World’s oldest Quran fragments may be from the Prophet’s lifetime

History Contributor
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oldest Quran

World’s oldest Quran

Fragments of the oldest Quran ever found can be seen at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts of the Birmingham University. These fragments constitute two pages of the holy book. And according to experts, someone may have written these pages during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad himself. This discovery was made in 2015. Since then, people from different countries, Muslims and non-Muslims alike have thronged to the library to see these two pages.

The discovery

The credit of finding fragments of the oldest Quran goes to Alba Fadeli. She was then working on Mingana manuscripts as part of her Ph.D. research. Suddenly, she came across two parchment pages, which were bound together with another manuscript of the Quran. While the calligraphy of the manuscript looked very similar to these two pages, taking a close look Fadeli found them to be different. She immediately brought this to the notice of the library authorities. She felt these two pages were much older than the other pages of the manuscripts.

In fact, according to newspaper reports, a German institution had earlier requested the university to properly test the same manuscript. However, the university turned down this request. Thankfully, the university took Fadeli’s discovery seriously and experts conducted a carbon dating test. In a stunning result, the test showed, with 95.4 percent accuracy that the two pages belonged to a period between 568 and 645 CE. Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between 610 and 632 CE. He passed away in 632 CE. Therefore, it is possible that these two pages come from the Quran was written down during the prophet’s lifetime.

The discovery of the pages from the oldest Quran created a ripple among scholars all over the world. Muhammad Isa Waley, a senior curator at the British Library, called the discovery “news to rejoice Muslim hearts”. What is of particular significance is that, even if it was written a few years after the prophet’s demise, the writer almost certainly saw and heard him preach. Thus, these two pages belong to an era immediately after the founding of Islam.

The two pages

The two pages of the oldest Quran, which has survived to this day, are made of either ship or goatskin. The pages are written in a neat hand in archaic Hijazi script. Susan Worrell, director of the special collection of the library told the news media, “At first glance, they look identical to the other pages, but once you know you can see that the text does not flow. The script is wonderful, still legible to anyone who can read Arabic today.”

The pages of the oldest Quran came to the library with a mass of other early Middle Eastern manuscripts. Theologian and Chaldean priest Alphonse Mingana collected originally collected these parchments in the 1920s. But it is not known where he found it. These two pages contain parts of two Suras: 18 and 20.

The discovery of the fragments of the oldest Quran pushed back the date of the oldest surviving Quran by a couple of centuries.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)