Name of Object:

Section from a Qur'an


Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo

Date of Object:

Hegira 731 / AD 1330

Artist(s) / Craftsperson(s):

The calligrapher Zaynab bint (daughter of) Ahmad al-Maqdisiyya.

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

On paper with black ink and decorated with colours and illumination; the binding leather with stamp-block decoration.


Length 32 cm, height 22 cm

Period / Dynasty:



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 [1330] 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.

View Short Description

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.

How date and origin were established:

The piece was dated based on the date that is recorded on it: hegira Sha'ban 731 (1330).

How Object was obtained:

This manuscript was donated to the Museum in 2002 by an Egyptian citizen, Sami Muhammad Sa'd.

Selected bibliography:

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.

Citation of this web page:

Salah Sayour "Section from a Qur'an" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024.;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 GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: ET 28


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