Islamic Bookmaking & Literature

The Muslim holy book, the Quran, was elaborately decorated by bookmakers.
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Historically, the art of bookmaking in the Islamic world was elaborate and highly organized. Vast sums of money went into the bookmaking process, and bookmaking was supported by wealthy individuals in Islamic society, including kings and noblemen. Bookmaking was a lengthy, step-by-step process that employed illustrators, scholars, craftsmen, calligraphers, paper and leather suppliers, and librarians. The emphasis on education and literature in Islam meant that books were highly valued at all levels of society.

1 History of Islamic Writing

Writing in the Islamic world emerged shortly after the prophet Muhammad began spreading the religious word of Islam. It is believed that Muhammad employed secretaries to record his teachings on paper; this is the earliest written example of what would later be compiled into the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Following Muhammad's death in the sixth century C.E., written records expanded quickly as scholars attempted to record his teachings in great detail. Out of this interest in writing came a problem -- there was no unified written alphabet. The Arabic writing system was later codified by caliph Abd al-Malik. Soon, calligraphy emerged as a means of writing and eventually became an art form.

2 Bookmaking Process

Until the 14th fourteenth century, calligraphers produced books solely on their own; they were responsible for the writing, decoration and binding. This process changed during the 14th century, when illustrators, binders and calligraphers worked together to produce books. The process began with paper, which was used as the pages for the book. The calligrapher carefully recorded the text. Next, the illustrator added decorations, or illuminations, to the pages around the text. Decorations were typically geometric or floral designs, although sometimes humans or animals were depicted. If the book was for a high-ranking member of society or a mosque, the calligraphy and decorations would be elaborate. They were more subdued for private use. The binder would sew the pages together and complete the book.

3 Religious Literature

The Islamic religious literature is the Muslim holy book, the Quran. The Quran is considered to be the literal word of God as was spoken to the prophet Muhammad. The written version of the Quran as it appears today was compiled and organized into its present form in the ninth and 10th centuries. Because the Quran is highly revered and respected, calligraphers and illuminators created well-crafted, elaborate editions of the holy book. The book is used both privately and in mosques; the editions in mosques are larger and more elaborate than those that are privately owned.

4 Secular Literature

Once bookmaking became widespread in the Islamic world, history, poetry, scientific treatises and romance literature were copied and transformed into books. Like their religious counterparts, secular books were well-crafted and highly decorative. The Islamic emphasis on education and literature increased the production of secular books, and these books were highly valued in the Islamic world.

Natalie Chardonnet began writing in 2006, specializing in art, history, museums and travel. In 2010, she presented a paper on those subjects at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research. Chardonnet has a Bachelor of Arts in art history and a minor in Italian studies from Truman State University, in addition to a certificate in French from Ifalpes University in Chambery, France.