(AFP) A first US showing of rare old Korans opens Saturday in a Washington museum, highlighting a different side of Islam at a time when the religion’s image in America has been scarred by a divisive presidential campaign.
More than 60 Korans and Koranic texts, dating from as far back as the late seventh century and considered works of art for their exceptionally fine calligraphy, will be featured in “The Art of the Qur’an,” running through February 20, 2017, at the Freer and Sackler museums, home to the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian art collection.
These majestic holy books were copied by hand for some of the richest and most powerful rulers of the Muslim world. Most of them — 47 of 63 — were lent to Freer and Sackler from a single source: the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul. The rest were already part of the Smithsonian collection.
The exhibition, contained in the intimate setting of a single room, tells the story of how the words and teachings of the Koran, traditionally passed on orally, came during the seventh century to be inscribed in fixed and permanent texts.
– Letters of gold –
The exhibit touches lightly on the messages of the Koran. “We are above all an art museum,” the show’s deputy curator Simon Rettig told AFP during a news briefing Thursday.
“So we come at it more from the angle of explaining how the Koran took the form of a book and how the arts of calligraphy and illumination” — the decoration and illustration of manuscripts — “developed around the book.”
“We wanted to really show the variety of manuscripts,” said Massumeh Farhad, the show’s chief curator.
The Korans on display, she noted, come from all parts of the Muslim world, from Iraq to Afghanistan and Turkey.
Thus, there is a Koran on parchment copied by a calligrapher in Iraq or Iran between the late eighth and early ninth century. Another imposing Koran, measuring some six feet by three feet (two meters by one meter) and dating from 1599 in the Iranian city of Shiraz, is done in colored ink with gold-encrusted letters.
“Today, when you look at a Koran, it always looks the same — it’s a printed copy with a green color, one basic size,” Farhad told AFP.