ACCESS | Asia 's Newspaper on Electronic Information Product & Service
September 2002 No.42  
   In this issue

Magnificent Qur'an Digitised - Private generosity brings 700 year old Islamic masterpiece to a wider audience 
 
 
A magnificent Qur'an, known as Sultan Baybars' Qur'an, produced in Cairo seven hundred years ago, is the first Islamic manuscript to benefit from the British Library's Turning the PagesTM technology. The digitisation of the Qur'an was made possible by generous support from the Noon Foundation. 
Turning the PagesTM is the unique touch screen facility which allows visitors to 'turn' a selection of pages of digitised versions of major historic items in the Library's collection and see these in far greater detail than is possible on the original. For this project a new Three Dimensional technology allows the detail of Sultan Baybars' Qur'an, such as its extensive use of gold, to be seen in an entirely new way. 
 
  Sumptuous decoration by master Sandal
 
Sultan Baybars' Qur'an is a masterpiece of Islamic calligraphy and illumination. It was produced between 1304 - 1306 AD (704 - 705 in the Muslim calendar) for the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Rukn al-Din Baybars al-Jashnagir. It is celebrated for being written throughout in gold in the style of Arabic script known as thuluth. It was copied by the master calligrapher Muhammad ibn al-Wahid and is the only known surviving example of his work. It was sumptuously decorated by a team headed by the master illuminator Sandal.
 
Besides being available on Turning the PagesTM, images from Sultan Baybars' Qur'an are also available on CD-ROM and website . In selecting the verses of the Qur'an to appear on Turning the PagesTM, the Library was guided by Sheikh Zaki Badawi, Principal of the Muslim College, Ealing. A recording of the verses of the Qur'an being recited by Sheikh Ashraf Salah, an Imam of the London Central Mosque in Regent's Park, was specially made to accompany the text on Turning the PagesTM.
 
  Prime Minister Tony Blair praises the project
 
Commenting on the new project, Prime Minister Tony Blair said "This Qur'an is an object of beauty as well of faith and it is excellent that the UK's national library has enabled so many people to appreciate such a magnificent work at the British Library itself or using the internet or even by CD-ROM. "
 
 
Sir Gulam Noon, Chairman of the Noon Foundation, said: "It has been a pleasure to support this project. The Foundation is enthusiastic about it and I hope that all visitors to the British Library and many more through the CD-ROM and the web will enjoy this magnificent Qur'an and obtain a fuller appreciation of its history and importance."
 
Dr John Ashworth, Chairman of the British Library Board 1996-2000, said: "Turning the PagesTM has been one of the Library's great success stories. I am delighted that such a magnificent work as Sultan Baybars' Qur'an has become the first Islamic manuscript in the Library to join other famous items in the collection such as the Diamond Sutra which, thanks to the latest technology, are accessible and can be appreciated by everyone everywhere."
 
 
  Major texts from all faiths
 
Brindley, Chief Executive, the British Library, said: "Sultan Baybars' Qur'an joins examples of major texts from Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism on Turning the PagesTM and demonstrates the Library's commitment to increasing knowledge of world faiths by widening access to relevant historical items in its collection". 
 
The procedures used in this project are interesting. Armadillo Systems filmed the Curator carefully turning the pages of Sultan Baybars' Qur'an, before analysing the footage and building a 3D model that was accurate to the millimetre, and whose page turns exactly replicate the way the pages look and feel when you turn them in real life. Armadillo Systems then programmed the interactive and used a 37" touchscreen, the largest in the country, to demonstrate the Qur'an. Armadillo Systems have been working with The British Library on touchscreen interactives since 1996. Turning the PagesTM is available to view in the Exhibition Galleries in the British Library, which are open to all, admission free, seven days a week.
 
  14,000 Arabic manuscripts in the BL collection
 
The British Library has over 14,000 Arabic manuscripts in its collection, making it one of the largest and finest in the Western world. It is world famous for two reasons. First, it contains many important individual items from fine calligraphic copies of the Qur'an to autograph copies of major literary, historical and scientific works. Secondly, the collection is very diverse and comprehensive in the scope of the subjects covered: from religion and philosophy, and all the genres of creative literature, to music and other arts, history and biography, and the sciences and medicine.
 
Sir Gulam Noon established the Noon Foundation in 1996 with a major donation from his personal assets. Sir Gulam is a member of the advisory council of The Prince's Trust and a trustee of many other charities.
 
The CD-ROM of Sultan Baybars' Qur'an on Turning the Pages costs GBP12.95 and is available from the British Library Bookshop or via its website.
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