My current research project bears upon the Qur’an in the Iberian Peninsula in the Late Middle Ages until the Early Modern Period. When I was studying Spanish Philology at the Autónoma Uni­versity of Madrid, I had the oppor­tunity to be engaged in the cat­a­loguing process of te corpus of Spanish Poetic Man­u­scripts of the Golden Age (sixteenth-seveteenth cen­turies) and held at the Spanish National Library in Madrid. The first man­u­script I found in this library which drew my attention included, at the beginning, a short poem quite in tune with con­tem­porary tastes. That small, but thick volume was a treatise of reli­gious con­tro­versy against the Chris­tians, written by a Morisco; it started with the Arabic basmala (“in the name of God, Mer­ciful and Com­pas­sionate”) written in Latin script fol­lowed by a text in perfect Spanish. A few folios later, there were some Qur’anic chapters in Arabic written in Latin script. The text was com­pleted, according to the colophon between, 1020 and 1031 (what is to say, 1611 and 1621 of the common era). At that moment, Don Quixote and Sancho were already walking out from the pages of their homebook, and Cer­vantes was writing the sencond part (pub­lished in 1614).

I dis­covered then what became my main research topic after my PhD: the Islamic hand­written pro­duction developed in Spain in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, and which is one of the very few direct wit­nesses we have of the Mudéjar and Morisco com­mu­nities (the Islamic com­mu­nities in Spain under Christian rulers). Over the last years, I have enlarged my field of research, and I study this pro­duction in relation to the Maghribi book tra­dition from the twelfth century onwards [1], the European Christian man­u­script pro­duction, and the Ottoman cul­tural tastes.[2]

Over the years, I have learned up to what point cod­i­cology (or the study of the book’s mate­ri­ality), ecdotic (or the expla­nation of the textual rela­tionship between the extant wit­nesses [3]) and lin­guistics (taken into account the edu­cation and origin of the copyist) could enhance our research as philol­o­gists and his­to­rians. I have also realized the impor­tance of cor­rectly under­standing the hieroglossy phe­nomenon, that is to say, the hier­ar­chical rela­tionship between dif­ferent lan­guages or within the same lan­guage, and the hierog­raphy, real­izing that our expla­na­tions can evolve as we study more and more man­u­scripts. The chrono­logical, geo­graphical, cul­tural, social, and eco­nomical context makes every single man­u­script a witness of a spe­cific sit­u­ation and purpose. Therefore, the text cannot make us forget the context: the pro­duction, trans­mission and, as a con­se­quence, the aim and use of that book. And this, as Prof. Jesús R. Velasco has rightly invited us to do through his pub­li­ca­tions, leads us to read care­fully what is written outside the limits of the writing box, in the margins, between the lines, in another direction, what is crossed out, in order to under­stand every­thing that is not said, which is one of the most important things that will help us to recon­struct the message that really was.

In that first Morisco man­u­script I found in the Spanish National Library, some chapters of the Qur’an in Arabic were copied in Latin script. No trans­lation into Spanish, no Arabic script. It is one of the rare examples of Arabic lan­guage written in Latin script from Early Modern Spain; and it is translit­er­ating the sacred text! Where is the sacrality of the Arabic script about which so much has been written? Which was the purpose of these folios? Was the copyist favoring the pro­nun­ci­ation above the script? Was the recitation more important than the meaning itself? Some of the sen­tences are far from the Arabic original text. Did they under­stand it? If it was a problem of under­standing, why use the Arabic text in Latin script and not the Aljamiado translation?

The Morisco Qur’an

To grasp the dif­ferent pos­sible uses of the Qur’anic text among the Morisco com­mu­nities and the meaning of those switching codes, I started to work on the man­u­scripts of the Qur’an that Mudéjars and Moriscos pro­duced and read  in Spain. I cat­a­logued the Aljamiado and Qur’anic man­u­scripts kept in the library of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC, Madrid), devel­oping a deeper study around the Qur’an in that col­lection.[4] I sug­gested to cat­e­gorize the copies of the sacred text during this period into three groups:

  1. the full Qur’anic text, in almost all the cases divided into many volumes;
  2. what I have called the ‘Morisco Qur’an’, that is to say a selection of homo­ge­neous Qur’anic excerpts; and
  3. copies made for indi­vidual or family use, also con­sisting of extracts.

