Sources mention various surfaces on which Qur’ānic
revelations were recorded in the times of the Prophet (sws). These surfaces can
be classified into the following:
1. Saddle Wood
2. Stone Tablets
3. Bone Tablets
6. Leaves, Branches, Trunks and the Bark of Palm Trees
9. Dry Clay
Following are some details.
1. Saddle Wood (Aqtāb)
Aqtāb is the plural of qatab and refers to a small wooden
saddle of a camel as big as its hump. It is narrated that besides other
material, Zayd ibn Thābit (rta) collected the Qur’ān in the time of Abū Bakr (rta)
In the time of the Prophet (sws) also, he himself would employ this material for
writing down the Qur’ān.
2. Stone Tablets (Likhāf)
Stone tablets were also used for writing down the Qur’ān.
The Arabic word used is likhāf, which is the plural of lakhfah and connotes
slender white stones. Narratives mention that Zayd ibn Thābit (rta) also
collected the Qur’ān from stone tablets.
the word zurar which refers to a sharp edged stone. A narrative mentions the
word najāf which is also a type of stone.
Ibn Nadīm records that the Arabs would write on the shoulder blades of camels (aktāf
al-ibil), thin white stones (likhāf) and on the bark of palm trees (‘usub).
It would be of interest to note that the Arabs used to call
writings and designs on stones as al-wahyu (اَلْوَحْيُ
فَمَدَافِعُ الرَّيَّانَ عُرِّىَ رَسْمُهَا
خَلَقًا كَمَا ضَمِنَ الوُحِىَّ سِلَامُهَا
fa madāfi‘u al-rayyān ‘urriya rasmuhā
khalaqan kamā damin al-wuhiyya silāmuhā
(Because of the passage of time, the remains of the
water-ways of mount al-rayyān have grown faint like an old inscription
written on rocks.)
لِمَنِ الدِّيارُ غَشِيْتُهَا بِالْفَدْفَدِ
كَلْوَحْيِ فِى حَجَرِ الْمَسِيْل الْمُخْلِدِ
liman al-diyār ghashītuhā bi al-fadfadī
ka al-wahyi fī hajar al-masīl al-mukhlidī
(Whose settlements are these which I visited at the place of al-fadfad; they
were like marks on the stones of some old water-way.)
3. Shoulder Blades (Aktāf)
Narratives record that Zayd (rta) in the times of Abū Bakr (rta) also collected
the Qur’ān from shoulder/scapula bones or aktāf of animals in particular camels,
horses and sheep.
Similarly, rib bones or ‘adlā‘ of some of these animals would be used for this
It has already been mentioned with reference to Ibn Nadīm that the Arabs would
use the scapula bones of camels for writing.
A narrative shows that when a certain verse was revealed to the Prophet (sws),
he called Zayd (rta) to have it written and Zayd (rta) came in with a bone
tablet to record it.
Scapula bones were used for writing in general as well. A narrative mentions
that the Prophet (sws) had called for a scapula bone to write a document.
The tale of the Prophet Joseph (sws) was written on a shoulder (scapula) bone
and was read out to the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
‘Umar (rta) asked the Prophet (sws) to inform him of the meaning of the word
kalālah so that he could write it down on a scapula bone.
4. Leather (Adīm)
The Qur’ān was also written on leather (adīm) made after tanning the hides of
animals like goats, cattle and sheep.
Evidence of writing on adīm can be seen from a narrative in which the Prophet
(sws) granted peace to Surāqah ibn Mālik by having a statement written down.
The Prophet (sws) wrote a letter on a piece of adīm to the kingdom of Aman.
The Prophet (sws) allotted a piece of land to Awfā ibn Mawwālah al-‘Anbarī on
the condition that he would feed the needy and the traveller from it. This
allotment letter was written on a piece of red leather (adīm ahmar).
Similarly, the Prophet (sws) wrote down a writing on white leather (adīm abyad)
urging Dhū Farrūkh to accept Islam at the request of the latter’s brother Salmān
ibn Badakhshān who had accepted Islam. It was written down by ‘Alī (rta) and
stamped with the seals of the Prophet (sws), Abū Bakr (rta) and ‘Alī (rta).
