Understanding the Birmingham University’s Find of the Oldest Qur’anic Manuscripts
The collection at Birmingham University is known as the Mingana Arabic 1572 collection. It consists of 9 manuscripts (leaves, pages, folios). Earlier today, Birmingham University re-classified the dating of 2 of the manuscripts from the collection. The collection was then split into two classifications: Mingana Arabic 1572a and Mingana Arabic 1572b.
The collection that was carbon dated to between 568 CE and 645 CE with a 95% probability is Mingana Arabic 1572a. This collection can be understood as follows:
- It consists of 2 manuscripts (pages, leaves, folios).
- Each manuscript contains writing on its recto (front) and verso (back).
- The manuscript is made of parchment (goat or sheep skin).
- Of the 9 manuscripts, the 2 in this newly classified collection are manuscripts 1 and 7.
- The style of writing or the script (orthography) is Hijazi (writing originating in the Western Arabic Peninsula).
The manuscripts are readable and its writing is easy to identify, Ilm Feed has produced a wonderful comparison:
Another person has superimposed the modern text of the Qur’an over the text of one of the manuscripts, the accuracy is incredible:
Question and Answer:
Does this make it the earliest known Qur’anic manuscript(s)?
Yes, it does. The earliest manuscript before this was the C1 text of the Sana’aa Palimpsest (DAM 01 – 27), which dated to before 671 CE with a probability of 99%, before 661 CE with a probability of 95.5% and a before 646 CE with a probability of 75%. See Behnam Sadeghi, Mohsen Goudarzi, “Sana’aa and the Origins of the Qur’an”, Der Islam (2012), Vol. 87, p. 8.
Do these manuscripts contain vowels?
Yes, there are several dots and verse endings, otherwise known as “diacritical marks”. These however, may not have been written by the original “author” (scribe) and could have been added by a later one seeking to update the text or to make it readable.
What style of Arabic Script is it written in?
It’s written in Hijazi script, which is one of the oldest Arabic scripts known. It’s referred to as Hijazi because it was developed or most prominently used in the Western Arabian Peninsula’s region of the Hijaz (alt: Hejaz), which includes the cities of Makkah and Madina.
Do we know who wrote it?
In regard to the identity of the author or the scribe, or the amanuensis, we may never know their identity. It is equally probable that it was written by a Companion of the Prophet (ﷺ) during or after the Prophet’s lifetime (ﷺ), or by a student of a Companion.
Why split the collection into two different collections?
This is to help palaeographers and textual critics differentiate between the manuscripts they are studying and it is purely done for academic purposes. The other 7 manuscripts, remain dated to within the 1st century of the Hijrah (622 to 722 CE).
What parts of the Qur’an do these manuscripts contain?
Manuscript 1 (Recto/ Front) contains: Qur’an 19:91 – 20:13.
Manuscript 1 (Verso/ Back) contains: Qur’an 20:13 – 20:40.
Manuscript 7 (Recto/ Front) contains: Qur’an 18:17 – 18:23.
Manuscript 7 (Verso/ Back) contains: Qur’an 18:23 – 18:31.
I’ll update this post according to the questions received. If you’d like a question answered, send us a message or post it in the comments section.
and Allah knows best.