The extant copies of the full Qur’anic text (in several volumes) were mainly copied in the fif­teenth century, and are only in Arabic (with the exception of the single com­plete trans­lation pre­served of the Qur’an into Spanish of that period, which was made later, in 1606).[5]

Sur­pris­ingly, in the six­teenth century, the extant copies of the Qur’anic text are mainly excerpts: some of them, copied in small and very low quality volumes, are used as prayers, but what most copies transmit is what I have called the “Morisco Qur’an”: an homo­ge­neous selection of suras and verses, Q. 1; Q. 2:1–5, 163, 255–257, 284–286; Q. 3:1–6, 18–19 (first part), 26–27; Q. 9:128–129; Q. 26:78–89; Q. 28:88; Q. 30:17–19; Q. 33:40–44; Q. 36; Q. 67; Q. 78–114, rep­re­senting 12% of a com­plete muṣhaf. This selection is usually com­ple­mented by a series of prayers and invo­ca­tions of the Prophet of various length. The sys­tematic occur­rence of this selection is striking; it shows only limited vari­ation in content from one copy to another, the variants adding other verses to the pre-established selection without mod­i­fying its basis. 

The “Morisco Qur’an” is typ­i­cally the first chapter of a mis­cellany, although excep­tionally it can con­stitute a whole unitary volume. Its size is quarto or octavo volume, whereas the com­plete Qur’an is copied on quarto or folio format man­u­scripts, with more dec­o­ration and litur­gical anno­ta­tions in the margins. The chronology is also important. From a study of the extant wit­nesses, I could suggest that the “Morisco Qur’an” started to be pro­duced, copied and read from the beginning of the six­teenth century by the Morisco com­mu­nities of the Iberian Peninsula, after the forced con­ver­sions to Catholicism in 1502 in Castile and 1526 in Aragon. For some scholars, these selec­tions were due to the lack of knowledge of Arabic and the secrecy of this written culture,[6] but this does not seem to be the case. Some of the man­u­scripts are too big to be hidden easily, and we know that some Moriscos were fluent in the Arabic lan­guage, at least more than it was argued until two decades ago. Although no similar Qur’anic excerpts are known in the Maghreb, I could show that they are found in other areas where Arabic is not the dom­inant lan­guage: the Ottoman Empire (six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­turies)[7], India (eigh­teenth century), Central Asia (eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­turies) and the Malayan world (nine­teenth century). I sug­gested then that these selec­tions could be related to the process of mem­o­rization of the pas­sages of the Qur’an that were con­sidered important, but they could also be linked to a pos­sible litur­gical use, appar­ently lost today.[8]

One or more copyists,[9] textual tra­di­tions,[10] lan­guages (Arabic, Aljamía –Spanish in Arabic script- or both)[11], scripts (Arabic and Latin)[12], kinds of paper and gath­ering sizes could be involved in the elab­o­ration of these Qur’anic texts, whether com­plete or as excerpts.[13] The Moriscos some­times copied more or less faith­fully from their model;[14] in others cases, they wrote new trans­la­tions of the Qur’an in Aljamía, relying on exegetic com­men­taries, keeping bilingual glos­saries.[15] In some cases, they restored tex­tually and mate­rially copies of older man­u­scripts by inserting paper to strengthen the sheets, or adding words, sen­tences or even replacing folios and gath­erings when the text was illegible or had already dis­ap­peared in the six­teenth century.[16]

Global Morisco innovations

It has been put forward in the case of the micro­gra­phies found in the margins of some Ottoman man­u­scripts that they were orig­i­nated from a Sefardi influence exerted in Ottoman lands after the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. The chronology could support the hypothesis that the Moriscos were the orig­i­nators of a series of inno­va­tions that were unknown else­where in the Muslim West, but which influ­enced Ottoman reli­gious and scrip­tural prac­tices.[17] Thus, as I have already pointed out, selec­tions similar to those of the “Morisco Qur’an” are found in the Ottoman Empire since the end of the six­teenth century, but they were already known by the Moriscos since the beginning of the century. In the same way, the Qur’an copies with 15 lines to the page were exten­sively pro­duced in the Ottoman Empire in the eigh­teenth and nine­teenth century. This kind of pattern, which implied a much faster pro­duction process, with much less errors, that made it easier for the reader to mem­orize the text, was already estab­lished within Morisco com­mu­nities earlier, in the six­teenth century. However, it seems that this kind of pro­duction only became common in Ottoman lands.

Most “Morisco Qur’ans” are in Arabic, but some are bilingual (Arabic-Aljamía) and even in a few cases only in Aljamía. The first pre­served trans­lation of the Qur’an in Spanish – lost nowadays — was carried out by the Segovian “alfaquí” Īsā b. Jābir (Iça de Gebir) in the fif­teenth century.[18]) However, all the extant man­u­scripts trans­mitting an Aljamiado trans­lation of the Qur’an date from the six­teenth century or beginning of the sev­en­teenth century.[19]