The Prophet (sws) wrote a letter of immunity on adīm to Banū Zuhayr ibn ‘Aqyash
as long as they adhered to Islam.
The Prophet (sws) allotted a piece of land to Rabī‘, Mutarrif and Anas at the
place of Banū ‘Aqīq and wrote down this allotment letter on red leather (adīm
‘Umar (rta) mentions that he had copied out a book of the People of the Book
on adīm so that Muslims could benefit from their knowledge. When the Prophet (sws)
came to know about it, he expressed his anger.
Dr Jawwād ‘Alī also mentions that on the basis of an agreement written on a
piece of adīm an outstanding sum of 20, 000 dirhams in the name Sa‘īd ibn al-‘Ās
when he died was paid to a young person on his demand.
5. Parchment (raqq/qadīm)
The word raqq as used in the Qur’ān (52:3) refers to the parchment on which
the Bible was written down. Though parchment is also made from goat and sheep
skin, it is distinct from leather in that it is not tanned. It is also recorded
that there was a consensus of the Companions that the Qur’ān should be written
on raqq because writing could be preserved for longer times on it or because of
the fact that it was available to them easily.
That this material was used for writing in those times is evident from the
أشَجَاكَ الرَّبْعُ أمْ قِدَمُهْ،
أمْ رَمَادٌ، دارِسٌ حُمَمُهْ
a shajāk al-rab‘u am qidamuh
am ramādun dārisun humamuh
كَسُطُورِ الرَّقِّ رَقَّشَهُ
بِالضُّحَى مُرَقَّشٌ يَشِمُه
ka sutur al-raqqi raqqashahū
bi al-duhā muraqqashun yashimuh
(Are you sad because of the field or because of its old age or the ashes
whose coals have extinguished like a writing on a parchment which some writer
has etched on it at mid-morning)
Hassān ibn Thābit says:
عَرَفْتَ دِيَارَ زَينَبَ بالكَثِيبِ،
كَخَط الوَحْيِ في الرَّقّ القَشِيبِ
‘arafata diyār zaynab bi al-kathīb
ka khatt al-wahyi fī al-raqqi al-qashīb
(You have recognized the house of Zaynab which is on the high-ground as if a
writing on clean parchment)
It seems that qadīm which refers to white parchment was also one of the
materials on which the Qur’ān was written in the times of the Prophet (sws).
It is known that the Prophet (sws) wrote a document for the people of Dūmah al-Jandal
6. Leaves, Branches, Trunks and the Bark of Palm Trees
It is recorded that Zayd ibn Thābit (rta) collected the Qur’ān in the time of
Abū Bakr (rta) from the bark of palm trees. The word used is ‘usub which is a
plural of ‘asīb.
Similarly, the leaves (sa‘af) and trunks (karanīf) and branches (jarā’id) of
palm trees were used for this purpose.
It is recorded that the Prophet (sws) wrote a letter to the Banū ‘Azrah on
Imru’ al-Qays says:
لِمَنْ طَلَلٌ أبْصَرتُهُ فَشَجَاني
كَخَطّ زَبُورٍ في عَسِيبِ يَمَانِ
li man talalun absartuhū fa shajānī
ka khattin zabūrin fī ‘asībi yamāni
(Whose ruins are these which have made me sad as if the writing of a book
written on the bark of palm trees produced in Yemen.)
Sources apparently do not mention paper as one of the writing materials for
the Qur’ān. Thus scholars generally do not enlist it when they mention the
writing materials of the Qur’ān. Al-Sābūnī says that paper was very rare in
Al-Jazarī says that the Arabs would write on bone tablets and other material
because paper was scarce in Arabia in those times.
Abbot also expresses a similar opinion.
Dr Jawwād ‘Alī says that the Arabic word qirtās is equivalent to the English
word “papyri” which are paper manuscripts made from the plant Papyrus. Papyrus
is a triangular reed that used to grow along the banks of the Nile, and at an
early stage of their history the Egyptians developed a kind of writing material
made out of the pith within the stem of the papyrus plant. He is also of the
view that the origin of qirtās is from the Greek word khartis.
