Item Number: 625
Manuscript Leaflet: Surat al-Baqara
Origin: North Africa; Possibly Tunisia
Size: 235 X 190
Frame: Dark brown wood
Antique handwritten Maghrebi Qur’an manuscript leaf, possibly from Tunisia, dated 1825, of Surat al-Baqara. It is a fragment of Quran containing religious commentary. It consists of fifteen lines written in a simple Maghribi script in red and black inks on a laid paper. Throughout the text there are numerous gilded points and rosettes and other marginal ornamentals.
A l-Baqarah is from the Madinan period. It is named al-Baqarah, or “The Cow,” because of the cow mentioned in v. 67. It is the longest sūrah of the Quran, comprising one-twelfth of the entire text. In most illuminated manuscripts and printed editions of the Quran, the first seven verses of al-Baqarah appear on an illuminated page opposite another illuminated page containing the seven verses of the Fātiḥah, or “Opening,” the first chapter of the Quran. These two pages together form for most readers the first visual experience of the Quran as a physical book.
Few subjects discussed in the Quran do not find some mention in al-Baqarah; topics include matters of theology, law, sacred history, metaphysics, cosmology, and the spiritual life. The sūrah opens with a general description of belief in the seen and Unseen, the multiplicity of prophets, and the imperative to give from what we possess, whether spiritual or material. After a section addressing the hypocrisy of the protestations and claims of those who disbelieve in God, the sūrah turns to an account of the creation of Adam and the fall from the Garden, including the status of the angels in relation to human beings and the role of Satan in Adam’s fall.
The history of the Children of Israel figures prominently in this sūrah. Stressed are the blessings of God upon the Israelites throughout their history, beginning with one of the several accounts provided by the Quran describing the encounter between Moses and Pharaoh as well as the events at Mt. Sinai and the parable of the sacrificial cow (baqarah ), to which the sūrah owes its name. This history is interwoven with theological questions debated between Jews and Muslims, such as the duration of one’s stay in Hell, the status of the Archangel Gabriel, and other accusations and challenges exchanged between the two communities.
Al-Baqarah is one of the most important sūrah s as far as the question of the status of other religions is concerned, addressing this matter from a theological and legal perspective and also as a question of sacred history. Abraham is discussed as a prophet who predated Judaism and Christianity, who established the Kaʿ bah as a temple of worship, and who was a ḥ anīf, or primordial monotheist.
Important rituals and acts of worship are legislated in this sūrah, including the pilgrimage, the required fast during the month of Ramadan, and other matters such as the direction (qiblah ) one should face while reciting the canonical prayers. Other legal matters discussed are economic contracts, usury, marriage and divorce, the status of orphans, the causes and conduct of war, inheritance, alcohol consumption and gambling, and punishment for capital crimes. Some of the Quran’s most famous and most recited verses are found in this sūrah, including v. 255, called the Pedestal Verse (Āyat al-Kursī ), and the final two verses, which are important in Muslim devotional life.
Concerning this sūrah the Prophet is reported to have said, “Everything has a zenith, and the zenith of the Quran is Sūrat al-Baqarah, and it has a verse which is the lord of the verses of the Quran, the Pedestal Verse [v. 255]”; “Truly Satan leaves a house when he hears Sūrat al-Baqarah recited in it”; and “Learn al-Baqarah . Holding to it is a blessing, leaving it is an affliction, and falsehood has no power over it.”
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