It would have made sense that these Castilian trans­la­tions would have been sup­ported to some extent by the Latin trans­la­tions made in the Iberian Peninsula during the pre­vious cen­turies. The Morisco pro­duction is fully aware of the penin­sular Christian book tra­dition.[20] However, the Qur’anic trans­la­tions do not only ignore these pre­vious Latin trans­la­tions, but they also do not take into account the same exegetical com­men­taries; the Latin and Aljamiado trans­la­tions of the Qur’an pro­duced in Iberia until the Early Modern Period are therefore very dif­ferent.[21]

The Inqui­sition and the Qur’an

In sixteenth-century Spain, the Moriscos were not the only ones inter­ested in the Qur’anic text. On the one hand, the Inqui­sition tried to locate all the existing copies of the text with the aim of taking them away.[22] On the other hand, eccle­si­astics, intel­lec­tuals, bib­lio­philes and scholars used this sacred book to learn Arabic.[23]

Finding a copy of the Qur’an was so dif­ficult in Christian circles during the six­teenth century that the Belgian scholar Nicolas Clénard sent a letter to Charles V on 17 January 1540, begging the Emperor to give him all the Arabic books that were being burned in Spain.[24] Unfor­tu­nately, the Emperor’s answer (if any) has not been pre­served, but there is a very inter­esting and very little known chapter which allows us to come out to the duality and paradox of the Arabic written culture in Spain. The same ruler who asked to build his palace in the middle of the Alhambra of Granada, took as part of the booty of the Expe­dition to Tunis in 1535 some man­u­scripts of the Qur’an. All of them were brought to Europe, and remained there. Having inherited the volumes of his father, king Philip II sent to the Royal Library of the El Escorial at least two of these volumes. One of them is still in the library, next to the lux­u­rious Qur’an of Mulay Zaydān, com­mis­sioned by the Saadian Sultan and copied in 1599. Together with other Arab man­u­scripts, these two copies became part of the royal col­lection of Philip III, the same monarch who signed the edict of expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609.


I have written exten­sively about the Qur’an in Muslim Spain during the six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­turies and you have the results quoted in the foot­notes. However, my research about the royal European interest on Qur’anic man­u­scripts has just started. I would like to present you a work in progress today: the col­lection of Qur’anic man­u­scripts taken by Charles V as part of the booty taken from the sacking of Tunis in 1535, and now scat­tered among dif­ferent libraries around the world. After the respondent’s com­ments, I will be honored to discuss any of the aspects given in my written text or in my oral presentation.


