Mu??af and the Material Boundaries of the Qur’an


  • Natalia K. Suit University of North Carolina Chapel Hill



Materiality, Qur'an


Mushaf is what Muslims call the physical body of the Qur'an, its pages, binding, and print. Scholars traditionally focused on the textual analysis of the Qur'ân as theological, political, historical or literary productions, favoring a semantic dimension of the text and detaching it from its materiality. In this article, I propose to shift our attention from the understanding of the Qur'ân exclusively as message to its material existence as mushaf in the hands of its manufacturers and users in order to highlight the process through which the status of the Qur'ân as a sacred message is negotiated.

Author Biography

Natalia K. Suit, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Department of Anthropology, Graduate Student.


Asad, Talal. 1996. “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam.” In The Social Philosophy of Ernst Gellner. Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, edited by John A. Hall and Ian Jarvie, 48: 381–403. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Albin, Michael W. 2001. “Printing of the Qur’an.” In Encyclopaedia of the Quran, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Leiden: Brill.

Al-Nawaw? al-Im?n al-Rabb?n? Ab? Zakariyy? Ya?y? Ibn Sharaf. 2003. Etiquette with the Qur’an: Al-Tibyan fi Adab Hamalat al-Qur’an. Starlatch Press.

Ammar, Hamed. 1954. Growing up in an Egyptian Village. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Baker, Colin F. 2007. Qur’an Manuscripts: Calligraphy, Illumination, Design. London: British Library.

Blackman, Winifred S. 1968. Fellahin of Upper Egypt: Their Religious, Social and Industrial Life with Special Reference to Survivals from Ancient Times. London: Frank Cass and Co.

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. 2001. “Ornamentation.” In Encyclopaedia of the Quran, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Leiden: Brill.

Brown, Bill. 2001. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28: 1–22.

Chartier, Roger. 1994. The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Corbin, Henry. 1993. History of Islamic Philosophy. London: Kegan Paul International.

Critchfield, Richard. 1978. Shahhat, an Egyptian. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Decasa, George C. 1999. The Qur’anic Concept of Umma and Its Function in Philippine Muslim Society. Rome: Pontificia Universita Gregoriana.

Donner, Fred M. 2008. The Quran in Its Historical Context. London: Routledge.

Hoffmann, Thomas. 2007. The Poetic Quran: Studies on Quranic Poeticity. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Keane, Webb. 2006. “Subjects and Objects.” In Handbook of Material Culture, edited by Christopher Y. Tilley et al., 198–202. London: SAGE.

———. 2008. “On the Materiality of Religion.” Material Religion 4: 230–231.

Lane, Edward William. 1860. An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians: Written in Egypt During the Years 1833–, –34, and –35. London: J. Murray.

Lane-Poole, Stanley. 1884. Social Life in Egypt: A Description of the Country and Its People. New York: Collier.

Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lings, Martin. 2005. Splendours of Qur’an Calligraphy and Illumination. Liechtenstein: Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation.

Madigan, Daniel A. 2001. The Qur’an’s Self Image: Writing and Authority in Islam’s Scripture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mitchell, W. J. 2005. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Nöldeke, Theodor. 1998. “The Koran.” In The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islamic Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq. New York: Prometheus Books.

Nouryeh, Christopher. 2008. The Art of Narrative in the Holy Qur’an: A Literary Appreciation of a Sacred Text. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

Ochoa, Todd Ramón. 2007. “Versions of the Dead: Kalunga, Cuban-Kongo Materiality, and Ethnography.” Cultural Anthropology 22: 473–500.

Reynolds, Gabriel Said. 2008. The Quran in Its Historical Context. London: Routledge.

Sabiq , Al-Sayyid. Nd. Fiqh us-Sunnah, translated by Muhammad Sa ‘eed Dabas, Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo and M.S. Kayani. Dar El Fateh for Arab Information. Part: at-Tahara and as-Salah.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Starrett, Gregory. 1995. “The Political Economy of Religious Commodities in Cairo.” American Anthropologist 97: 51–68.

Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. 1994. Women in the Qur’an, Traditions, and Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watt, W. Montgomery. 1988. Muhammad’s Mecca: History in the Quran. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Wiener Margaret. 2003. “Hidden Forces: Colonialism and the Politics of Magic in the Netherlands Indies.” In Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment, edited by Birgit Meyer and Peter Pels, 129–158. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Zwemer, Samuel M. 1939. Studies in Popular Islam: A Collection of Papers Dealing with the Superstitions and Beliefs of the Common People. London: The Sheldon Press.



How to Cite

Suit, N. K. (2012). Mu??af and the Material Boundaries of the Qur’an. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 6(1-3), 143–163.