Approaching Religious Texts in Early Islam: The Sanaa Qur’an Palimpsest as Example

11 декабря 2017
The Institute of Ismaili Studies
210 Euston Road
United Kingdom
The Sanaa Palimpsest

The round table brings together five scholars* of the Qur’aninfo-icon and early Islamic documents on the occasion of the publication of Asma Hilali’s The Sanaa Palimpsest. The Transmission of the Qur’an in the first centuries AH (Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2017). The book provides an introduction to and the edition of one of the oldest Qur’an manuscripts discovered so far: Manuscript 0127-1 from Dār al-Makhṭūṭāt in Sanaa, Yemen (called ‘the Sanaa palimpsest’ for ease of reference), a manuscript dating to the 1-2nd century AH/7th century CE. The palimpsest contains 38 leaves on which two superimposed Qur’anic texts are written: the lower text dated to the 7th century was subsequently erased and a second text of the Qur’an was written upon it around the 8th century. Both Qur’anic texts are fragmentary and present aspects of work in progress, such as incomplete decoration in the upper text and a reading instruction in the lower text.

The roundtable includes discussions on and critiques of a number of methodological issues raised by Hilali in her book, as well as the main results and hypothesis related to her interpretation of the palimpsest and the use of the palimpsest by its contemporaries.

The round table is divided into two parts: the morning sessions are dedicated to the text and its interpretation and the afernoon sessions focus on the transmission and use of religious texts in early Islam. All sessions include discussions and Q&A.

Specifc samples of passages extracted fom the Sanaa’ palimpsest will be displayed and discussed and, although the round table is dedicated to Hilali’s recent book, other examples of early texts such as hadithinfo-icon and early legal documents will be approached in order to highlight the implications of the study of the Sanaa’ palimpsest in a wider context related to approaching the Qur’an and other religious texts in early Islam.






Approaching religious texts in early Islam:

The Sanaa Qur’an Palimpsest as example.



The Institute of Ismaili Studies

11 December, 2017


11:00               WELCOME REMARKS

                        Asma Hilali and Omar Ali-de-Unzaga



  • Accessing the Manuscript and Realising the Book (Asma Hilali)
  • The 2007 French Italian Mission: Imaging the Sanaa Palimpsest (Alba Fedeli)

Chair/Discussant: TBC                      



      • Continuities and Ruptures (Asma Hilali)
      • Technical Challenges and Publishing Choices (Russel Harris and Omar Ali-de-Unzaga)

Chair/Discussant: Karen Bauer


12:45-1:45      LUNCH BREAK



      • Conceptual Framework in the Study of Early Copies of the Qur’an (Aziz al-Azmeh)
      • Codicology/Palaeography in the Study of Palimpsests (Alba Fedeli)
      • Interpreting Absence (Asma Hilali)                   

Chair/Discussant: Stephen Burge



      • Studying the Qur’an in Early Islam (Andreas Görke)
      • When did the Qur’an become a book? (Jonathan Brockopp)
      • Annotations and Marginalia in Early Qur’an Manuscript (Asma Hilali)

Chair/Discussant: TBC


3:45-4:00        BREAK



      • The use of manuscripts and other material by historians
      • Digital editions/ critical editions
      • Accessing unknown manuscripts
      • Datation/dating and the historicisation of the texts (with focus on the chronology of the Qur’an)
      • The issue of “genre” in early Islam



                        Asma Hilali and Omar Ali-de-Unzaga







Please note that filming/photography will be taking place at this event for promotional and archival purposes. By attending this event, you consent to interview(s), photography, audio recording, video recording and its/their release, publication, exhibition, or reproduction to be used for news, promotional purposes, advertising, inclusion on web sites, or for any other purpose(s) that the IIS, its vendors, partners, affiliates and/or representatives deems fit to use. 



Asma Hilali

Asma Hilali is a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London and an Associate Professor in Islamic Stuides at the University of Lille. She gained her PhD from l’École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris. She has worked in various research centres in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Her main interest is related to the transmission of religious literature in early and mediaeval Islam, and the issues of how religious texts were used and what impact this use had on their forms and contents.

Jonathan Brockopp

Jonathan Brockopp is associate professor of history and religious studies at the Pennsylvania State University. His primary research focus is on the literary remains of early Islamic cultures, including the Qur'an, hadithinfo-icon, legal and theological texts. He is particularly interested in the rise of a professional scholarly community in Egypt and North Africa, using early Arabic manuscripts to trace arguments and lines of influence. Recently, he has focused on the question of how these early scholars construct their notion of religious authority in his most recent book, Muhammad's Heirs: the Rise of Muslim Scholarly Communities (Cambridge, 2017). This work has led him to formulate a new theory of charismatic authority, one that attempts to account for the dynamic roles of text, community and history in constructing the charismatic leader. He has also pursued an active interest in modern discussions of war, bioethics, economic justice, and other contemporary issues, including the impact of climate change on Muslim communities.

Aziz Al-Azmeh

Aziz Al-Azmeh is University Professor emeritus and Distinguished Visiting Professor of History at the Central European University, Budapest. His most recent books in English are The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2014, 2016) and The Arabs and Islam in Late Antiquity: A Critique of Approaches to Arabic Sources (2014).

Alba Fedeli

Alba Fedeli is research fellow at FSCIRE in Bologna, Italy, and honorary research fellow of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, working on the transmission of early Qur’anic manuscripts through phylogenetic analysis. She stirred up media frenzy after the BBC announcement that the “Birmingham Qur’aninfo-icon” manuscript dates to Muhammad’s lifetime. Fedeli was a research fellow at the Centre for Religious Studies, CEU, in Budapest and at the John Rylands Research Institute in Manchester. She received her PhD from the University of Birmingham after studies in Italy with Sergio Noja Noseda. As director of the Ferni Noja Noseda Foundation from 2004 to 2008, Fedeli took part to the Yemeni mission for digitising the Sanaa palimpsest in 2007.

Her publications reflect her research interests in early Qur’anic manuscripts. Her recent work on the Mingana-Lewis palimpsest has been uploaded on the Cambridge Digital Library.


Andreas Görke

Dr Andreas Görke is Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He earned his D. Phil. from the University of Hamburg in 2001 and his Habilitation from the University of Basel in 2010. He has worked as lecturer and researcher at the Universities of Hamburg and Basel, the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Freie Universität Berlin, and the University of Kiel, and served as acting professor for early and classical Islam at the University of Hamburg. His research interests include early Islamic history and historiography, the life of the Prophet Muhammad, Koran and Koranic exegesis, Hadith, Islamic law, the transmission of Arabic manuscripts, Islam in its late antique environment and the impact of modernity on Muslim thought.