How to get started?
The influence of the Quran on Islamic culture can hardly be exaggerated and every scholar needs some basic knowledge on how the Quran is structured, how the book is positioned in society (through the ages) etc. However, such basic knowledge is not enough to recognize the references to Quranic verses that are found everywhere, from literature and poetry to inscriptions to amulets and so on. Whenever in doubt, a concordance can function as a starting point. In the original printed version of concordances, which are still helpful, each word that is mention in the Quran is listed and on the basis of that list it is easy to determine if a word features in the Quran, and if so, where and how many times. In the age of digitalization many databases are available to facilitate such a search, but the principle remains very much the same: on the basis of a specific word one can determine if something is a Quranic reference and where in the Quran it features.
After establishing that something is indeed a Quranic quote, the next step is to determine its meaning and/ or the role a verse played in history or in a particular society. Consulting a translation might overcome the first hurdle of actually understanding the Arabic words, but that is only a starting point. (While some populist politicians think they can become Quran interpreters based on such a translation, this is not the job that scholars generally assign to themselves.) Scholars are interested in how such verses were understood and acted upon by Muslims throughout the ages. After all, Muslims themselves have for centuries argued about the actual meaning of certain words or phrases, and the results of those arguments are laid down in works of Tafsir. In a Tafsir the content of the Quran is discussed putting words and sentences into larger contexts and taking other sources, like the hadith, into consideration. Like with the concordances, digitalization has been a game-changer to facilitate reading Tafsirs (for example: www.altafsir.com) But of course different tafsir author come to different conclusion concerning certain words or phrases. Moreover different communities recognize different collections of Hadith as trustworthy, and that strongly influences the conclusions from one tafsir to the next as well.
Another important angle of study is a linguistic approach as the Quran heavily influenced how Classical Arabic was understood, in the past and this understanding also shaped Modern Standard Arabic in turn. Again the linguistic approach was taken by Muslims themselves, and thus a large body of texts in Arabic written over many centuries is available. Additionally Western scholars have produced all kinds of linguistic scholarship based on the Quran. So also from the starting point of linguistics, the available corpus is very large.
The Bibliography of Qur’anic Studies in European Languages mentions over 8000 entries, and as becomes clear from the title, that excludes titles in Arabic and other none-European languages. Summarizing this it means that in this ‘how to get started section’ we really need to stress the importance of delineating your research question before diving into any topic related to the Quran. As a first introduction to get up to speed in the field the Cambridge Companion to the Qurʾān (editors McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, Cambridge University Press) is a good starting point. For specific terminology the Encyclopaedia on the Qur’an, a paid online resource, probably available through your univeristy library, is a nice tool.
For cross-referencing, see also the Manuscripts section.
Corpus Coranicum – The single most important resource for researching early Quranic manuscripts. Allows one to navigate the Quran, and look at different Quran fragments that contain specific Ayas. Some of the manuscripts have been transcribed. Images are often in a somewhat low resolution.
Quran Gateway – This impressive resource (with paywall) allows researchers to do advanced literary and text analysis of the Quran, from tools for studying the Quran’s language, grammar and syntax, to complex searches of formulaic structures. One of the software’s functions allows to search for scribal connections across early digitized copies of Quranic manuscripts.
Islamic Painted Page – A database of digitized manuscripts collections worldwide, hosted by the University of Hamburg. It includes a general search form for manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish, and a dedicated search form for Quranic manuscripts.
Digital Library of the Middle East – A repository of digitized images from various public and private collections developed by the CLIR and Stanford Libraries. It includes images of Quranic manuscripts, books, and objects.
Islamic Inscriptions of Cairo – A rich database of monumental inscriptions from buildings in Cairo, including Quranic inscriptions.
DMMapp – A map of libraries with digitized manuscript collections.
The Khamseen Project – Islamic Art History online – includes fantastic resources on Quranic inscriptions and manuscripts.
