According to new research at the University of Birmingham, a collection of Quranic manuscripts held at the university may be the oldest in the world. Radiocarbon dating estimates that the manuscripts, which are written on animal skin, were written between 568 and 645 CE.
If the research is accurate, it means that the manuscripts were written at most just a few years after the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ passed away in 632 CE, indicating it was probably transcribed by a Companion of his.
The manuscript is written in the now extinct Hijazi script, which lacked dots and vowel markings, making it difficult to read for someone not already familiar with the verses. By the late 600s, the Kufic script came to dominate Quranic manuscripts.
Below are scans of the manuscript along with links for further reading.
Written on parchment, stone and camel bones
Thomas and Nadir Dinshaw, professor of interreligious relations at the University of Birmingham, said the results of the radiocarbon analysis had been “startling” and “could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.”
The animal from whose hide the parchment was made could have been alive in the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, or shortly afterward, they said in a university news release.
According to Muslim tradition, they said, the Prophet Mohammed received the revelations that form the Quran between 610 and 632 AD.
“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,” the researchers said.
It was only under Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Mohammed, that the collection of all Quranic material was ordered to be gathered in the form of a book, they said.
“The final, authoritative written form was completed and fixed under the direction of the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in about AD 650. Muslims believe that the Qur’an 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.”