Art And Culture

200 Year-Old ‘Golden Qur’an’ in Auckland Library

200 Year-Old ‘Golden Qur’an’ in Auckland Library200 Year-Old ‘Golden Qur’an’ in Auckland Library

For the first time a number of Arabic manuscripts that make up part of the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Central Auckland Library in New Zealand have been translated.

The task fell to Dr Zain Ali, head of Islamic studies at the University of Auckland and to Hoda Fahmy, a University of Auckland pharmacy student and Arabic speaker, IRNA reported.

Hoda helped translate five poems dedicated to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But of particular interest to the research group was a 200-year-old golden Qur’an. It was one of the many items donated to the library in the early 20th century by Auckland bibliophile Henry Shaw.

Believed to be at least 200 years old, the exquisite handwritten Arabic manuscript is bound with lacquered papier-mache covers that are painted on both sides with richly-colored floral patterns.

But this is a case of not judging a book by its cover. On some interior pages, the sacred text sits on a shimmering background of gold, surrounded by a startling blue that is believed to have been made from ground lapis lazuli. Many of the pages also carry skilful decorations in the margins.

In the book ‘Real Gold: Treasures of Auckland City Libraries’, author Lain Sharp notes that on one of the preliminary pages of the Qur’an, Shaw has pasted a note from a bookseller’s catalogue dating the manuscript to about 1230 AH in the Islamic Calendar. This translates to 1817 in the Gregorian calendar. While it’s not known where or under what circumstances the manuscript was complied, Ali believes it may hail from India.

Rather than being carried around, he believes the Qur’an was commissioned by someone well-off and was a prized possession designed to be admired by others, its gold pages shimmering by candlelight. “Who was the person that sat down and did all of these intricate decorations? And imagine the amount of time it took,” he says. “It must have been commissioned by someone who was quite wealthy, had a fondness for art and of course religion and faith.”

Manuscripts collections librarian, Kate de Courcy, says Shaw was interested in collecting mainly beautifully presented items. “We understand that the reason why the donor had the manuscripts were aesthetic rather than linguistic,” she says. “This Qur’an is a beautiful book-like object in its own right.”