Inscriptions & Scripture


"Kitābāt" in Encyclopedia of Islam, new ed. (RFA 50.23.50); note that the online edition of EI does not include the illustrations)

A concise overview of the problems & literature of Islamic epigraphy

Calligraphy and Architecture in the Muslim World. Ed. M.Gharipour and İrvin Cemil Schick. Edinburgh, 2013. (FAL-LC NK 3636.5.A2 C36 2013)

Thesaurus d'épigraphie islamique [electronic resource]. Ed. Ludvik Kalus. Paris & Geneva, 1999– .  Database on a set of CD-ROMs  (Widener/HD  PJ7595.T448 1999)

Répertoire chronologique d'épigraphie arabe, ed. E. Combe, Jean Sauvaget & Gaston Wiet. Cairo, 1931- (RFA1873.75 ; Widener: OL19902.11; also in Gibb Islamic Seminar Library)

Index géographique du Répertoire chronologique d'épigraphie arabe (tomes I à XVI). Compiled by Monik Kervran [et al.] Cairo, 1975 (FAL-LC PJ7596 .C35).

Matériaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum, ed. Max van Berchem et al. Paris & Cairo, 1894- (Widener: Arc 580.1.2)

The Monumental Inscriptions of Historic Cairo database. Launched in 2017, the database currently includes 3271 inscriptions from 509 monuments, 3395 bibliographic references from 63 bibliographic items, 12,107 photographs and 1425 drawings, all searchable in English or Arabic.

Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum. London, 1955– (Widener: XA 9F, pt. 4- ; also in Gibb Islamic Seminar Library)

Part 4 deals with Iranian inscriptions of the Islamic period.

O'Kane, Bernard. The Appearance of Persian on Islamic Art. New York, 2009. (FAL-LC N8265.O42 2009)

Blair, Sheila. The Monumental Inscriptions from Early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana. Leiden, 1991. (FA 1924.501.1)

Introduction includes a survey of the scholarly literature on the Islamic epigraphy of the pre-Mongol period.

Dodd, Erica, & Shereen Khairallah. The Image of the Word: A Study of Quranic Verses in Islamic Architecture. Beirut, 1981. 2 vols. (FA 9076.29)

Qūchānī, ‘Abd Allāh. Katībah'hā-yi sufāl-i Nayshābūr = Inscriptions on Nishapur Pottery. Tehran, 1986. (FA 7647.560.2)

A very useful reference, esp. for deciphering the non-scriptural inscriptions (bons mots, formulas of blessing and felicitation, etc.) often encountered as inscriptions on ceramics and other art objects.


For Qur'anic inscriptions, the following tools are helpful:

There are several Qur'an databases on the Web that allow one to search both the Arabic text and translated versions online. Among the most user-friendly is (Arabic text in parallel with a choice of up to six English translations; text searchable in Arabic or English). NOTE: In order to search the Arabic text, you'll need to enter the search phrase in Arabic; one can key in the Arabic text using an online Arabic keyboard, such as Lexilogos arabe, and copy-and-paste the text (e.g. كلّما دخل عليها زكريا المحراب) into the search box.

One can also search manually, using published Qur'an concordances, such as:

‘Abd al-Bāqī, Muḥammad Fu'ād. al-Mu‘jam al-mufahras li-alfāẓ al-Qur'ān al-Karīm. Cairo, 1945; reprt. Beirut, 1985. (RFA79.46.7)

This concordance is arranged like a dictionary, according to the Arabic roots. Under each form of the word, one can find a list of verses with the excerpted text that contain the word. The online Qur'an databases can sometimes be unforgiving, when keyword searches either return too many hits or none at all. In such cases, manual searches of Qur'an concordances in book form can come in handy, since they allow one to visually scan long lists of possible results quickly and efficiently.

A tip for deciphering Arabic inscriptions that might derive from Scripture:  take the least common word that you can make out from the inscription, look it up in a Qur'an database or printed concordance, and in most cases the rest of the inscription will fall into place; in other cases, you may be dealing with a quotation from hadith, for which see Wensinck (below).

Penrice, John. A Dictionary and Glossary of the Kor'ân, with Copious Grammatical References and Explanations of the Text, Arabic-English. London, 1873; reprt. Beirut, 1990. (RFA 79.46.5)

The Glorious Koran: A Bi-lingual Edition. Transl. Marmaduke Pickthall. Albany, 1976. (RFA79.46.4)

Arabic text of the Qur'an set in a beautiful and readable typeface, with parallel English text on facing pages.


For Hadith (pl. aḥādīth), reports on what the Prophet Muhammad and his companions said and did, consult the following concordances:   

Wensinck, A. J., ed. Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane = al-Mu`jam al-mufahras li-alfāẓ al-Ḥadīth al-Nabawī. 8 vols. Istanbul, 1986-1988. (RFA

Wensinck's is a scholarly concordance based on the authoritative compilations of Hadith, with entries arranged by Arabic root; vol. 8 includes the indexes (of proper names, etc.).

Wensinck, A. J., ed. A Handbook of Early Muhammadan Tradition, Alphabetically Arranged. Leiden, 1927; reprt. 1971. (RFA 79.46.10)

A topical index to hadith, arranged by English subject terms (such as clothes, gifts, gold, silk, silver, vessels, etc.).

There is also a searchable onine concordance of Hadith, in Arabic, English and other languages, at


Gallop, Annabel Teh, & Venetia Porter. Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. Kuala Lumpur, 2012. (Fine Arts Library FAL-LC CD5208 .G173 2012)

Porter, Venetia. Arabic and Persian Seals and Amulets in the British Museum. London, 2011. (Tozzer Library  MUS. (160) )

Kalus, Ludvik. Catalogue of Islamic Seals and Talismans [in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum]. Oxford, 1986. (Fine Arts Library Fogg 59 O98se)

Islamic Seals Database. A searchable online database of seal impressions found in Islamic manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Library.

Seal impressions (Islamic Manuscripts Collection, University of Michigan). Photos of 361 seal impressions appearing in the MSS of the Islamic Manuscripts Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan.

Subject Guide

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Andras Riedlmayer
Aga Khan Program
Fine Arts Library
Harvard University
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