Several news articles today have stated that the manuscripts of the Qur’an in Birmingham prove that the Qur’an is earlier than the Prophet. Is this true?
The articles by both the Daily Mail and Raw Story were both sensationalized and neither presented any new information, nor were the people who were interviewed (Tom and Keith) privy to any new research by Dr. Alba Fedeli (the one whose research led to the discovery). There was a lot of behind the scenes controversy (due to his colleagues severely criticizing him, leading him to send a clarification email) about Keith’s statements, which were based off of a question raised by a popular Christian scholar of Qur’anic studies whose article in which this question was originally raised, was brought into severe disrepute by several colleagues of the Christian and Secular persuasions, which led to either the article’s removal by the scholar himself or by the publishing agency, which I will also not name. So the question itself is not new, and nor was it an original thought, nor was either the Daily Mail the primary source for the information. The information from the Daily Mail, citing Keith’s proposition was from a separate interview done for The Times, a UK paper.
Accordingly, the original interview is inaccessible as The Times seems to have put it behind a paywall, fortunately it was sent to a few people and we were able to read the article, as well as given details of the entire interview, specifically, what prompted Keith to make the statements he did. To quickly recap, these articles were not prompted by new research or by the original scholar who re-dated the manuscripts, nor was this question new, it was something raised a month or so ago by another Christian academic, the news is sensationalizing something which what was over a month ago, just a question raised by someone in an article which was later taken down after serious questions by the academic’s own colleagues. As for the claim in and of itself, it is quite absurd to say the very least. The question that prompted the original question to be asked was due to the authenticity of the date range of the carbon dating. The date of 568 CE, dates to some two years before the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) birth. The question raised, asks, “is it possible the manuscript was unused until 610 CE when the revelation is said to have begun?”
If it was unused, why? That’s the basis for the questioning! That’s it. Why was the manuscript unused for some decades? Well, the answer is quite simple, whoever owned it, or whichever series of owners possessed it, they had no need to use such an expensive, rare and ornate material until the advent of the Qur’an. At that time, the Arabs had no published literature, their most popular form of entertainment – poetry, was primarily oral and most of the population were illiterate. Quite simply, it’s like asking why a person would keep an old silver coin for several decades without using it – it could be due to value, sentiment, could have been in storage and unused, there are quite simply, too many reasons why the manuscript was not used until the owner found a suitable reason to use it. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. The news sensationalized something, based off of a non-issue, that no academic in this field of Arabic codicology, paleography or papyrology sees as holding any weight.
It should be noted that there have been previously bad and unreliable carbon datings that were later corrected by other labs, Dr. Deroche notes one such recent incident:
“This become especially clear when such measurements provide results which simply cannot be accepted. Two samples from the famous Sanaa palimpsest (Sanaa, DaM|Inv. 01-27.1) were recently dated with this method. According to the laboratory, one folio was produced between 543 and 643 AD whereas the other one was made between 433 and 599 AD. Later dates would be easier to explain by a contamination. Here the problem may lie with the conditions (arid or semi-arid climate) under which the cattle, the hides of which were later turned into parchment, was raised.” – Qur’an of the Umayyads, p. 13.
Those dates were found to later be wrong after several other labs did their own carbon datings, cementing the date range to be within the 7th century CE or 1st century hijri.
and God knows best.