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Materials and Surfaces Used for Writing the Qur’an
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

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

4. Leather

5. Parchments

6. Leaves, Branches, Trunks and the Bark of Palm Trees

7. Paper

8. Cloth

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) from aqtāb.1 In the time of the Prophet (sws) also, he himself would employ this material for writing down the Qur’ān.2


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. 3  

Al-Qurtubī mentions4 the word zurar which refers to a sharp edged stone. A narrative mentions the word najāf which is also a type of stone.5

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).6

It would be of interest to note that the Arabs used to call writings and designs on stones as al-wahyu (اَلْوَحْيُ ):


Labīd says:7


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.)


Zuhayr says:8

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.9 Similarly, rib bones or ‘adlā‘ of some of these animals would be used for this purpose.10 It has already been mentioned with reference to Ibn Nadīm that the Arabs would use the scapula bones of camels for writing.11

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.12

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.13 The tale of the Prophet Joseph (sws) was written on a shoulder (scapula) bone and was read out to the Prophet Muhammad (sws).14 ‘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.15 


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.16

The Prophet (sws) wrote a letter on a piece of adīm to the kingdom of Aman.17

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).18

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).19

The Prophet (sws) wrote a letter of immunity on adīm to Banū Zuhayr ibn ‘Aqyash as long as they adhered to Islam.20

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 ahmar).21

‘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.22

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.23


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.24

That this material was used for writing in those times is evident from the following couplets:


Tarfah says:25


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:26


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).27 It is known that the Prophet (sws) wrote a document for the people of Dūmah al-Jandal on qadīm.28


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.29

Similarly, the leaves (sa‘af) and trunks (karanīf) and branches (jarā’id) of palm trees were used for this purpose.30

It is recorded that the Prophet (sws) wrote a letter to the Banū ‘Azrah on ‘asīb.31


Imru’ al-Qays says:32


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.)


7. Paper

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 those times.33 Al-Jazarī says that the Arabs would write on bone tablets and other material because paper was scarce in Arabia in those times.34 Abbot also expresses a similar opinion.35 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.36 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.37 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.38 He concludes that since the narrative mentions al-adīm (leather) separately, the al-waraqah it mentions refers to paper.


8. Cloth

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.39 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.40 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:41


واذا كروا حِلْفَ ذِى المَجَازِ وما

قُدَّمَ فيه ، العُهودُ والكُفَلاءُ

wa idhākirū hilfa dhī al-majāz wa mā

quddama fīhī al-‘uhūdu wa al-kufalā’ū


حَذَر الجَوْر والتعدى ، وهل

يَنْقُضُ ما فى المهارق الأهواءُ

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.42 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 write.43




A word here seems appropriate regarding the pens and inks used in those times.

According to Dr Jawwād ‘Alī,44 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.45

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,46 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 animals.






1. Abū Bakr ‘Abdullāh ibn Abī Dā’ūd Sulaymān ibn al-Ash‘ath, Kitāb al-masāhif, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1985), 15. See also: Abū al-Qāsim Sulaymān ibn Ahmad al-Tabarānī, Al-Mu‘jam al-kabīr, 2nd ed., vol. 5 (Mawsil: Maktabah al-zahrā, 1983), 146, (no. 4901).

2. Al-Tabarānī, Al-Mu‘jam al-kabīr, vol. 5, 142, (no. 4889). See also: Abū Sa‘d ‘Abd al-Karīm ibn Muhammad ibn Mansūr al-Sam‘ānī, Adab al-imlā’ wa istimlā’, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1981), 77.

3. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhārī, Al Jāmi‘ al-sahīh, 3rd ed., vol. 6 (Beirut: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1987), 2629, (no. 6768). See also: Ibn Abī Dā’ūd, Kitāb al-masāhif, 13; Abū Hātim Muhammad ibn Hibbān al-Bustī, Sahīh, 2nd ed., vol 10 (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-risālah, 1993), 359-362, (no. 4506); Abū Bakr Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Bayhaqī, Al-Sunan al-kubrā, vol. 2 (Makkah: Maktabah dār al-Bāz, 1994), 40, (no. 2202). The Musnad of Abū Ya‘lā mentions the generic name َالحِجَارَةُ (stones). Abū Ya‘lā Ahmad ibn ‘Alī, Musnad, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Damascus: Dār al-mā’mūn li al-turāth, 1984) 66, (no. 64).

4. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abū Bakr al-Qurtubī, Al-Jāmi‘ li ahkām al-Qur’ān, vol. 1 (Cairo: Dār al-shu‘ab, n.d.), 49.

5. Abū ‘Isā Muhammad ibn ‘I%sa al-Tirmidhī, Sunan, vol. 5 (Beirut: Dār ihyā’ al-turāth al-‘arabī, n.d.), 283, (no. 3103).

6. Abū al-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishāq ibn Nadīm, Al-Fihrist (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 2002), 34.

7. Labīd ibn Rabī‘ah, Dīwān, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-ma‘rifah, 2004), 107.

8. Zuhayr ibn Abī Salamah, Dīwān  (Beirut: Shirkah Dār al-Arqam ibn Abī Arqam, n.d.), 27.

9. Ibn Abī Dā’ūd, Kitāb al-masāhif, 15; Ibid., 28. See also: Al-Tabarānī, Al-Mu‘jam al-kabīr, vol. 5, 146, (no. 4901); Abū Ya‘lā, Musnad, vol. 1, 72, (no. 71).

10. Ibn Abī Dā’ūd, Kitāb al-masāhif, 14.

11. Ibn Nadīm, Al-Fihrist, 34.

12. Al-Bukhārī, Al-Jāmi‘ al-sahīh, vol. 4, 1909, (no. 4704). See also: Ibid., vol. 4, 1677, (no. 4318); Al-Tirmidhī, Sunan, vol. 4, 191, (no. 1670); Abū Dā’ūd Sulymān ibn al-Ash‘ath al-Sajistāni, Sunan, vol. 3 (n.p.: Dār al-fikr, n.d.), 11, (no. 2507).

13. Abū al-Husayn Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj al-Qushayrī, Al-Jami‘ al-sahīh, vol. 3 (Beirut: Dār ihyā’ al-turāth al-‘arabī, n.d.), 1259, (no. 1637). See also: Abū ‘Abdullāh Ahmad ibn Hanbal al-Shaybānī, Musnad, vol. 1 (Cairo: Mu’assasah al-Qurtubah, n.d.), 355, (no. 3336).

14. ‘Abd al-Razzāq ibn Hammām al-San‘ānī, Musannaf, 2nd ed., vol. 6 (Beirut: Al-Maktab al-islāmī, 1403 AH), 113, (no. 10165).

15. Ibid., vol. 10, 305, (no. 19194).

16. Al-Bukhārī, Al-Jami‘ al-sahīh, vol. 3, 1420, (no. 3693). See also: Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 4, 175, (no. 17627); Al-Tabarānī, Al-Mu‘jam al-kabīr, vol. 7, 132, (no. 6601).

17. Abū ‘Abdullāh Yāqūt ibn ‘Abdullāh al-Hamawī, Mu‘jam al-buldān, vol. 2 (Beirut: Dār al-fikr, n.d.), 461.

18. Yāqūt, Mu‘jam al-buldān, vol. 4, 214.

19. Abū Muhammad ‘Abdullāh ibn Muhammad ibn Ja‘far ibn Hayyān al-Ansārī, Tabaqāt al-muhaddithīn bi al-Isbahān, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-risālah, 1992), 231.

20. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn Sa‘d al-Zuhrī, Al-Tabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dār sādir, n.d.), 279.

21. Ibid., vol. 1, 302.

22. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wāhid ibn Ahmad al-Maqdisī, Al-Ahādīth al-mukhtārah, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Makkah: Maktabah al-nahdah al-hadīthah, 1410 AH), 215-217, (no. 115). See also: ‘Alī ibn Abī Bakr al-Haythamī, Majma‘ al-zawā’id wa manba‘ al-fawāid, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dār al-kitāb al-‘arabī, 1407 AH), 173.

23. Dr Jawwād ‘Alī, Al-Mufassal fī# tārīkh al-‘Arab qabl al-islām, 2nd ed., vol. 8, (Baghdad: Maktabah nahdah, 1978), 261.

