This Qur'an leaf is a rare survival from the earliest period of Qur'an production. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (633-34 AD), many Muslims who knew the Qur'an by heart were killed in the wars that followed the death of the Prophet. 'Umar feared that parts of the Qur'an would be lost and thus commissioned Zayd ibn Thabit, a former secretary of the Prophet, to collate the Qur'an. It was copied onto sheets and sent to 'Umar when he succeeded to the Caliphate and then to his daughter, Hasfa, one of the Prophet's widows. The second impetus came during the Caliphate of 'Uthman (644-56 AD) when the decision was taken to produce a definitive version of the Qur'an in order to prevent further disputes amongst believers. Again Zayd ibn Thabit was commissioned to supervise the task. This revised version was compared with Hafsa's copy. Several copies were made and sent to the main centres of Islam. It is not known whether the copies belonging to Hafsa survived. Even if they did not, they were not forgotten. The Kitab al-Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud (d. 928 AD) discusses the various non-canonical readings of the Qur'an. It is accepted that the authorised version was produced around 650 AD.
The 10th century Baghdadi scholar, Ibn al-Nadim, in his bibliographic work, the Fihrist, gives an account of the early forms of the Arabic script. He writes that 'for the alifs of the scripts of Makkah and al-Madinah, there is a turning of the hand to the right and lengthening of the strokes, one form having a slight slant' (quoted in François Déroche, The Abbasid Tradition, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London, 1992, p.27). It is on the basis of this description that in the 19th century Michele Amari identified examples of the Meccan script, which was re-termed by Nabia Abbott about a century later with the name hijazi (Déroche, op.cit., p.27). As well as the characteristic alifs that Ibn al-Nadim describes, other distinctive features include the use of a vertical rather than a horizontal format of folio which became the norm in kufic Qur'an pages from the early Abbasid period. Déroche writes that in the small body of hijazi folios known stylistic inconsistencies are known - in orthography, line spacing and style. Whether this is a result of several scribes working on the same codex, or whether it demonstrates a prioritization of faithfully reproducing the text rather than a concern with aesthetics is unclear.
The use of the red ink for dots and for the sura heading here is interesting. Coloured dots to indicate vowels were an invention attributed to 'Abu'l-Aswad al-Du'ali, who died in 688 (David James, Qur'ans and Bindings from the Chester Beatty Library, exhibition catalogue, London, 1980, p. 23). Although some of the published body of hijazi Qur'an folios do have sura headings, they generally tend to take the form of rough geometric bands drawn in ink between the suras (Déroche, op.cit., p.29). Another hijazi folio with a sura heading in red is in the British Museum (Or.2165, Colin F. Baker, Qur'an Manuscripts. Calligraphy, Illumination, Design, London, 2007, no. 5, pp.16-17). The fragmentary state of the surviving folios, and the small number of examples mean that more substantial studies on this early chapter in the history of Arabic calligraphy is hard to undertake. The addition of this folio to the group is therefore important. Another hijazi Qur'an folio recently sold at Sotheby's, 8 October 2008, lot 3. Palimpsest examples have sold in these Rooms, 1 May 2001, lot 12 and 8 April 2008, lot 20.