Understanding the Birmingham University’s Find of the Oldest Qur’anic Manuscripts


General Information:

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:

cc-2015-ilmfeedminganacomparison

Another person has superimposed the modern text of the Qur’an over the text of one of the manuscripts, the accuracy is incredible:

cc-2015-minganaimposed

Click to Enlarge

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.

4 comments

  • Salaam. This is a tangential question but I feel that I should ask you.

    Roughly how rare were diacritics in early Qurans? I believe that arabic did have diacritics then but I believe (I am not sure- please confirm) they were used sparingly if not at all in early Qurans. Is there any specific reason given by traditional sources for this?

  • Reblogged this on Islamic updates, welcome and commented:
    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.

    Quran 7th century 1 Cadbury Research LibraryResearchers conclude that the Qur’an manuscript is among the earliest written textual evidence of the Islamic holy book known to survive. This gives the Qur’an manuscript in Birmingham global significance to Muslim heritage and the study of Islam.

  • wa ‘alaykumus salaam,

    See this post, I included a paragraph about it, but I can go into more detail if you request.

    https://callingchristians.com/2015/07/27/a-response-to-smith-spencer-qureishi-and-others-on-birmingham-quran-manuscript-find/

  • Thanks. Neat that vowel marks were around that early!

    Now when it comes to i’jaam (i mean what separates a ba from a ta) How complete was the dotting system? Were all letters that required dotting, dotted in really early manuscripts, or would have required prior memory of the text to be able to read the rasm?

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