24. Ahmad ibn ‘Alī al-Qalqashandī#, Subh al a‘shā fī sina‘ah al-inshā, vol. 2 (Damascus: Wizarah al-thaqāfah, 1981), 515.

25. Tarfah ibn al-‘Abd, 1st ed., Dīwān (Beirut: Dār al-ma‘rifah, 2003), 78.

26. Hassān ibn Thābit, Dīwān, vol. 1 (Lahore: Maktabah al-‘ilmiyyah, n.d.), 82.

27. Abū al-Qāsim Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Zamakhsharī, Al-Fā’iq fi gharīb al-hadīth, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Beirut: Dār al-ma‘rifah, n.d.), 431; Abū Muhammad ‘Abdullāh ibn Muslim ibn Qutaybah, Gharīb al-hadīth, 1st ed., vol. 3 (Baghdād: Matba‘ah al-‘ānī, 1397 AH), 668.

28. Abū ‘Ubayd Qāsim ibn Sallām, Kitāb al-amwāl (Beirut: Dār al-fikr, 1988), 253.

29. Al-Bukhārī, Al Jāmi‘ al-sahīh, vol. 6, 2629, (no. 6768). See also: Al-Tirmidhī, Sunan, vol. 5, 283, (no. 3103); Ibn Hibbān, Sahīh, vol. 10, 359, (no. 4506); Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān Ahmad ibn Shu‘ayb al-Nasā’ī, 2nd ed., Fadā’il al-Qur’ān (Beirut: Dār baydā’, 1992.), 75; Ibn Nadīm, Al-Fihrist, 31; Ibn Abī Dā’ūd, Kitāb al-masāhif, 14.

30. Abū ‘Abdullāh Ahmad ibn Hanbal al-Shaybānī, Fadā’il al-sahābah, 1st ed. vol. 1 (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-risālah, 1983), 390, (no. 591). See also Ibn Qutaybah, Gharīb al-hadīth, vol. 3, 668.

31. Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Tabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1, 284.

32. Imru’ al-Qays, Dīwān (Beirut: Shirkah dār al-Arqam ibn Abī Arqam, n.d.), 147.

33. Muhammad ‘Alī Al-Sābūnī, Al-Tibyān fī ‘ulūm al-Qur’an, 1st ed. (Tehrān: Dār ihsān, 1380 AH), 53.

34. Al-Mubārak ibn Muhammad al-Jazarī, Al-Nihāyah fī gharīb al-hadīth wa al-athr, vol. 4 (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘ilmiyyah, 1979), 150.

35. Nabia Abbot, The Rise of the North Arabic Script and its Kur’ānic Development with a Full Description of the Kur’ānic Manuscripts in the Oriental Institute, 1st ed. (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1939), 52-53.

36. Dr Jawwād ‘Alī, Al-Mufassal fī tārīkh al-‘arab qabl al-islām, vol. 8, 262.

37. Nāsir al-Dīn Asad, Masādir al-shi‘r al-jāhilī wa qīmatuha al-tārīkhiyyah, 1st ed. (Cairo: Dār al-ma‘ārif, 1956), 88-81.

38. Ibn Abī Dā’ūd, Kitāb al-masāhif, 31.

39. Arthur Jeffery, ed., Muqaddimatān (Cairo: Maktabah khanjī, 1954.), 274.

40. Abū ‘Uthmān ‘Amr ibn Bahr al-Jāhiz, Kitāb al-hayawān, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dār al-jīl, 1996), 69-70.

41. Abū ‘Abdullāh Zawzanī, Sharh al-mu‘allaqāt al-sab‘, 2nd ed. (Beirut: Dār al-ma‘rifah, 2004), 242.

42. Al-Qurtubī, Al-Jāmi‘ li ahkām al-Qur’ān, vol. 1, 49; Jeffery, ed., Muqaddamatān, 274.

43. Dr Jawwād ‘Alī, Al-Mufassal fī tārīkh al-‘Arab qabl al-islām, vol. 8, 254.

44. Ibid., vol. 8, 253.

45. Ibid., vol. 8, 255.

46. Ibid., vol. 8, 257.

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