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.
Hoda helped translate five poems dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But of particular interest to the research group was a 200-year-old "golden Quran”. It was one of the many data-x-items donated to the library in the early 20th century by Auckland bibliophile Henry Shaw. Believed to be at least two hundred years old, the exquisite handwritten Arabic manuscript is bound with lacquered papier-mâché covers that are painted on both sides with richly-coloured 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 Iain Sharp notes that on one of the preliminary pages of the Quran, Henry Shaw has pasted a note from a bookseller’s catalogue dating the manuscript to about AH 1230 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, Dr Zain Ali believes it may hail from India.
Rather than being carried around, he believes this Quran would have been commissioned by someone well-off and would have been 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 Henry 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 Quran is a beautiful book-like object in its own right.”
The Quran copy was a particular focus for Dr Ali as part of his role as the current Auckland Library Heritage Trust Researcher in Residence.
Source: Radio New Zealand