  1. Nuria Martínez de Castilla (ed.), Doc­u­mentos y man­u­scritos árabes en el Occi­dente musulmán, Madrid, CSIC, 2010 and id., Qur’anic Man­u­scripts in the Western Islamic World, special issue of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies 19.3 (2017).[]
  2. Nuria de Castilla, “A Binding for Philip II of Spain and its Ottoman Inspi­ration”, in Michele Bernardini and Alessandro Tadei (eds), 15th Inter­na­tional Con­gress of Turkish Art. Pro­ceedings, Ankara, Min­istry of Culture and Tourism Republic of Turkey, Uni­versity of Naples “L’Orientale”, Istituto per l’Oriente C. A. Nallino, 2018, pp. 197–205; id., “Maghribi Bindings in Ottoman Dress. About Changes of Tastes and Tech­niques in Saadian Morocco”, Turcica 50 (2019), pp. 91–116.[]
  3. Nuria M. de Castilla, “Impor­tancia de las edi­ciones críticas y los estudios cod­i­cológicos en los estudios moriscos”, Al-Qantara 34.2 (2013), pp. 547–553.[]
  4. Martínez de Castilla, “Quranic Man­u­scripts from Late Muslim Spain”, Journal of Quranic Studies 16.2 (2014), 89–138.[]
  5. El Corán de Toledo. Ed. y estudio del man­u­scrito 235 de la Bib­lioteca de Castilla-La Mancha, ed. by Con­suelo López-Morillas, Gijón, Trea, 2011. []
  6. L.P. Harvey, for instance, stated that “the crypto-Muslims had to content them­selves with an abbre­viated selection of suras, pre­sumably such little volumes [as] could be secreted with greater ease” (Muslims in Spain. 1500–1614, Chicago/London: Chicago Uni­versity Press, 2005, p. 144).[]
  7. The con­tents of a man­u­script in the Vatican Library are very similar to the “Morisco Qur’an”: Q. 2:1–5,163–164, 255–257, 284–286; Q. 3:1–6, 26–7; Q. 9:128–129; Q. 26:78–89; Q. 30:17–19; Q. 36; Q. 93–114. Martínez de Castilla, “Qur’anic Man­u­scripts from Late Muslim Spain”, p. 98.[]
  8. Nuria M. de Castilla, “Qur’anic Man­u­scripts from Late Muslim Spain”, p. 102.[]
  9. Nuria M. de Castilla, “The copyists and their texts. The Morisco trans­la­tions of the Qur’an in the Tomás Navarro Tomás Library (CSIC, Madrid)”, Al-Qantara 35.2 (2014), pp. 493–525.[]
  10. Castilla, “Impor­tancia de las edi­ciones críticas”; Con­suelo López-Morillas, The Qur’an in sixteenth-century Spain: Six Morisco Ver­sions of Sūra 79, London, Tamesis Books, 1982.[]
  11. Nuria de Castilla, “An Aljamiado Trans­lation of the “Morisco Qur’an” and its Arabic Text (ca. 1609)”, Trans­lating Sacred Texts, ed. by M. García-Arenal et alii, Journal of Medieval Encounters, in print.[]
  12. Nuria de Castilla, «Les emplois lin­guis­tiques et cul­turels der­rière les textes aljamiados», Intel­lectual History of Islam­icate World 7 (2019), p. 263–297.[]
  13. Castilla, “Qur’anic Man­u­scripts from Late Muslim Spain”.[]
  14. Nuria M. de Castilla, “El tafsīr de Ibn Abī Zamanīn en español: dos copias moriscas del siglo XVI, Anaquel de Estudios Árabes (2015), pp. 135–156;[]
  15. María José Her­mosilla Llis­terri, “Dos glosarios de Corán aljamiado”, Anuario de Filología, 9 (1983), pp. 117–149. She states that the CSIC RESC/40 glossary is in com­plete agreement with RESC/18 trans­la­tions; and for López-Morillas, that same RESC/40 is almost iden­tical to the trans­lation included in RESC/47 (López-Morillas, El Corán de Toledo, p. 148).[]
  16. Nuria M. de Castilla, “‘Hacer libros no tiene fin’. Los moriscos aragoneses y su pat­ri­monio man­u­scrito”, in El texto infinito. Ree­scritura y tradición en la Edad Media y el Renacimiento, Sala­manca, 2014, pp. 749–758. Nuria de Castilla, Libros sin lec­tores, Cordova, forth­coming.[]
  17. Annie Vernay-Noury, “Marges, gloses et décor dans une série de man­u­scrits arabo-islamiques”, Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditer­ranée 99–100 (2002), pp.  117–131. Nuria M. de Castilla, “Were the Moriscos in Touch with Con­tem­porary Ottoman Devel­op­ments? Twin Qur’anic Copies from the end of the Six­teenth Century”, Intel­lectual History of the Islam­icate World 4 (2016), pp. 245–264.[]
  18. This faqīh is mainly known for having written in 1462 the Suma de los man­damientos y devedamientos de la santa ley y sunna (‘Summa of the com­mands and inter­dic­tions of the Holy Law and Sunna’), a treatise of reli­gious and Mālikī law also known as the Bre­viario sunní (“Sunni Bre­viary”) or Kitāb sego­viano (“Segovian Book”). Gerard Wiegers, Islamic Lit­er­ature in Spanish and Aljamiado. Yça of Segovia (fl. 1450), His Antecedents and Suc­cessors (Medieval Iberian Peninsula: Texts and Studies, 8), Leiden, Brill, 1994.[]
  19. Nuria M. de Castilla, “A Bilingual ‘Morisco Qur’an’ with Thirteen Lines to the Page”, Qur’anic Man­u­scripts in the Western Islamic World, ed. by N. Martínez de Castilla, special issue of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies 19.3 (2017), 34–44.[]
  20. Nuria M. de Castilla, Una bib­lioteca entre dos tapas, Saragossa, IEIOP, 2010, I chapter.[]
  21. Nuria M. de Castilla, “Traduire et com­menter le Coran dans la Péninsule Ibérique (XIIe-XVIIe siècle)”, Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Inscrip­tions et Belles Lettres IV (2013) [2015], pp. 1723–1739. Thomas E. Burman, “Tafsīr and Trans­lation: Tra­di­tional Arabic Qur’ān Exe­gesis and the Latin Qur’āns of Robert of Ketton and Mark of Toledo”, Speculum 73, 1998, pp. 703–732.[]
  22. See, for instance, Carmen Barceló y Ana Labarta, Archivos moriscos. Textos árabes de la minoría islámica valen­ciana 1401–1608, Valencia, Uni­ver­sitat de València, 2009; Jacqueline Fournel-Guérin, “Le livre et la civil­i­sation écrite dans la com­mu­nauté morisque arag­o­naise (1540–1620)”, Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez 15 (1979), pp. 241–260.[]
  23. Nuria M. de Castilla, “The Teaching and Learning of Arabic in Sala­manca in the Early Modern Period”, in The Teaching and Learning of Arabic in Early Modern Europe, Leiden, Brill, 2017, pp. 163–188.[]
  24. Id., p. 164.[]