Gallica – The webpage of the digitized collection of Bibliothèque nationale de France. All Quran manuscripts from Déroche’s Les manuscrits du coran (1983) can be found in high resolution scans by searching for their collection name, e.g. “Arabe 328“
Islamic Manuscripts at BnF – This landing page gives an overview, with description, of some of the Quranic manuscripts that are digitised in the BnF. Easier to navigate than the main Gallica site, but lists only a small portion of the available manuscripts.
HMML – An incredibly rich database of digitized manuscripts and printed books from libraries, museums, pious institutions, and private collections in the Middle East (and elsewhere). HMML focuses especially on collections that are considered endangered because of war, violence, and natural disasters. Among other activities, HMML has partnered with SAVAMA-DCI in Bamako, Mali, to digitize the manuscripts evacuated from Timbuktu in 2012.
Cambridge Digital Library – Digitized Quran manuscripts held in this library can be accessed.
Leiden Library Digital Collections – Selected digitized images from the Library’s collections of manuscripts and printed books from the Middle East (among other special collections), including Qurans.
Other collections/ Images
Codex Sanaa 1 – The famous palimpsest from Sanaa (also known as DAM 01-27.1) whose upper text contains the standard Uthmanic Quran, but whose lower text is our only example of a non-Uthmanic Quran. Therefore it is invaluable for our understanding of the history of the Quranic text. Both the normal light and UV light images can be downloaded from the Islamic Awareness page (very large files).
The Mingana-Lewis Palimpsest (Small leaves) – A Ḥijāzī Quran fragment overwritten by Christian Arabic. Wonderfully digitally retouched by Alba Fedeli.
The Mingana-Lewis Palimpsest (Large leaves) – A Ḥijāzī Quran fragment overwritten by Christian Arabic. Wonderfully digitally retouched by Alba Fedeli.
BnF Arabe 6140a (ff. 1-4) / CUL Add. 1125 – A vocalized Ḥijāzī Quran fragment spread across two libraries. A description may be found here.
The Quran of Amajur (CUL Add. 1116) – An artfully crafted Quran in the Kufi D.I style. It is moreover one of the few dated Kufic Qurans (262 AH/876 CE).
The Umayyad Codex of Fustat (BnF Arabe 330c) (ff. 11-19) – One of the Qurans in the Kufi O.I style. The National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg) has three more fragments of this codex, NLR Marcel 11, 13 and 15. These have not been digitized.
Early Western Korans Online – This paid source contains all Arabic Koran editions printed in Europe before 1850.
Other resources for studying the Quran (Arabic text and translations)
Islamic Awareness – A catalogue of Quran manuscripts especially from the 1st c. AH. Often gives information which fragments originally belong to a single manuscript where Corpus Coranicum does not always provide this information.
nQuran – (In Arabic) A website that is especially useful for researching the different Quranic reading traditions. The comparison tool gives a color-coded overview of the differences between the ten canonical readings.
Quran.com – A database for reading the Quran (Egyptian edition). It allows to read individual suras, verses or passages, listen to modern recordings of Quranic readings, browse for keywords in Arabic, and compare a number of translations.
Al-quran.info – Similarly to quran.com, this database gathers a number of modern translations of the Quran in several languages.
Quranic Corpus – A useful tool for studying the language and syntax of the Quranic text.
Bibliographies and Reference Works
Brill’s Encyclopedia of the Qur’an (Online, 2005-).
Oxford Bibliographies on Islamic Studies (2009-).
Morteza Karimi-Nia, Bibliography of Qur’anic Studies in European Languages (The Center for Translation of the Holy Quran, 2012).
Sajid Shaffi, 21st Century Quranic Studies in English: A Bibliography (Viva Books, 2018.)
International Qur’anic Studies Association (IQSA) – IQSA is a major academic association for scholars in Quranic studies from all continents. The website includes information about the association’s activities, conferences, and publications. IQSA’s Youtube channel collects public lectures and webinars by experts in Quranic studies, on specialized subjects.
The Global Qur’an – A series of public lectures hosted by the ALU Freiburg University regarding modern and modernist Qur’anic exegesis.