Koran fragments found in UK library are among world's oldest, says university

Wed Jul 22, 2015 11:43am EDT
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By Michael Holden and William James

LONDON (Reuters) - Fragments of a Koran manuscript found in a British university library are from one of the world's oldest surviving copies of the Islamic text, and may even have been written by someone who knew Prophet Mohammad, researchers said on Wednesday.

Radiocarbon dating indicated that the parchment folios held by the University of Birmingham in central England were at least 1,370 years old, which would make them one of the earliest written forms of the Islamic holy book in existence.

"They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," said David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam at the university.

Researchers said the manuscript consisted of two parchment leaves and contained parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, and was written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi.

The university said for years it had been misbound with leaves of a similar Koran manuscript which dated from the late seventh century.

The radiocarbon dating, said to have a 95.4 percent accuracy, found the parchment dated from between 568 and 645. Mohammad is believed to have lived between 570 and 632.

"(These fragments) give us glimpses into potentially how something which we now call the Koran might have been used in this early period and how it might have been recorded," said Sajjad Rizvi, Director of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter


Conservator, Marie Sviergula holds a fragment of a Koran manuscript in the library at the University of Birmingham in Britain July 22, 2015. A British university said on Wednesday that fragments of a Koran manuscript found in its library were from one of the oldest surviving copies of the Islamic text in the world, possibly written by someone who might have known Prophet Mohammad. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls