UK: Birmingham’s ancient Koran ‘could rewrite history of Islam’

An Islamic manuscript which has been identified as one of the world's oldest fragments of the Koran on show at the University of Birmingham

An Islamic manuscript which has been identified as one of the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran on show at the University of Birmingham

An ancient copy of the Koran found in a Birmingham library could rewrite the early history of Islam, experts believe.

Some of the world’s oldest fragments of the Muslim holy text were discovered by theUniversity of Birmingham in July.

The pages of the Koran were kept with a collection of Middle Eastern books and lay undiscovered for almost a century.

Experts think the manuscript, written on sheep or goat skin, dates back to between AD 568 and 645.

The Prophet Muhammad, said to have received the revelations that form the Koran, lived between AD 570 and 632.

Ancient copy of Koran found in Birmingham library ‘could rewrite history of Islam’

But now some historians controversially believe the Birmingham Koran could pre-date the Prophet.

That would contradict most accounts of his life and legacy and may “radically alter the edifice of Islamic tradition”.

If the dates are correct, the manuscript was made before the first formal text of the Koran is supposed to have been collated.

Experts say that is the equivalent of discovering a copy of gospel sayings that date back to the infancy of Jesus.

It would contradict beliefs held by the Salafist branch of Islam.

Historian Tom Holland said evidence was mounting that traditional accounts of Islam’s origins were unreliable or wrong.

He said: “It destabilises, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged.

BPM University of Birmingham

“That in turn has implications for the historicity of Muhammad and the Companions (his followers).”

Keith Small, from the University of Oxford, said the Birmingham Koran could mean Muhammad did not receive a revelation from heaven.

He said if the radiocarbon dates were correct “then the Koran, or at least portions of it, predates Muhammad”.

The claims were strongly disputed by Muslim scholars.

Mustafa Shah, from the School of Oriental and African Studies, said: “The manuscript has consolidated traditional accounts of the Koran’s origins.”

Related stories:

Worldwide media frenzy as ‘oldest Koran’ found lying forgotten at University of Birmingham

Oldest Koran: Middle Eastern scholars voice doubts over age claims

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