The Quranic manuscript held at the University of Birmingham, UK is being considered as the world’s oldest Quranic manuscript with significant religious, historical and scientific implications.
The two double sided pages of text written on parchment (material derived from animal skin) has recently been tested using radiocarbon dating and found to be around 1400 years old.
With 95.4% accuracy the period when the manuscript was written is estimated to be between 568 and 648 CE (Christian Era), or 56 BH (Before Hijra) and 24 AH (After Hijra) pertaining to the Islamic calendar.
Prophet Mohammad (s) lived from 570 to 632 CE and the period of Quranic revelation is estimated to be between the periods of 610 and 632 CE (first 12 years in Makkah and next 10 years in Madinah).
In an exclusive interview with AMUST, Allama Sayyed Talha Bokhari who had the honour of being the first to recite from the manuscript, pointed out the great significance of this finding.
He said that this finding was the living proof that the Quran has remained the same as it was revealed to Prophet Mohammad (s).
Allama Bokhari, attached with the Birmingham Central Mosque is a Hafiz (memoriser of the whole of Quran), a law graduate with Islamic qualifications from Darululoom Deoband, India.
He is an expert on ancient manuscripts being incharge for a number of years at Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna, which has the best collection of Arabic, Persian Turkish and Urdu manuscripts in India.
Allama Bokhari together with Birmingham Mosque officials were invited by the University to examine the manuscript and decipher its significance from an Islamic point of view.
He said that the manuscript, written in Hijazi script that lacked dots and vowel markings (aarab) was most probably written by one of the scribes (kuttabe wahi) during the lifetime of the prophet. This concurs with the carbon dating data as well.
Allama Bokhari said that the four pages of the manuscript, written in a most beautiful handwriting, contained verses from Surah (Chapters) 18, 19 and 20. Page 1 contained Surah Maryam verses 91-98 followed by Bismillah and first 12 verses of Surah Taha; Page 2 contained verses 12 to 39 of Surah Taha; Page 3 contained verses 17 to 23 of Surah al-Kahf and page 4 continued with verses 23-31 of Surah al-Kahf.
This Quran manuscript is part of the University’s Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, held in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. They were gathered in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest who was born near Mosul, Iraq, but settled in England.
According to Professor David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam, the text is very similar to what is found in the present day Quran.
“This tends to support the view that the Quran that we now have is more or less very close indeed to the Quran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam,” he said.
Nadir Dinshaw, professor of interreligious relations at the University of Birmingham, said the results of the radiocarbon analysis had been “startling” and “could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.”
Explaining the context and significance of the discovery, the University of Birmingham in a news release stated that the radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Quran folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections.
According to Muslim tradition, Prophet Muhammad (s) received the revelations that form the Quran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632 CE, the year of his death. At this time, the divine message was not compiled into the book form in which it appears today. Instead, the revelations were preserved in “the memories of men”. Parts of it had also been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels. Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad (s), ordered the collection of all Quranic material in the form of a book. The final, authoritative written form was completed and fixed under the direction of the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in about 650 CE.
Muslims believe that the Quran they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Prophet Muhammad (s)
Susan Worrall, Director of Special Collections (Cadbury Research Library), at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The radiocarbon dating has delivered an exciting result, which contributes significantly to our understanding of the earliest written copies of the Qur’an. We are thrilled that such an important historical document is here in Birmingham, the most culturally diverse city in the UK.’
Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator for Persian and Turkish Manuscripts at the British Library, said: ‘This is indeed an exciting discovery. We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs.
Note: The Quran manuscript will be on display at the University of Birmingham from Friday 2 October to Sunday 25 October.