Explore: Power and Prestige

As the physical manifestation of the Word of God, Qur’an manuscripts (mushaf in Arabic) are thought to carry a special aura. Believers can receive baraka, “God’s blessing,” whether they see or touch a Qur’an, hear the recitation of its verses, or read from one. Certain copies are considered particularly charged, such as those associated with Uthman, Ali, and other important figures of early Islam. Others are deemed special because they are connected to the holy sites of Mecca and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. In some instances, the lineage of a manuscript, be it copied by a celebrated calligrapher or commissioned by an important and devout figure, enhanced the prestige of a Qur’anic volume.

Centuries after their completion in Isfahan, Baghdad, Shiraz, or Herat, many of the finest Qur’ans entered Ottoman collections. They were acquired by sultans, queens, and viziers through purchase, gift, or as war booty. Some were kept in private libraries or royal treasuries; others were offered to secure political and military alliances, and still others were awarded in return for loyalty and support. Qur’ans were also frequently endowed (waqf in Arabic) to public institutions as an expression of the devotion and generosity of donors. Whether used for teaching, recitation, or public display, these volumes ensured the continuous dissemination of God’s blessings. Ottoman royal women in particular donated Qur’ans to the many religious and charitable institutions they built and supported. Such noble deeds allowed them to play an active role in Ottoman social and religious life.

Imperial women played an important role in Ottoman cultural, political, and religious life notably after 1541, when Sultan Süleyman I authorized them to move from the old palace into the Topkapı royal residence. Spouses, concubines, and mothers of the imperial children—especially those who bore the eldest son of the reigning sultan—wielded considerable power.

These women also received substantial incomes. Visible expressions of their wealth and authority in Ottoman society were the numerous charitable and religious institutions they founded and supported, including mosques, schools, public kitchens, hospitals, and bathhouses. In addition, the royal women often endowed precious copies of the Qur’an to their own foundations and others associated with family members. This tradition continued until the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century.

Overview | Chapter and Verse | Ink and Gold | Power and Prestige | Timeline | Symposium: The World Illuminated: Form and Function of Qur’anic Manuscripts