In hearts and hands : sanctity, sacrilege, and the written Qur’ān in pre-modern Sunnī Muslim society
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This dissertation explores the written Qur’ān and its role in the lives of Sunnī Muslims in the Middle East from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. Until now, medieval Qur’ān manuscripts have been largely the domain of art historians who emphasize the commissioning of luxury Qur’āns as demonstrations of piety and authority. This study relocates the Muslim scripture, taking it off the bookshelf and placing it in the hands of every-day Muslims, literate and illiterate, men and women. By combining the close examination of hundreds of Qur’ān manuscripts with an analysis of the book’s portrayal in a variety of medieval Arabic literary genres, a portrait of the Qur’ān emerges that is very much at odds with the prescriptions and proscriptions set forth in Islamic law regarding the treatment of the book and its designation as a sacred object. I argue that beginning with the rise of the book as a means of transmitting knowledge in the ninth century, attitudes toward the written Qur’ān changed at all levels of society. Recognizing the increased presence of books, elite religious scholars attempted to disassociate women from the transmission of the written Qur’ān. My gendered reading reveals the failure of these men to rewrite the life Ḥafṣa, a wife of the Prophet closely associated with the preservation of the first Qur’ān codex. With the rise of Sufism and its emphasis on a personal relationship with God, every-day Muslims forged a parallel personal relationship with their written scripture, and, ignoring Islamic law, designated some Qur’āns as hyper-sacred and used them as a means of intercession with God. At the same time, the Sunnī Muslim masses in Baghdad raised the Qur’ān during street riots, exposing it to pollution and potential destruction. This dissertation reveals for the first time that rather than the elite Islamic scholars defining orthopraxy concerning the written scripture, it was every-day Muslims who determined what the Qur’ān as a book meant to them and how it was to be treated.