Dating of manuscripts controversially suggests Quran may be older than Prophet Mohammed
Recent tests conducted on the oldest known pages of the Quran in existence have determined they were written nearly 1,400 years ago, between 568 and 645 AD. Reports raise the possibility that the fragments are not just contemporary to the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, but that they may predate him.
These religious texts, the oldest surviving Quranic manuscript pages ever found, have been in a collection within the University of Birmingham's library for over a century. New radiocarbon analysis by University of Oxford have dated the folios to between 568 and 645 AD with 95.4% accuracy, according to a press release .
News website Digital Journal reports, “Scholars came to this conclusion after researchers carbon dated a small piece of parchment from the Islamic holy book. The carbon dating, which is considered to be extremely accurate, suggests that the Quran may have actually been written before Muhammad was alive, or during the early years of his childhood.”
These results may cause controversy among scholars as Islam’s Prophet Mohammad—believed to be the historic founder of Islam and “messenger of god” to Muslims— was thought to have been born in 570 AD and to have died in 632 AD. Some reports suggest then that these parchments might predate Mohammed , and rewrite the early history of Islam.
“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,” reports MailOnline. “The final authoritative written form was not completed until 650AD under the third leader Caliph Uthman”.
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The Quran is the most sacred book of the Islamic faith, and Muslims consider it the direct word of god. Scholars who have examined the Birmingham manuscript say it is in a form that is very close to the book read today , with very little alteration. Followers believe the words in the Quran were revealed by the archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad over 22 years, from 610 AD.
Historian Tom Holland suggested to The Times that the recent dating of the pages may upend the chronology, saying “It 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.”
The Birmingham manuscripts “consist of parts of Suras [chapters] 18 to 20 of the holy book, written in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijaz. The pages were mistakenly kept with the leaves of a similar Quran, which only dates back as far as the seventh century,” notes IBTimes.
An exceedingly rare discovery: two pages of the Quran on parchment or animal skin, reportedly contemporary with the prophet Mohammed. Public Domain
Mohammed himself was said not to be a scholar or a scribe, but it is possible he knew the person who wrote down this section of the Quran.
The individual who wrote the scriptures on these pages “would have seen [Mohammed] probably. He would have maybe heard him preach,” said David Thomas, University of Birmingham professor of Christianity and Islam to BBC News.
Thomas explained, “According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death.”
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Fozia Bora, lecturer in Middle Eastern History and Islamic History at University of Leeds writes in an article published by CNN that the discovery will have detractors for various reasons. Bora notes that the radiocarbon analysis on the sheep- or goatskin manuscript dates the page fragments themselves, or the death of the animal whose skin was used, but not the timeline of when the script was actually applied to the skin.
Yet others may challenge radiocarbon dating itself as a tool of evidence, as it creates a range of possible ages, not definitive dates.
The newly dated manuscript is not the only hidden treasure to be found at the Birmingham University’s research library. Also within their collections are the “Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, a stupendous collection of more than 3,000 manuscripts written in over 20 languages across a span of nearly 2,000 years,” notes a university press release .
Manuscript of the Quran in the Brooklyn Museum, USA. Public Domain
Some of these manuscripts have been digitized and published online, in order to make the various beliefs and artifacts of the ancient past accessible to all.
The Birmingham manuscript will be on public display for the first time ever from October 2 to October 25 of this year at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts .
Featured Image: Part of the seventh-century Quran manuscript held by the University of Birmingham. Public Domain
By Liz Leafloor