1500-year-old Quran manuscript brings us closer to founding years of Islam


A Quran manuscript, which was misbound with leaves of a manuscript dated seventh century and is held by University of Birmingham, is believed to be the oldest Quran manuscript ever putting researchers very close to the time when Islam was founded.

Through radiocarbon analysis researchers have dated the manuscript as being written between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4 per cent accuracy. These dates put the manuscript close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632, and close to the founding of Islam.

Based on the radiocarbon dating, researchers have concluded that the manuscript is one of the oldest written textual evidence of the Islamic holy book known to survive. The Quran manuscript is part of the University’s Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, held in the Cadbury Research Library.

University officials have revealed that this is not the only hidden treasure though that the university is in possession of. The shelves of the University’s Cadbury Research Library are home to 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. The Quran manuscript is part of the University’s Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts.

Considered and recognised as a ‘Designated Collection’ of international importance by Arts Council England, the Mingana Collection is usually regarded as the third largest collection of Christian Oriental manuscripts in the world, after the Vatican Library and the French National Library in Paris. However, because of the lack of research on these documents very little is known about the treasures it is hiding.

Back to the manuscript; experts in early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi have revealed that the two parchment leaves contain parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, written with ink.

Professor David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam and Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Birmingham explain that the results are startling. Muslims strongly believe that the Quran they read today is the same text that was standardised under Islam’s third leader Caliph Uthman in about AD 650 and comparing the text found on the parchment with that in the current version, it supports the belief that the holy book’s text has undergone little or no alteration.

Researchers further reveal based on their analysis that the parchment yield a strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards. The findings indicate that the parts of the Quran found the manuscript can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.

Susan Worrall, Director of Special Collections (Cadbury Research Library), at the University of Birmingham, said: “The radiocarbon dating has delivered an exciting result, which contributes significantly to our understanding of the earliest written copies of the Quran. We are thrilled that such an important historical document is here in Birmingham, the most culturally diverse city in the UK.”

The Quran manuscript will be on public display at the University of Birmingham from Friday 2 October until Sunday 25 October.