Similarly, Dr Nāsir al-Dīn Asad strongly affirms that though paper was not
produced in Arabia in those days it was still found there because of trade
relations with India and Persia which were adjacent to China and Khurasan where
paper was manufactured. He says that although it is generally believed that
paper reached Arabia through Chinese prisoners of war who were skilled in paper
production around the year 133 AH, there is evidence to believe that it existed
in Arabia in earlier times because of these trade relations. He further says
that the Arabs used paper manufactured in Egypt. It was called al-waraq al-bardī.
As for the Arabic word used for paper, he opines that the word al-waraq found in
some Ahādīth that mention the collection of the Qur’ān and in certain couplets
of pre-Islamic classical Arabic poetry refers to paper. He admits that the word
al-waraq is a general one which can also be used for a page made of parchment
and leather, yet in its usage in the Ahādīth and pre-Islamic couplets he
presents, it can only refer to paper. The primary Hadīth he presents is one in
which ‘Uthmān (rta) in his times collected the Qur’ān and had asked every person
who had a portion of the Qur’ān with him written on al-waraqah or al-adīm to
bring it over.
He concludes that since the narrative mentions al-adīm (leather) separately, the
al-waraqah it mentions refers to paper.
Although history does not explicitly mentions the use of cloth as a material
for writing down the Qur’ān, there is no reason to believe that it was not
particularly used because it was commonly used as a writing surface in
pre-Islamic Arabia. The words qirtās, waraq, sahīfah and ruq‘ah can easily
connote a “page of cloth” too. Ibn ‘Atiyyah (d. 543 AH) refers to the word turar,
(singular: turrah) in the Muqiddamah to his tafsīr Al-Jāmi‘ al-muharrar as one
of the surfaces used for writing.
One of the meanings of this word is “coarse cloth”.
In pre-Islamic times, the muharaq was of two types: a) made from white cotton
(kirbās) and b) silk cloth, which was made sticky through glue, was used for the
purpose of writing. Since it was expensive, it was used only in writings of
great importance. According to al-Jāhiz, this cloth was only used for writing of
religious books, pacts and treaties of peace.
This makes it all the more probable that it was used as a surface for writing
down the Qur’ān as well.
Hārith ibn Halizzah says:
حِلْفَ ذِى المَجَازِ وما
قُدَّمَ فيه ،
wa idhākirū hilfa dhī al-majāz wa mā
quddama fīhī al-‘uhūdu wa al-kufalā’ū
والتعدى ، وهل
يَنْقُضُ ما فى
hadhara al-jawri wa al-ta‘addī wa hal
yanqudu ma fī al-mahāriq al-ahwā’ū
(And remember the pact of Dhū al-Mājāz and all the agreements that have been
made and the guaranteers who have been called upon it so that you are able to
secure yourself from oppression and excesses, and can mere desires wipe out what
is written in the al-mahāriq.)
9. Dry Clay (Khazaf)
Besides this material, some sources also mention khazaf as surfaces on which
the Qur’ān was written.
This of course would refer to lumps or chunks of dry clay. Dr Jawwād ‘Alī has
also alluded to it while enumerating various surfaces on which Arabs used to
A word here seems appropriate regarding the pens and inks used in those
According to Dr Jawwād ‘Alī,
the pens which were used by the Arabs for writing before the advent of Muhammad
were made from reeds of cane. These reeds were cut from a cane plant, which was
found in abundance in Arabia and one of their ends was sharpened by a knife. At
the centre of this reed a very small hole was made so that ink could enter from
it. This crafted pen would be dipped in ink and used for writing.
There were some pens which were made from iron so that they could be used for
writing on surfaces such as stone. Similarly, feathers of birds were also
sometimes employed for writing.
The word mizbar is also used for the Arabic word al-qalam.
The commonly used words for ink that was used in Arabia are:
1. Hibr (حِبْر)
2. Midād (مِدَاد)
3. Niqs (نِقْس)
According to Dr Jawwād ‘Alī,
historical records are devoid of any information about how the pre-Islamic Arabs
made ink. However, this can be adduced from nations contemporaneous to them.
Some of this material includes ashes, gum, oil ingredients and burnt bones of