“World’s Oldest” Quran Fragments Found In British Library

by
Indrani Sengupta
Not since the Dead Sea Scrolls have we made a discovery so singular or stunning. Historians, the Islam community, and all people fascinated by books and history are rejoicing!

1,370 years.

If radiocarbon dating is to be trusted (which it is), that’s the minimum number of years this manuscript has been around, just biding its time, waiting to be discovered again

That makes it one of the oldest fragments of the Quran ever found.

And it's been sitting in the library at the University of Birmingham, unseen and unrecognized, for almost a century, interspersed with other Middle Eastern books and documents in the Mingana Collection.

We have PhD researcher Alba Fedeli to thank for this stunning discovery. She’s the one who took a closer look at the pages (in two leaves, and made of sheep or goat skin), and decided that they warranted a radiocarbon dating test. The results, in her own words, were “startling.” There’s a 95% chance that the parchment was written between 568 and 645 AD. 

In the words of David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam:

"According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Quran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death."

Which means the manuscript in question could:

“take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.”

What’s more, the person who wrote the document might have known the Prophet Muhammad personally. It’s even possible that the animal whose hide the text was written on was alive during Muhammad’s life. 

First-hand witness? Thomas thinks so, and the text remained untouched, original, this whole time:

"These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Quran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed."

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, the British Library’s expert on such manuscripts, is similarly stunned, and her words offer a small glimpse into how precious this discovery is

“The sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi [an early form of Arabic] script - is news to rejoice Muslim hearts."

And the local Muslim community appears to agree. Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, shares how immensely moved he was at the sight of the document:

“There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I'm sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages.”

Read more: Finland’s National Radio To Broadcast Quran

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