Section from a Qur'an
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 731 / AD 1330
The calligrapher Zaynab bint (daughter of) Ahmad al-Maqdisiyya.
On paper with black ink and decorated with colours and illumination; the binding leather with stamp-block decoration.
Length 32 cm, height 22 cm
A section from a dark-brown leather-bound Qur'anic manuscript. In the middle of the cover there is a geometric ornamental motif in the form of a six-pointed star. The star is surrounded by a circle, the outer frame of which is decorated with semi-circles distributed to the four corners of the leather binding. The cover has a lock, ornamented with geometric decoration; the designs on both the cover and the lock appear to have been made using a stamp-block.
The pages of this manuscript bear illuminated Qur'anic text written in muhaqqaq script, the lettering delineated in black ink. The text includes verses from Chapter Hud (11: beginning with verse 4), followed by part of the Chapter of Joseph (12: ending with verse 52). An ornamental embellishment, in the form of a six-petalled flower with a blue point in its centre and red points between each petal, separates the verses from each other. Mamluk Qur'anic manuscripts are distinguished by two elements in the main: the ornamental decoration which acted as a separator between the verses mentioned above and, further, by the presence of ornamentation along the margins of the pages that indicate the parts and sections of the Qur'an. In this particular manuscript section, these ornaments take a variety of forms: some are circular, while others are oval. They are gilded and in the middle of each of them is an inscription in blue rik'a script, indicating the section and part. The Qur'anic text ends on the last page with an inscription that contains the name of the calligrapher (a woman) and the date it was copied, the text reads: 'The humble servant of God, Zaynab bint Ahmad al-Maqdisiyya in the month of Sha'ban in the year 731  wrote this.' It is clear from the text that the calligrapher was from the City of al-Quds (Jerusalem). In reality, coming upon a work such as this by a named calligrapher, who is also a woman, is very rare indeed and it gives this manuscript great artistic and historical value. It is also important as evidence to indicate that women did practice the art of calligraphy.
This section from a Qur'an proves that the role of women in Islamic society was not confined to household tasks. They were writers, poets and even calligraphers of the Qur'an, most prestigious work. This manuscript, copied by a woman from Jerusalem called Zaynab al-Maqdisiyya, is a rare example of a work such as this having a named female calligrapher.
The piece was dated based on the date that is recorded on it: hegira Sha'ban 731 (1330).
This manuscript was donated to the Museum in 2002 by an Egyptian citizen, Sami Muhammad Sa'd.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks. Washington D.C., 1981.
Nafaa, C., Catalogue of Qur'ans of the National Library of Paris: Beauty and Splendour, Paris, 1987.
Stierlin, H., and Stierlin, A., Splendours of the Islamic World: Mamluk Art in Cairo (1250–1517), London, New York. 1997.
Salah Sayour "Section from a Qur'an" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;17;en
Prepared by: Salah SayourSalah Sayour
Salah Ahmad Sayour holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University (1973) and is currently studying for an MA in the same field. In 1979 he had a four-month scholarship at Austrian museums to study museology. Preparing exhibitions for the Museum of Islamic Art's collections in the Arab World Institute, Paris and curating exhibitions held in host museums in the USA and Paris augmented his experience leading to his appointment as head of several sections at the Museum. He has written several articles on Islamic painting and arts for Prism Magazine published by the Ministry in different languages and has participated in preparing scientific texts for the catalogues for the Museum's exhibitions at home and abroad.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 28
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Arabic Calligraphy | Calligraphic Schools Women | Muslim Women as Professionals, Artisans and Performing Artists
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)