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British university reveals Quran parchment among oldest

July 22, 2015

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A university assistant shows fragments of an old Quran at the University in Birmingham, in Birmingham central England Wednesday, July 22, 2015. —AP
A university assistant shows fragments of an old Quran at the University in Birmingham, in Birmingham central England Wednesday, July 22, 2015. —AP
A university assistant shows fragments of an old Quran at the University in Birmingham, in Birmingham central England Wednesday, July 22, 2015. —AP
A university assistant shows fragments of an old Quran at the University in Birmingham, in Birmingham central England Wednesday, July 22, 2015. —AP

LONDON: A British university disclosed on Wednesday that scientific tests prove a Quran manuscript in its collection is one of the oldest known and may have been written close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The announcement by the University of Birmingham thrilled Muslim scholars and the local community, which boasts one of the country's largest Muslim populations.

The find came after questions raised by a doctoral student prompted radiocarbon testing that dated the parchment to the time of the Prophet (PBUH), who has lived between 570 and 632 AD.

This manuscript could well have been written just after the death of the Prophet (PBUH), said David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham.

“Parts of the Quran that are contained in those fragments are very similar indeed to the Quran as we have it today. 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.”

Prophet (PBUH) received the revelations of the Quran between 610 and 632 AD — but it wasn't written down immediately.

The first leader of the community after Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) death, Caliph Abu Bakr (RA), ordered the holy book to be written and it was completed by the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in 650 AD.

Thomas said the tests conducted by Oxford University suggest the animal from which the parchment was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterward.

“This means that the parts of the Quran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) death,” he said.

The two parchment leaves contains parts of Surahs, or chapters, 18 to 20. The manuscript is written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi.

The manuscript has long been part of the university's Cadbury Research Library. But it had been bound improperly and was attached to the leaves of a manuscript with a similar script that is not as old. The carbon dating was undertaken after a doctoral research student, Alba Fedeli, noticed the difference in the writing.

The library houses approximately 200,000 pre-1850 books dating from 1471 and some 4 million manuscripts. Funded by Quaker philanthropist Edward Cadbury — of chocolate fame — the collection was acquired to raise the status of Birmingham as an intellectual center.

Birmingham is also a center of Islam in Britain, with about 20 per cent of the city describing themselves as adherents of the faith.

The planned display for the manuscript in October could prove a boon to the local economy, with adherents already expressing an interest in travelling to the city to see a piece of history.

“A lot of people from Birmingham and all over the country will love to see it,” said Muhammad Ali, the administrator at Birmingham Central Mosque and one of a handful of people invited to view the manuscript three weeks ago after its importance was recognised.

“We have pride it was found and kept in the city of Birmingham.”

But civic pride could barely compare to his thrill at seeing something from the time of the Prophet (PBUH).

“There were tears in my eyes,” he said of the moment. “It is very much unique. This is something from his life.”