A photo of Quran manuscripts
These Quran manuscripts were brought to England in the late 1920s and were lying in a drawer next to the diaries of English playwright Noel Coward. There were found by a researcher at the University of Birmingham,. Photo courtesy Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

Quran fragments in drawer at British university may be world's oldest

CANTERBURY, England (RNS)  What could turn out to be the world’s oldest fragments of the Quran have been found at the University of Birmingham, the United Kingdom’s second-largest city, with a 28 percent Muslim population.

The manuscripts were brought to England in the late 1920s and were lying in a drawer next to the diaries of English playwright Noel Coward when doctoral student Alba Fedeli decided to take a closer look at them.

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Radiocarbon dating found that the two weather-beaten parchments, probably made from sheep or goat skins and covered in neat symmetrical flowing lines of an early Arabic script, were at least 1,370 years old, making them among the earliest pages from the Quran in existence -- if not the very oldest.

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

"Finding out that we had one of the oldest fragments of the Quran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting," she said.

David Thomas, professor of Islam and Christianity at Birmingham University, said he was "stunned" when the tests, which were carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, came back with such early dates. These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95 percent, the parchments were from between A.D. 568 and 645.

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"When we were informed that these are likely to be very early fragments, we sent them off for carbon dating and the date came back of 645 A.D. -- (about) 20 years from the death of the Prophet Muhammad. That is a startlingly early date," he said.

He said that the fragments came from the earliest days of Islam.

A photo of Quran manuscripts

These Quran manuscripts were brought to England in the late 1920s and were lying in a drawer next to the diaries of English playwright Noel Coward. There were found by a researcher at the University of Birmingham. Photo courtesy of Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham

"If the dating is correct then the person who wrote them might have known the Prophet Muhammad, would have seen him, and maybe heard him preach. He may have known him personally and that is quite a thought. According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Quran (which means 'Recite' in Arabic) between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death."

The manuscripts were written in the Hijazi script, an early form of Arabic writing. They are 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.

Mingana was sponsored to take collecting trips to the Middle East by Edward Cadbury of the famous chocolate manufacturing firm.

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Members of the local Muslim community of Birmingham are delighted to know their city could become famous as a pilgrimage site.

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

The University of Birmingham says the fragments will go on display in the Barber Institute in Birmingham in October.



  1. Were the parts about raping, enslaving and butchering all non-Muslims in the original version too?

  2. Why you find a smiley face there appropriate I do not appreciate. I could say that the Christian texts contain also and more explicit re raping and enslaving and brutal killing.

  3. Saied – And I’d agree with you 100%. ALL so-called ‘Abrahamic’ monotheistic religions were born out of fanaticism and bloodshed.

  4. Sure,you could SAY that,Saied…but then I would have to challenge you to show the readers where in the New Testament “raping,enslaving,and brutal killing”were commanded by Jesus Christ ANYWHERE in The Gospels or in the Book of Acts or in any of the Epistles.Oh wait,I forgot: You Muslims claim that we Christians don’t actually have The Injil; we have a supposedly corrupted version of it.Well,shucks,Saied…I guess you will have to show the readers the original Injl (Gospels) that contain the verses verifying that Isa (Jesus) commanded those who would believe in Him and follow Him to rape,enslave,and brutally kill unbelievers. [ Don’t forget–chapter and verse,please. I await your reply.

  5. my god is better than your god…blather, blather, blather

  6. And yet churches for the last 1500 years have provided excuses and pretexts for raping, pilaging and genocide based on the Bible. Yet Christians still use the Bible to justify the imprisonment and murder of people (ask Scott Lively).

    The whole argument that Islam is bad because Christianity is better is utter bullcrap. They BOTH are bad.

  7. Ariel Bradly: Homeschooled Christian Fundamentalist/ISIS bride


    “But as I look at Ariel’s story, fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam don’t feel all that different. Both strive to return to the practices of the earliest believers and adhere strictly to a literal interpretation of their religions books. Both encourage followers to structure their entire lives around religion. But require female followers to obey their husbands and to dress mostly.”

  8. And vitiating the old and the new Muslim book of terror with some old words of wisdom:

    “The Two Universal Sects

    They all err—Moslems, Jews,
    Christians, and Zoroastrians:

    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
    One, man intelligent without religion,

    The second, religious without intellect. ”

    , born AD 973 /, died AD 1058 / .

    Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer.[1][2] He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth.”

    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/resalat-al-ghufran#ixzz1lI6DuZmZ and http://www.humanistictexts.org/al_ma'arri.htm

  9. And the mythical communication with mythical Gabriel. This tinker bell caused way to much grief for the human race!!

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