World's oldest Qur'an discovered in Birmingham

The ancient manuscript, written on sheep or goat skin, sat for nearly a century at a university library, with scholars unaware of its significance.

'Oldest' Koran fragments found in Birmingham University UK

That is, until Alba Fedeli, a researcher at the University of Birmingham studying for her doctorate, became captivated by its calligraphy and noticed that two of its pages appeared misbound alongside pages of a similar Quranic manuscript from a later date.

The scripts did not match. Prodded by her observations, the university sent the pages out for radiocarbon testing.

On Wednesday, researchers at the University of Birmingham revealed the startling finding that the fragments appeared to be part of what could be the world’s oldest copy of the Quran, and researchers say it may have been transcribed by a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad.

We were bowled over, startled indeed,” said David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, after he and other researchers learned recently of the manuscript’s provenance.

Consisting of two parchment leaves, the manuscript in Birmingham contains parts of what are now Chapters 18 to 20. For years, the manuscript had been mistakenly bound with leaves of a similar Quran manuscript.

Professor Thomas said the manuscript found in Birmingham would be put on public display.

Everywhere in the world, the discovery of the manuscript was greeted with joy especially in Birmingham, which has a large Muslim population.

Mohammad Afzal, the chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque, said he had been granted access to the manuscript. “I am honored to see this manuscript, which is unique,” he said. “This goes back to the very early stages of Islam. All the Muslims in the world would love to see this manuscript.”

Professor Thomas said that the discovery could make Birmingham a draw for Muslims and scholars. But he noted that Muslims did not require a text to feel close to the Quran because for many, it was essentially an oral experience to be recited, memorized and revered.

“The Quran,” he said, “is already present in the minds of Muslims.”

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