Looking into the history of Omani Quranic Manuscripts

From different times and many regions, as a significant part of ancient and modern history, Oman has cumulated a wealth of Quranic manuscripts that give us an insight into the early times of this country that is home to rich heritage and culture.
Some of the oldest dated manuscripts in the hands of the Ministry of Heritage don’t go back beyond the 11thcentury AH or 17thcentury CE. These were transcribed with the efforts of Salim bin Rabiah bin Rashid, three and a half centuries of documentation although gives us a major insight but it surely isn’t enough to not only transcribe the Quran in Oman but also understand its artistic design.
Despite its significance and importance, the discovery of these manuscripts opened a can of worms as it raised more questions than it answered. Although an integral part of understanding the regions culture and history, the study of these scriptures and their design is still an untapped field. Without understanding these scriptures, it is possible that the most important questions that cannot be yet answered are lost somewhere along with the missing and yet-to-be transcribed manuscripts.
As quoted in the Islamic Art in Oman (2008), “Despite the efforts exerted by the ministry of heritage in collecting Quranic manuscripts, it represents a small portion of Oman’s wealth of Quranic manuscripts. This occasion is an opportunity to call for the collecting the wealth of manuscripts in one place…moving us to the objective of collecting and preserving and making it available…revealing many of the secrets that are associated with Oman’s history of civilization, thought and religion in the various historic periods.”
The main intention of these manuscripts was functional — to make the holy text available for the scribe himself, his son or his children, his brethren, his teacher, or the Muslims at large through endowing it to the mosque.
The aesthetics of the manuscripts hence remained on the margins to make sure the focus stayed on the text and not the design.
Although very little is known about the Omani Quranic manuscripts, it is unanimously agreed on that they emerged around the same time that witnessed the prevalence of the Mamluki, Iranian, and Ottoman traditions. These schools played their role in creating refined yet spectacular artistic traditions whether it was the level of script and the textual writing along with illumination and artistic composition or the binding and its chosen technique.
As seen in most of the Omani Quranic manuscripts, the naskh script was preferred. At that time, the word was still undefined due to being in the early stages of its development, as opposed to the others the naskh script was known as layyinor a soft and moist script.
Some commonalities witnessed in these texts were that the Omani’s who transcribed often used like many others a black coloured ink that has been known to be commonly used in writing. There are several reasons as to why this is so, but it would seem like the main intention remained to make sure the text stood out the most. Black is a clear and strong colour and no other colour can overpower it.
At the ministry of heritage, in their collection, they also possess manuscripts that were written using blue and red ink in an alternating pattern.
Besides the predominantly black along with the red and blue, there also were some that used gold ink, although this was very rare.
The black colour was not only used in writing but also used for diacritical marks or harakat. The colour red, however, appears commonly in the names of the surah along with the associated information on the number of verses and places of revelation.
The red colour is often used along with the gold ink particularly in separators. These separators often took the same of a circle in either red or gold and once filed were demarcated by a fine black line.
Also rare but it has been found, red and blue are used with a white colour. The blue and the white appearing in the names of the surah.
Some say that the use of black, red, gold and blue and the choice of these colours hold a greater meaning — both a spiritual and psychological significance.
The binding process was an integral part of the manuscripts. Also known as al tajid or al tasfir in the Maghrib, it is an essential part of the Omani manuscript — it is unacceptable to leave the word of Allah without a binder to hold its pages together and protect the words within it.
In Oman, keeping to their simplistic themes, the binder too maintained this trend. They were often made using dark colours like brown, light or dark blue with hints of red, they didn’t use too many shapes or colours and often were limited to simple frames around the edges along with a or few medallions impressed in the centre.
To make sure the focus remained on the text and not the decoration that was often seen as extravagance, it was only the façade of the manuscript and the concluding faces that were decorated.
There were the pages that came either before the verses or after were dedicated for the purpose as two artistic renderings aiming to inspire its readers to the majesty and the sanctity of what was contained within these pages.