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Birmingham Quran manuscript

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Title: Birmingham Quran manuscript  
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Subject: Did you know nominations/Birmingham Quran manuscript, University of Birmingham, Quran/DYK/1, Quran/DYK/14, Cadbury
Collection: Cadbury, Quranic Manuscripts, University of Birmingham
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Birmingham Quran manuscript

Birmingham Quran manuscript
Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham
folio 1 verso (right) and folio 2 recto (left)
Date Between c. 568 and 645
Language(s) Arabic
Scribe(s) Unknown
Format vertical
Script Hijazi
Contents Parts of Surahs 18 to 20
Accession 1572a
Comparison of a 21st-century Quran (left) and the Birmingham Quran manuscript

Two leaves of an early Quranic manuscript in the Mingana Collection[1] of Middle Eastern manuscripts of the University of Birmingham's Cadbury Research Library were discovered in 2015 as being dated between 568 and 645, making it among the oldest Quran manuscripts to date.[2][3]

The manuscript is written in ink on parchment, using a monumental Arabic Hijazi script and is still clearly legible.[3] The leaves preserve parts of Surahs 18 to 20.[4] The university has placed the manuscript on public display at the Bramall Music Building at the university during October 2015,[2][5] and plans to display it at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 2016.[6]


  • Description 1
  • Identification 2
  • Significance 3
  • Background 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Close up of part of folio 2 recto, showing chapter division and verse-end markings

The two leaves have been recognized[2][5][7] as belonging with the 16 leaves catalogued as BnF Arabe 328(c)[8][9] in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, now bound with the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus; and witness verses corresponding to a lacuna in that text.

The Birmingham leaves, now catalogued as Mingana 1572a, are folio size (the leaves of BnF Arabe 328(c) are 33.3 cm by 24.5 cm)[8] and are written on both sides in a generously-scaled and legible script.[3] One two-page leaf contains verses 23–31 of Surah 18 (Al-Kahf) while the other leaf the final eight verses 91–98 of Surah 19 (Maryam) and the first 12 verses of Surah 20 (Ta-Ha), all in their present day sequence and conforming very closely to the standard text. The two surviving leaves will have been separated in the original codex by a number of missing folios containing the intervening verses of surahs 18 and 19. There are no diacritical marks to indicate short vowels, but consonants are occasionally differentiated with oblique dashes. The text is laid out in the format that was to become standard for complete Quran manuscripts, with chapter divisions indicated by a decorated line, and verse endings by intertextual clustered dots.


Alba Fedeli, who was studying items in the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts for her PhD thesis Early Qur'ānic manuscripts, their text, and the Alphonse Mingana papers held in the Department of Special Collections of the University of Birmingham,[10] found the two leaves misidentified and bound with those of another seventh century Quranic manuscript also written in Hijazi script (now catalogued as Mingana 1572b).[2] Following an approach by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy in 2013 to contribute a sample from Islamic Arabic 1572 to the Coranica project to investigate textual history of the Quran, which coincided with Fedeli's research into the handwriting, the Cadbury Research Library arranged for the manuscript to be radiocarbon dated at the University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. They dated the parchment to between AD 568 and 645, within a 95.4% () confidence interval,[2] with a sample reference OxA-29418. The results will be published in datelist number 36 of the journal Archaeometry.[11]


The date of the manuscript is significant, as Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad lived from c. 570 to 632,[12] According to Sunni Muslim tradition it was the third caliph Uthman (644–656), elected twelve years after the prophet's death, who compiled and canonized the version of Quran since accepted and used by all Muslims worldwide; then commanding that all previous versions be burned.[13]

In the University announcement, Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator for Persian and Turkish Manuscripts at the British Library, is quoted as saying:[2]

The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Qur’an required a great many of them. The carbon dating evidence, then, indicates that Birmingham's Cadbury Research Library is home to some precious survivors that – in view of the Suras included – would once have been at the centre of a Mushaf from that period. And it seems to leave open the possibility that the Uthmanic redaction took place earlier than had been thought – or even, conceivably, that these folios predate that process. In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi -script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.

