A copy of the Koran that may predate the Prophet Muhammad could rewrite the early history of Islam, scholars believe. Scientists at the University of Oxford said
last month that carbon dating of a fragment of the holy text held by a Birmingham library suggested that it was among the oldest in the world.
The fragments of the world’s oldest Koran, found in Birmingham last month, may predate the Prophet Muhammad. The pages, thought to be between 1,448 and 1,371 years old, were discovered bound within the pages of another Koran from the late seventh century at the library of the University of Birmingham.
Written in ink in an early form of Arabic script on parchment made from animal skin, the pages contain parts of the Suras, or chapters, 18 to 20, which may have been written by someone who actually knew the Prophet Muhammad – founder of the Islamic faith.
ABOVE PHOTO: Discovery: Fragments of what is believed to be the world’s oldest Koran. Several historians have said it could even predate the Prophet Muhammad
The pages were carbon-dated by experts at the University of Oxford, a process which showed the Islamic holy book manuscript could be the oldest Koran in the world.
The discovery was said to be particularly significant as in the early years of Islam, the Koran was thought to have been memorised and passed down orally rather written.
But now several historians have said that the parchment might even predate Muhammad.
It is believed that the Birmingham Koran was produced between 568AD and 645AD, while the dates usually given for Muhammad are between 570AD and 632AD.
Historian Tom Holland, told the Times: ‘It destabilises, 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.’
Keith Small, from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, added: ‘This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Koran’s genesis, like that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven.
The pages were carbon dated by experts at the University of Oxford, which showed it could be the oldest Koran in the world
HOW DID IT GET TO BIRMINGHAM?
The ancient pages were found bound alongside those of a younger copy of the Koran from the seventh century AD.
It is thought they had been put together because the Hijazi script on the parchment was similar.
They had been collected during the 1920s by a Chaldean priest called Alphonse Mingana who put together a huge collection of documents from the Middle East.
His expeditions to the Middle East were sponsored by Edward Cadbury, from the chocolate dynasty.
A special library was built at Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham, a group of colleges set up by a group of Quakers led by George Cadbury.
When the colleges were merged with the University of Birmingham in the 1990s, the collection was brought under the care of the Cadbury Research Library at the university.
The fragments of the Koran then lay undiscovered until they were sent for radio carbon dating at the University of Oxford.
However, these claims are strongly disputed by Muslim scholars, with Mustafa Shah from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London also telling the paper: ‘If anything, the manuscript has consolidated traditional accounts of the Koran’s origins.’
The Prophet Muhammad is thought to have founded Islam sometime after 610AD and the first Muslim community was founded in Medina in 622AD.
During this time the Koran was memorised and recited orally but Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad’s death, ordered the Koranic material to be collected into a book.
The final authoritative written form was not completed until 650AD under the third leader Caliph Uthman.
Professor Nadir Dinshaw, who studies interreligious relations at the University of Birmingham, described the discovery as ‘startling’.
When it was found last month he said: ‘This could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.
‘According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam, between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death.
‘At this time, the divine message was not compiled into the book form in which it appears today. Instead, the revelations were preserved in ‘the memories of men’.
‘Parts of it had also been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels.
Muslims believe that the Koran they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Muhammad
THE FOUNDER OF ISLAM: WHO IS THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD?
The Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 570AD.
Although Muslims believe that Islam is a faith that has always existed and was gradually revealed to humanity by a number of prophets, Muhammad is the one said to have made the complete revelation in the seventh century.
The traditional story of the Koran tells how one night in 610 Muhammad, a deeply spiritual and religious man, was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira when he was visited by the angel Jibreel who ordered him to recite.
Once Jibreel mentioned the name of Allah, Muhammad began to recite words which he came to believe were the words of God.
These revelations continued for 23 years and are collectively known as the Koran.
When he began to recite the Koran, Muhammad and his small group of followers suffered persecution from unbelievers. In 622 God gave them the command to migrate from Mecca to the city of Medina, some 260 miles to the north, which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
After several years, Muhammad and his followers returned to Mecca and forgave their enemies.
Shortly before Muhammad died, at the age of 63, the majority of the Arabian Peninsula had become Muslim. Within a century of his death Islam had also spread to Spain in the west and as far east as China.
Islam is now the second largest religion in the world with over one billion followers. The 2011 census recorded 2.71million Muslims in the UK, around 4.5 per cent of the total population.
‘Muslims believe that the Koran they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Muhammad.
‘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.
‘These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran 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.’
CREDIT: Times.co.uk and UK Daily Mail