x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pensmanship and devotion in UAE's first Quran to the millionth

The labour of devotion behind the first holy book produced in the Emirates began 16 years ago and included a four-year writing period. As a new landmark looms, Colin Simpson reports on the process behind its publication.

Dr Mohammed Motei El Hafez, the head of the Sheikh Maktoum Mushaf Technical Committee, reads from a Quran produced in the UAE.
Dr Mohammed Motei El Hafez, the head of the Sheikh Maktoum Mushaf Technical Committee, reads from a Quran produced in the UAE.

DUBAI // The 1 millionth copy of the only Quran published in the UAE will be printed within weeks - eight years after the first.

Compiling the holy book was a labour of love for the team behind the project, who started work in 1995.

Eight more years of intensive toil would be needed before the first copies were published in 2003. Now, another eight years on, the milestone of the 1 millionth copy looms.

This month, the total number of copies of the edition reached 973,964 and the 1 millionth copy is expected to be printed by the end of the year or next month.

"This is an achievement for Dubai and the UAE," said Engineer Tariq Hamdi Ismail, a senior specialist at Dubai Government's Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, which publishes the holy book. "Creating a Quran takes many years. It's not only a matter of writing and printing, it's like a special journey with this holy book.

"The Quran is distributed inside and outside the UAE. We give copies to charitable organisations in the UAE and they distribute it through their projects abroad. It is available in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America."

Before those first editions appeared, every version of the Quran distributed in the UAE was either imported from countries such as Egypt, Lebanon or Syria, or reprinted here from imported texts.

Creating the UAE's own Quran was a painstaking process.

First, a skilled calligrapher had to be found to write the text by hand. A competition was held to select a worthy candidate and the Syrian Jamal Bustan was chosen.

His penmanship began in 1997 and took four years to complete.

Mr Bustan's work had to be examined by leading Islamic scholars, who pored over every character before giving their approval.

Two committees were formed to do this, one consisting of senior reciters of the Quran and the second of specialists from the department.

Mr Bustan's work was reviewed letter by letter and word by word by the department's experts, then approved by scholars overseas.

Every copy of the Quran has to be identical and an edition is rejected if even a single dot above a letter is in the wrong position.

"If a dot is moved the meaning is different and it will not be accepted," said Mr Ismail. But the Dubai edition was approved and printing plates were made from the handwritten sheets.

A small test print run was carried out in Beirut in 2002 then full production began the following year.

Since then all copies have been printed in either Dubai or Sharjah. Each one is checked carefully.

The edition is known officially as the Mushaf of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum after the late Ruler of Dubai, who was the driving force behind the project and provided the funding.

The Quran is the revelations of God passed on to the Prophet Mohammed.

These were memorised and recited by the Prophet and written down by his companions.

Shortly after his death they were collected together into a single book.

"We ensure that every letter is the same and every word is the same as was told to the Prophet Mohammed," said Mr Ismail. "Every Quran until today is compared with the original.

"Every copy that is printed in the UAE is checked to ensure that they are all 100 per cent - or 1 million per cent - the same, and they are stamped to confirm they are right."

The UAE edition is available in five sizes and remains the only version produced in the Emirates.

It can be downloaded in PDF form from the department's website, www.iacad.gov.ae

A special version printed on paper coated with varnish containing gold has been produced to be presented as a gift to VIPs.

csimpson@thenational.ae