David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham is quoted as saying:[2]

The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards. This means that the parts of the Qur’an that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death. These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Qur’an 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 Saud al-Sarhan, Director of Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, was more sceptical; questioning whether the parchment might have been reused as a palimpsest, and also noting that the writing had chapter separators and dotted verse endings – features in Arabic scripts which are believed not to have been introduced to the Qur'an until later.[14] Dr Saud's criticisms have been backed by a number of Saudi-based experts in Quranic history who strongly rebut any speculation that the Birmingham/Paris Quran could have been written during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. They emphasize that, while the Prophet was alive, Quranic texts were written without any chapter decoration, marked verse endings or use of coloured inks; and did not follow any standard sequence of surahs. They maintain that features were introduced into Quranic practice in the time of the Caliph Uthman, and so it would be entirely possible that the Birmingham leaves could have been written then, but not earlier. [15]

Professor Süleyman Berk of the faculty of Islamic studies at Yalova University has noted the strong similarity between the script of the Birmingham leaves and those of a number of Hijazi Qurans in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum; which were brought to Istanbul from the Great Mosque of Damascus following a fire in 1893. Professor Berk recalls that these manuscripts had been intensively researched in association with an exhibition on the history of the Quran, The Quran in its 1,400th Year held in Istanbul in 2010, and the findings published by François Déroche as Qur’ans of the Umayyads in 2013.[16] In that study, the Paris Quran, BnF Arabe 328(c), is compared with Qurans in Istanbul, and concluded as having been written "around the end of the seventh century and the beginning of the eighth century."[17]

Professor Joseph E. B. Lumbard of Brandeis University has written in the Huffington Post in support of the dates proposed by the Birmingham scholars. Professor Lumbard notes that the discovery of a Quranic text that may be confirmed by radiocarbon dating as having been written in the first decades of the Islamic era, while presenting a text substantially in conformity with that traditionally accepted, reinforces a growing academic consensus that many Western sceptical and 'revisionist' theories of Quranic origins are now untenable in the light of empirical findings. Whereas, on the other hand, counterpart accounts of Quranic origins within classical Islamic traditions stand up well in the light of ongoing scientific discoveries.[18]


The Mingana Collection, comprising over 3,000 documents, was compiled by Alphonse Mingana, in the 1920s,[3] and was funded by Edward Cadbury, a philanthropist and businessman of the Birmingham-based chocolate-making Cadbury family.[2]


  1. ^ "Virtual Manuscript Room".  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Birmingham Qur'an manuscript dated among the oldest in the world".  
  3. ^ a b c d Oldest' Koran fragments found in Birmingham University"'".  
  4. ^ "Tests show UK Quran manuscript is among world's oldest".  
  5. ^ a b Kennedy, Maev (22 July 2015). "Oldest Quran fragments found at Birmingham University". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  6. ^ Authi, Jasbir (22 July 2015). "Worldwide media frenzy as 'oldest Koran' found lying forgotten at University of Birmingham". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "'The Qur’anic Manuscripts of the Mingana Collection and their Electronic Edition'". Quranic Studies Association Blog. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Déroche, François (2009). La transmission écrite du Coran dans les débuts de l'islam: le codex Parisino-petropolitanus.  
  9. ^ "Ms. Paris BnF Arabe 328 (c)".  
  10. ^ "Congratulations to Dr Alba Fedeli".  
  11. ^ "FAQs: About the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript". University of Birmingham. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  12. ^ Elizabeth Goldman (1995), p. 63, gives 8 June 632, the dominant Islamic tradition. Many earlier (mainly non-Islamic) traditions refer to him as still alive at the time of the invasion of Palestine. See Stephen J. Shoemaker,The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
  13. ^ Leaman, Oliver (2006). "Canon". The Qur'an: an Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 136–139.  
  14. ^ Dan Bilefsky (22 July 2015), "A Find in Britain: Quran Fragments Perhaps as Old as Islam", The New York Times 
  15. ^ "Experts doubt oldest Quran claim". Saudi Gazette. 27 July 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  16. ^ Déroche, François (2013). Qur’ans of the Umayyads: a first overview. Brill Publishers. pp. 67–69. 
  17. ^ "Oldest Quran still a matter of controversy". Daily Sabah. 27 July 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  18. ^ "New Light on the History of the Quranic Text?". The Huffington Post. 24 July 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 

External links

  • The Birmingham Qur'an manuscript public display
  • The Birmingham Qur'an manuscript images
  • Fedeli's thesis
  • The Birmingham Qur'an University of Birmingham FAQ
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