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A handsome example of a late Ottoman classic elifba with Arabic letters with stunning decoration to the first two pages.


8°. [72 pp.] manuscript in black ink with gilt margins and elaborate colourful decoration to the first two pages, last four pages with richer decoration, contemporary dark blue debossed boards with gilt decoration, linen spine (Minor water staining mostly to the margins of first and last sheets and the middle two pages, tiny cracks and tears in margins mostly to the first and last pages, minor rubbing to the corners of the binding, text block loose, overall in a good used condition).


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The traditional format of a primer for learning Arabic language was composed of the following parts:

The first two pages, elaborately illuminated with floral patterns and gilt background in the margins, list the basic letters in charts. Written over the right chart are the verses from the Quran:
اعوذ بالله من الشيطان الرجيم [I seek refuge in Allah from the cursed Satan] and
رب يسر ولا تعسر رب تمم بالخير [My Lord, make things easy, never make them hard, my Lord complement this matter with goodness].

The study of script of Arabic letters in traditional schools always started with the latter phrase. The teacher writes the phrase and the student re-writes it until he or she reaches an acceptable level to move to the letters.

The sign on the upper part of the left part says:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم [In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate].
The first two elaborately made pages are followed by 28 pages with charts including various combinations of the letters.

The last four pages are inscribed by verses on the alphabet, starting with the joined letters of the Arabic alphabet
أبجد هوز حطي كلمن سعفص قرشت ثخذ ضظغ

and with verses from the Quran, which the students had to transcribe to perfect their writing after finishing the basic writing course.

Primers in such format were used in Ottoman religious schools, madrasas, as a basis for all the future knowledge, which rotated about memorizing the Quran. These primers helped students to read and write basic combinations of Arabic letters and eventually recognize and rewrite the passages from the Holy Book, very often without a sufficient understanding of the Arabic language. Ottoman letters were not included in the text, as they do not appear in the Quran.

It was not until after the mid 19th century, that the first primers appeared, that encouraged children of the Ottoman Empire to recognize and read various texts in their colloquial language, various scripts and languages (please see our next item for the details).

In the 19th century the traditional Elifbas or Arabic primers remained inflexible in their strict format and only adapted to the modern printing techniques with great difficulties. The most appropriate technique for massive production was lithography, which could almost perfectly mimic the fine lines of the Islamic calligraphy without drastically interfere in the traditional draft.

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