Object Name: Koran (Qur’an)
Culture: Swahili peoples
Place of Origin: Siyu, Kenya
Date/Era: Early 19th century
Medium/Materials: North Italian paper, ink, leather binding
Dimensions: H: 26.5 cm, W: 20.3 cm, D: 7.6 cm (H: 10.4 in, W: 7.9 in, D: 2.9 in)
Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection.
Accession Number: X90.184a
This complete volume of the Koran from the early nineteenth century consists of 417 folios bound in a contemporary black leather binding with stamped designs. The Koranic text begins on folio 3b and ends on folio 402b. Folios 403a-404b explain the Koran’s content, and folios 405a-413a record short prayers. On the very last text folio (413b), the shahadah, the Muslim profession of faith, is repeated in both a large central medallion and its flanking cartouches. The text is written in an elegant, cursive script that resembles thuluth. The formation of certain letters, whoever, recalls the North African maghribi script. The same fluid calligraphy, but smaller in scale, is also found in the carefully outlined commentaries in the text margins. These annotations are contemporary with the text and must have been written by the same scribe. Both the text and the commentary are primarily written in black ink, whereas the diacritical marks, the punctuation at the end of each verse (ayah)m and the word “Allah” always appear in red. Red ink is also reserved for certain phrases and others are written in large black letters; both thus stand out from the rest of the text. One of the most striking features of this Koran is its lavish illumination: the first two chapters (surahs) the “Opening” (al-Fatihah) and the “Cow” (al-Baqarah), for instance, are set in an elaborately decorated double-page frontispiece (folios 3b and 4a). The chapter headings appear in black reverse painting, and the text area is surrounded by decorative borders painted in black, red and yellow. The widest border is embellished with a continuous floral scroll, typical of Swahili designs (de Vere Allen 1973:pl. 1). Reverse painting and floral borders are used for three other chapter headings. Illumination designs also mark the text divisions of the Koran. Each of the thirty sections (ajza’) is indicated by one or several inscribed and brightly colored medallion(s). Finally, at the points where ritual prostration is required, the word sajdah (prostrate)—often transformed into an imaginative, almost abstract design—is written in the margins.
Source: Ross, Doran H. ed. (1994), Visions of Africa, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 144-145.
See also: Marla C. Berns, World Arts, Local Lives: The Collections of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, 2014.