Scientists in the UK say they have found fragments of one of the world’s oldest surviving Quran parchments. Radiocarbon analysis dated the manuscript of the Muslim holy book close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham said Wednesday that new scientific testing had revealed the leaves of text were written at least 1,370 years ago, making it one of the earliest preserved versions of the Islamic Holy book in existence.
“They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the university, said.
Radiocarbon dating found the parchment was written between 568 and 645 A.D., meaning it could have been around at the time of Prophet Muhammad, who is generally believed to have lived between 570 and 632.
According to Muslim tradition, the prophet received the revelations of the Quran between 610 and 632, but it was not written down in book form immediately. Instead, divine messages were compiled on parchment, leaves and the shoulder blades of camels. It was the first leader of the community after Muhammad’s death, Caliph Abu Bakr, who ordered the book to be written. The holy text was completed by the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in 650.
Thomas said the radiocarbon tests – carried out at a laboratory at the University of Oxford – showed that the animal from which the parchment was taken was alive during, or shortly after, the prophet’s lifetime.
“The person who actually wrote it may well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally,” Thomas told BBC TV.
The Quran manuscript consists of two parchment leaves, and contains parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. The text had long been kept in the university’s Cadbury Research Library, but hadn’t been bound properly, and for many years had been attached to the pages of a similar Quran manuscript that was not as old.
Susan Worrall, director of the library’s Special Collections unit, said she was “thrilled” by the discovery.
“By separating the two leaves and analyzing the parchment, we have brought to light an amazing find,” she said.
The manuscript was part of the university’s collection of 3,000 Middle Eastern documents. It was acquired in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest who was born near Mosul in Iraq.
Muhammad Isa Waley, the lead curator of Persian manuscripts at the British Library, said the “sheer beauty” and “surprisingly legible Hijazi hand” was reason to “rejoice Muslim hearts.”
The parchment will be on display at the university’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts in October.
nm/kms (AP, KNA, dpa, Reuters)