The earliest item in the exhibit is a 10th century leaf from a Quran in Kufic script written on vellum. The most noteworthy item in the exhibit is manuscript 263, a section of the Quran in Muhaqqaq script with Persian interlinear translation, that was likely written and decorated by Seljuk calligraphers in 1259 C.E.
Around the year 963 C. E. Mansur, the Persian speaking Samanid ruler in Bukhara, realizing that neither he nor his subjects were able to comprehend the Quran, sought clarification on the matter of translating the holy book. He "brought together the scholars of Transoxiana to see whether it is proper to turn this book into the Persian tongue." Sighting verse 4 of the Sura of Abraham in the Quran, the decree issued by the religious scholars was that "reading and writing of commentaries on the Qur`an in Persian for those who do not know Arabic is permissible."
This religious proclamation stands as a watershed, not only in justifying for the first time the translation of the Word of God into a non-canonical and profane language-thus "accrediting" Persian in Islamic civilization-but also in that it bestowed on Persian a privileged position from which the sanctity of Arabic, the language of the power-based institutions of Islam, could be scrutinized, even subverted. The translation of Tabari's commentary on the Quran into Persian in the tenth century marked the historical rupture following which Islam ceased to be merely an Arab religion.
The Gallery in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library is open Monday 12 noon - 7:30pm and Tuesday through Friday 9:00am - 4:30pm. The Library is closed on Saturday and Sunday. The exhibit is free and open to the public. A photo ID is required for access to the Library. Call (212) 854-5153 for information.
The Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located on the 6th Floor East of the Columbia University Butler Library, at 535 West 114th Street at Broadway, New York, is home to over 600,000 rare books, 28 million manuscripts filed in 3,000 separate collections, 75,000 photographs, and 40,000 prints and drawings. In addition to printed and manuscript resources, the library contains cuneiform tablets, papyri, maps, works of art, posters, sound recordings and other interesting objects and materials. The library's website with collections and service information is: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/rmbl/index.html.
For more information:
Public Services & Programs Librarian
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Link for directions and access to the Kempner Gallery.