histoire en Tunisie. Exhibition, Musee du Petit Palais de la Ville de Paris. Catalogue by Adeline C. Bissy, Judith Petit, and others. Paris, 1982, pp. 272–73.
6. Paris 1982–83, pp. 272–73 (see footnote 5). See also: http://www.discoverislamicart.org.
7. Sections of this Qur’an containing illuminated folios are in the Musée National d’Art Islamique de Raqqada, the Musée d’Art Islamique in Qairawan, and the Musée National du Bardo in Tunis. Other dispersed folios are in the Khalili Collection, London, the David Collection, Copenhagen, and in private collections in Riyadh and Houston.
Inscription: Although the text is indeed from sura 6, al-An`am, "The Kine", verses 40-41 (in part), and 48-49 (in part), the arrangement is puzzling, on account of the folia being detached from their original sheaves and binding. On the first page, and so in the first photograph with the illumination, that is, the first picture on the left, and running on to the second page and so into the second photograph, but now on the right, one certainly reads, from 6:41-42 :
... aghyara Llahi tad`una in kuntum s?adiqina * bal iyyahu tad`una / fa-yakshifu ma tad`una ilayhi in sha'a wa tansuna ma tashrikuna.
"... upon other than God would you call, were you sincere? * Nay! Unto Him would you call, and He would unveil that for which you call upon Him, and you would forget those (gods) you associate (with Him)."
Then, strangely reversed, on the left page of the second photograph, but going on to the right page of the first photograph, one can read, from 6:48-49 :
... wa mundhirina fa-man amana w-as?lah?a fa-la khawf-un `alayhim wa la / hum yah?zinuna wa-lladhina kadhabu bi-ayatina yamassuhum al-`idhabu ...
"... as warners : and whoso believes and does right, then no fear unto them, nor / shall they grieve *, and those who regard Our signs as lies, shall touch them the chastisement ..."
In Arabic language and in Kufic script:
Fatima al-Hadina, Tunisia (until about 1019–20); Great Mosque of Qairawan, Tunisia(from about 1019–20); [ Charif Fine Arts, Dubai, sold to Fogg]; [ Sam Fogg, London, by 2006–7; sold to MMA]
Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp. 155.
Fraser, Marcus, and Will Kwiatkowski. "July 14–August 31, 2006." In Ink and Gold: Islamic Calligraphy. London, 2006. no. 15, pp. 58-61, ill.
Roxburgh, David J. "Calligraphy and the Qur'an." In Writing the Word of God. Houston, 2007.
"Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2007–2008." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 66: 2 (Fall 2008). p. 12 (color), ill.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 31, pp. 60-61, ill. p. 60 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 126, ill. (color).