1,400 year old - Oldest Quran found in Birmingham

Birmingham University have found fragments of potentially the world’s oldest Quran, which was completed at the very latest 20 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The ancient fragments of the nearly 1400 year old Quran was very likely transcribed by one of the the Prophet’s companions, possibly under the supervision of the Prophet himself. Despite being so old, upon examination it has been found to be identical to the in print Quran today.
The ancient Quran is part of the Mingana Collection which is a collection of Arabian manuscripts collected in the 1920s. This collection was funded by Edward Cadbury, of the Birmingham based Cadbury chocolate empire. A Chaldean Priest Alphonse Mingana was responsible for collecting these manuscripts.
However no one could have guessed that the manuscript of the Quran was one from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and his companions, especially the startled PhD researcher who conducted the tests. Susan Worrall, special collection’s director, explained that they did not expect such a discovery even in their wildest dreams. She said “Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Quran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting.”
Dr Muhammad Isa Waley who is an expert at the British Library said this is an “exciting discovery”.

How Old is it Actually?

The Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) prophethood was from 610 to 632 C.E. Oxford University’s carbon dating places the date of transcription was 568 – 645 C.E. The latest of those dates means it was finished only 13 years after the Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) death. This raises the possibility that this could have been written by one of the Prophet’s companions.
The Quran was compiled and checked thoroughly by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and these standard checked copies survived the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar. By the time of Uthman, who was the third Caliph of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), the Quran’s transcribed in the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) were beginning to deteriorate because of the material they were transcribed on. Due to lack of resources the scribes wrote them down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camel bones.
Uthman’s standard which survives in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul |
Uthman's standard which survives in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
As the wealth of the young Muslim nation had grown, Uthman could afford to authorise a compilation of a standard copy from which others could be copied. This meant undertaking the massive task of bringing together the living companions of the Prophet who had memorised the Quran or written it from him, in order to write the standard.
Uthman ruled from 644 – 656, whereas the Quran found in Birmingham is dated between 568 – 645 making it likely to either be from the standard authorised by Uthman or even before that, potentially written under the supervision of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) himself.
“The person who actually wrote it could 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 – and that really is quite a thought to conjure with” – Professor Thomas
It is Unchanged
When the ancient Quran was compared to the Quran printed today, the words were found to be identical and there had been no change. This was foretold in the Quran itself that unlike previous revelations from God which were corrupted, the Quran would be preserved word-for-word by God
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Quran and indeed, We will be it’s guardian.”
– Quran: God promises He will protect the Quran from man-made alteration
The non-Muslim Professor Thomas explained “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.”
Prof Thomas believes it was written by the companions of the Prophet who directly heard the revelation from the Prophet
Prof Thomas believes it was written by the companions of the Prophet who directly heard the revelation from the Prophet
“When I saw these pages I was very moved. 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,”
– Chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque
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