Fragments of an ancient Quran may predate the founding of Islam, according to historians. Thought to be between 1,448 and 1,371 years old, the pages may have been written years before Muhammad established the Muslim faith.
These pieces of what could be the world’s most antique Quran were discovered last month in a library at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. Based on radio carbon dating conducted by experts at the University of Oxford, the religious text was produced between 568 and 645.
The writing was imprinted in ink, on parchment made from animal skin, and it should be taken into account that the carbon dating was performed on the sheet material, not on the ink which may be more recent. The fragments had been bound by accident with another Quran from the late 7th century and were part of an anthology of 3, 000 Middle Eastern texts collected in Iraq in the 1920s.
The fact that these writings seem to precede the generally accepted beginnings of Islam may be an indication that the person who put the revelations in writing may have known Prophet Muhammad personally or heard him preaching. The text may also have been created years before Muhammad’s birth or during his early childhood.
“The manuscript ‘destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged – and that in turn has implications for the history of Muhammad and the Companions”, explains historian Tom Holland.
The discovery’s importance is particularly significant, because initially the Quran was passed from generation to generation orally, after being memorized. Parts of it were also inscribed on parchment, palm leaves or stones. Caliph Abu Bakr, who led the Muslims after Muhammad’s death, ordered the religious pieces to be collected in a book and the final, standardized version was completed in 653.
Although it is believed that the Quran is a revelation from Heaven, some have disclaimed this theory, suggesting Muhammad and his disciples adapted older texts and scripts, to fit their theological views; these recently discovered ancient fragments may support this latter perspective.
However, such allegations have been strongly opposed by Muslim experts, such as Mustafa Shah from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, who views the manuscript in keeping with the ‘traditional accounts of the Quran’s origins’.
According to a British Library expert, the manuscript is a ‘precious survivor’ of a copy distributed later and it includes suras (chapters) 18 to 20 of the Quran, written in the Hijazi script (an early form of Arabic).
The sheets will be put on display in October by the University of Birmingham, so that visitors can marvel at what professor David Thomas has deemed ‘a treasure that is second to none’.
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