Among the 20 thousand books within the library of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan is the Quran of Usman, perhaps one of the most important holy relics in the Muslim world. Definitively dated to the 8th or 9th century, and perhaps as early as the 7th, this Quran is believed to be one of the original six copies which were written down as a single compilation for the first time, and then distributed to the major muslim cities of that era. The Quran of Usman is the last known surviving example.
It is believed that this original copy was brought from Medina to the Iraqi city of Kufa when Ali ibn Abu Talib, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, relocated the capital of the Caliph in the 7th century. It remained there for eight centuries until the region was conquered by Amir Timur in 1402. The Quran of Usman was brought by Timur back to his capital, Samarkand, where it was kept for another 466 years within the Nodir Diwanbengi Madrasah of the Khoja-Ahrar Ensemble. The giant marble slab upon which the Quran once rested can now be seen in the ruins of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque.
For 1,200 years the Quran of Usman remained in Muslim hands for safekeeping. Everything changed when in 1868 Russian troops under the command of General von Kaufman captured and occupied the ancient Timurid capital under Russian Turkestan. A year later the tsarist administration of Samarkand sent the ancient manuscript to Tashkent for safekeeping, where by now Governor-General von Kaufman had it shipped to the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg as a gift to Tsar Alexander II. The Quran’s marble slab, however, proved to be too heavy to move. An extensive study of the text was made in the following years, where it was included in a collection of other religious manuscripts from around the world.
The October Revolution set events in motion which would eventually return the Quran to Uzbekistan. On Lenin’s orders, the text was transferred from St. Petersburg to Petrograd in December 1917, and then to Ufa in 1918 for safekeeping by the Russian Muslim Council as a symbolic thanks for their participation in the Bolshevik Uprising. A congress of Muslim clergy from across the USSR in 1923 decided that the Quran of Usman should be transferred back to Uzbekistan.
The Quran was brought by special train from Ufa to Tashkent in August 1923, and then returned to its rightful place within the Khoja-Ahrar Ensemble, where it remained for just 18 years. In 1941 it was moved to the Museum of the History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, and then in 1989 to the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan. Following Uzbek Independence in 1991, the Quran of Usman was placed in its current location within the Muyi Muborak Madrassa in Khast-Imam square.
In 1997, UNESCO certified the Quran of Usman as the only surviving original Koranic manuscript and as such has earned a place on the register of the Memory of the World Programme. In order to preserve the 1,300 year old manuscript for future generations, an exact replica was recently completed by scholars and calligraphers from the Tashkent Islamic University using authentic materials matching the original. The preservation of not just the memory, but also the physical text, will ensure that this important piece of humanity’s documentary heritage continues to be safeguarded for generations to come.