Thursday, December 31, 2015

Qur'an fragments from Muhammad's time found at University of Birmingham

Another backlog item; as reported by the University of Birmingham, July 22, 2015:

A Qur’an manuscript held by the University of Birmingham has been placed among the oldest in the world thanks to modern scientific methods.

Radiocarbon analysis has dated the parchment on which the text is written to the period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4% accuracy. The test was carried out in a laboratory at the University of Oxford. The result places the leaves close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632.

Explaining the context and significance of the discovery, Professor David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam and Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur’an folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections. They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.

‘According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam, between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death. 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. Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad, ordered the collection of all Qur’anic material in the form of a book. 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.

‘The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards. This means that the parts of the Qur’an that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death. These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Qur’an read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.’

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator for Persian and Turkish Manuscripts at the British Library, said: ‘This is indeed an exciting discovery. We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs. According to the classic accounts, it was under the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, that the Qur’anic text was compiled and edited in the order of Suras familiar today, chiefly on the basis of the text as compiled by Zayd ibn Thabit under the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. Copies of the definitive edition were then distributed to the main cities under Muslim rule.

‘The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Qur’an required a great many of them. The carbon dating evidence, then, indicates that Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library is home to some precious survivors that – in view of the Suras included – would once have been at the centre of a Mushaf from that period. And it seems to leave open the possibility that the Uthmanic redaction took place earlier than had been thought – or even, conceivably, that these folios predate that process. In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.’

The Qur’an manuscript will be on public display at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, from Friday 2 October until Sunday 25 October.
As reported by Sean Coughlan of the British Broadcasting Corporation, July 22, 2015 (bold in original):

What may be the world's oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham.

Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.

The pages of the Muslim holy text had remained unrecognised in the university library for almost a century.

The British Library's expert on such manuscripts, Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, said this "exciting discovery" would make Muslims "rejoice".

The manuscript had been kept with a collection of other Middle Eastern books and documents, without being identified as one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the world.

The fragments were written on sheep or goat skin

Oldest texts
When a PhD researcher, Alba Fedeli, looked more closely at these pages it was decided to carry out a radiocarbon dating test and the results were "startling".

The university's director of special collections, Susan Worrall, said researchers had not expected "in our wildest dreams" that it would be so old.

Prof Thomas says the writer of this manuscript could have heard the Prophet Muhammad preach

"Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting."

The tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran.

These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.

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

"According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death."

Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally - and that really is quite a thought to conjure with," he says.

First-hand witness
Prof Thomas says that some of the passages of the Koran were written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels - and a final version, collected in book form, was completed in about 650.

He says that "the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad's death".

"These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed."

'Precious survivor'
Dr Waley, curator for such manuscripts at the British Library, said "these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three caliphs".

The first three caliphs were leaders in the Muslim community between about 632 and 656.

Dr Waley says that under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, copies of the "definitive edition" were distributed.

Muhammad Afzal of Birmingham Central Mosque said he was very moved to see the manuscript

"The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Koran required a great many of them."

Dr Waley suggests that the manuscript found by Birmingham is a "precious survivor" of a copy from that era or could be even earlier.

"In any case, this - along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script - is news to rejoice Muslim hearts."

The manuscript is part of the Mingana Collection of more than 3,000 Middle Eastern documents gathered in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in modern-day Iraq.

He was sponsored to take collecting trips to the Middle East by Edward Cadbury, who was part of the chocolate-making dynasty.

The Koran
. Muslims believe the words of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over 22 years from 610

. It was not until 1734 that a translation was made into English, but was littered with mistakes

. Copies of the holy text were issued to British Indian soldiers fighting in the First World War

. On 6 October 1930, words from the Koran were broadcast on British radio for the first time, in a BBC programme called The Sphinx

The local Muslim community has already expressed its delight at the discovery in their city and the university says the manuscript will be put on public display.

"When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I'm sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages," said Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque.

The university says the Koran fragments will go on display in the Barber Institute in Birmingham in October.

Prof Thomas says it will show people in Birmingham that they have a "treasure that is second to none".
It hardly needs to be said that just because this document may be from the time of Muhammad and provides evidence that the Qur'an that's available today is essentially the same as the Qur'an that existed in the 7th century means that it comes from God. All this means is that it's an ancient Middle Eastern document. It's the Bible, not the Qur'an, that is the inspired and infallible word of God.

However, there has been skepticism expressed about the discovery, as reported by Ben Hurst of the Birmingham Post, August 1, 2015:

Middle Eastern historians have raised doubts about claims the University of Birmingham had discovered to oldest known copy of the Koran.

The announcement was made last week sparking a frenzy of interest around the world.

The Islamic manuscript which was found hidden inside the pages of another book in a university library has been dated using radiocarbon analysis to a period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4 per cent accuracy.

According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammed received the revelations that form the scripture of Islam between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death.

But now historians and manuscript experts have cast doubt on the findings, saying that just because the parchments were dated from that period, it did not necessarily mean the writing did too.

Abdul Sattar Al-Halouji, who was described as a manuscript expert in the Middle East, said: “It is not possible to ascertain that the parchments were written close to the time of the Prophet.

“The university should have examined the ink not the hide on which it was written.”

Halouji said the hide or the animal skin might be old but the verses may have been written later.

He said: “The manuscript might possibly be from the time of Othman Bin Affan who became Caliph many years after the death of the Prophet.

“During the time of the Prophet, the Koran was not organised or put in its present day form. Also there were no colours used.”

Adnan Al-Sharif, who is the dean of libraries at Umm Al-Qura University, told the Saudi Gazette there were many observations which cast doubt on the claims that the Birmingham manuscript was the oldest copy of the Koran.

He said: “One of these is the red-colour separation between the Bismillah and the two Surahs of Mariam and Taha.

“It was not customary during the Prophet’s time to separate between the Surahs.

“This copy seems to be organised and in order which was not so during the time of the Prophet,” he said.

Al-Sharif said radiocarbon examination of a manuscript can only point to the century not the year.

He said: “There are copies of the Koran in Turkey, Egypt and Yemen dating back to the first Hijra century.

“This means that they are concurrent to the Birmingham’s manuscript.”

Abbas Tashkandi, another manuscript expert, said it was clear that the university examined the hide not the writing: “The hide may be old but the writing may be new.”

Tahskandi said the manuscript might be from the time of Caliph Othman Bin Affan and not the Prophet. He also said the manuscript might have been written in Makkah which was famous for its tanneries.

Experts contend that during the time of the Prophet there was no separation between the Surahs (chapters) in red colors, no red ink was used in writing “Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem” with which a Surah begins and that the holy book itself was not put in its today’s order.

Announcing the find, Professor David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, in Edgbaston, said: “The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Koran folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the university’s collections.

“They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.”

Experts believe the pieces of parchment may have been taken from an animal which was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed or shortly afterwards.

Prof Thomas added: “This means that the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Mohammed’s death.

“These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.”

Birmingham’s Muslim community has already expressed its delight at the discovery in their city and the university says the manuscript will be put on public display.

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