Kaaba in Mecca.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Fragments from the oldest Koran ever discovered could possibly predate the founding of Islam by the prophet Muhammad, researchers from the University of Oxford told The Times of London Tuesday.
Researchers in England discovered parts of Islam’s holy book recently in a library at the University of Birmingham, among texts collected in Iraq in the 1920s.
The manuscript consists of two parchment leaves containing parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, and was written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijaz.
The finding may have significant theological ramifications.
University of Birmingham Koran manuscript dated among the oldest in the world.
According to Oxford researcher Keith Small, “This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Koran’s genesis, such as that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven.”
In July, radiocarbon testing conducted by the University of Birmingham indicated that the parchment folios were at least 1,370 years old, which would make them one of the earliest written forms of the Islamic holy book in existence.
Researchers said the manuscript consisted of two parchment leaves that contained parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, and was written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi.
However, according to new radiocarbon tests run by Oxford University, researchers are now claiming the pages are even older – possibly 1,371 to 1,448 years old.
“It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged – and that in turn has implications for the history of Muhammad and the Companions,” historian Tom Holland told the Times.
As such, if the Oxford dating is correct, the world’s oldest Koran was created between 568 and 645 CE, while the prophet is believed to have lived between 570 and 632 CE.
This means that the first known formal text of the Koran could date back to Muhammad’s childhood, or possibly even before his birth, the Times added.
Muslim scholars have disputed the claims, including London’s School of Oriental and African Studies scholar Mustafa Shah, who said, “If anything, the manuscript has consolidated traditional accounts of the Koran’s origins.”