HIJAZI - Palaeography EXERCISE Lesson 50 - Dr. Jelle Bruning

‘Ḥijāzī script’ is a script style used for the oldest Arabic texts preserved. Despite its (modern) name, Ḥijāzī script was not solely used in the Ḥijāz, a mountainous region in western Arabia. It was used for inscriptions before the rise of Islam and continued to be used for every other type of text, including copies of the Qurʾān and administrative and private letters, for at least a century into Muslim history and throughout the Muslim empire.

Towards the end of the seventh century CE, Ḥijāzī script style had developed into a number of sub-styles. Whereas the script of earlier Arabic texts is strikingly uniform, texts dating from the late seventh century show that sub-types were associated with particular types of text and their usages. By that time, scribes working for the Muslim administration wrote their documents in a chancellery sub-style of Ḥijāzī. From around the same time do copies of the Qurʾān exhibit a style of Ḥijāzī and a lay-out that are best understood as conveying these manuscripts’ monumental character. The latter sub-type is well exemplified in the regular script of the Leiden manuscript Or. 14.545c, a leaf from a late seventh-century Qurʾān codex (see the exercise below and manuscript in the frame). The papyrus of Lesson 1 shows another late seventh-century Ḥijāzī hand. This development of Ḥijāzī script is often associated with administrative and religious developments that took place during the rule of the Umayyad caliphs (r. 661-750 CE).

In general, Ḥijāzī script has the following characteristics:

Note also that when scribes neared the end of a line, if there wasn't enough room to fit the entire word they were to copy, they would nonetheless fill the line with the first letters of that word, and continue the rest of it on the following line. This splitting of letters of one word between lines is a signature feature of early Arabic scripts.

Geoffrey Khan, Arabic Papyri: Selected Material from the Khalili Collection (Oxford: The Nour Foundation 1992), 23-46.

Beatrice Gruendler, The Development of the Arabic Scripts: From the Nabatean Era to the First Islamic Century According to Dated Texts (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1993

About this manuscript

Title: Qur'an Fragment

Classmark: Or. 14.545c

Language(s): Arabic

Script: Hijazi

The following examples taken from the Leiden manuscript Or. 14.545c illustrate the main characteristics of Ḥijāzī script as found in late seventh-century Qurʾān codices.

Hijazi 1
Ḥijāzī alif and dāl/dhāl: recto side, line 3 (اتخذوا ايمنهم)

The picture above is of two words: اتخذوا ايمنهم. Note how the spacing between the separated letters of one word can be as long as the space between words themselves. The above example also typifies how the Ḥijāzī free-standing alif bends to the right at the bottom and, like the alif, a dāl and dhāl have a top that bends to the right.

The words فطبع على (below right) illustrate the horizontal elongation of the the ṣād, ḍād, ṭāʾ and ẓāʾ. They also show that the horizontal part of the initial ʿayn and ghayn is elongated and that a medial and final ʿayn and ghayn is open at the top.

Hijazi 2
The ṣād/ḍād/ṭāʾ/ẓāʾ andʿayn/ghayn: recto side, line 5 (فطبع على)

The word فاصدق below illustrates the remarkable shape of the free-standing and final qāf, which is vertically aligned and ends in a curve. Again note the considerable spaces which the copyist leaves between the unjoined letters within a single word.

Hijazi 3
The Ḥijāzī qāf: verso side, line 6 (فاصدق)

Finally, لهم ام لم shows the round shape of the mīm and its very short tail in the final position.

Hijazi 4
Ḥijāzī mīm: recto side, line 13 (لهم ام لم)


Look at the recto side of the Qur'an leaf. It may be easier to open the viewer in a second tab, so that you have it in your screen next to the box below. Type lines 5-9 from the top of the page in the box below. Make sure that you insert no blank lines. Though this is a Qur'anic text, do not add vowels (as is usual today, but they are not marked on many Hijazi manuscripts such as this), though write all hamzas in the modern convention (i.e. أ instead of ا); Qur'anic manuscript markings of hamza's are quite flexible, the exercise below normalises them to modern standard.

After one line or more, click the button "compare". Three dots will appear in places where you have misread letters; you can retype the incorrect letters, and once no dots appear in the below, you have transcribed the text 100% correctly.


  1. Once you have completed the palaeography exercise, look up which part of the Qur'an is recorded on this folia. At what sura/aya does the recto side of the folia begin, and with which verse does it end at the bottom of the verso side?