Oldest Quran Manuscript Discovered at University of Birmingham


Misplaced manuscript fragments are believed to be part of suras (chapters) 18 to 20.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike around the world are startled by the recent discovery made by experts at the UK’s University of Birmingham Library. Two old leaves of manuscript that were neglected and set aside in the pile of library books and documents for almost a century turned out to be the oldest surviving piece of Islamic history today. With the help of radiocarbon dating, the two manuscripts written in either sheep or goat skin are estimated to be 1,370 years old.

The fragments are part of the Mingana Collection. It’s the compilation of books, manuscripts, and documents gathered by the Chaldean Priest Alphonse Mingana in the 1920s. The expedition was sponsored by Edward Cadbury during that time to which the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library was named after.


With the radiocarbon’s accuracy rate of 95%, the two manuscripts were estimated to be written between 568 and 645 A.D.. There are other old Islam and Quran documents but these new discoveries are considered to be the earliest.

This discovery is very significant for the Muslim world because it is said that Prophet Mohammed lived from 570 to 632 A.D. which is also the cited beginning of the Islam religion. With almost the same dates, it means that the two parchment leaves could be written during the time of Prophet Mohammed or shortly after his death. According to Christianity and Islam Professor David Thomas: “The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Mohammed. He would have seen him probably, he maybe have heard him preach.” The very important fact is that the manuscripts could be written during the time when the Quran words were being revealed to the Prophet.

During the earliest years of Islam, the words revealed to Prophet Mohammed were poorly preserved and were not compiled together. They are either part of memories, or perhaps written down in stones, palm leaves, animal skin, or camels’ shoulder blades. It’s only during the time of the third Islam leader Caliph Uthman that a book compilation of teachings was made.

The manuscript was written in Hijazi script, one of the ancient and most beautiful forms of Arabic writing. Many are amazed how clear and brilliantly-preserved the texts are for two millenniums now. The writings contained within the folios were also validated. And based on results, experts believe that they form parts of Surahs Chapters 18 to 20 of the Quran. It further validates the contents of the present version of the Quran. Prof. Thomas added that: “It is very close to the form of the Quran today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration.”

Good news for Muslims and the rest of the world

The director of the Research Library Susan Worrall is very much excited with the discovery saying that it’s “a treasure that is of global significance to Muslim heritage and the study of Islam, as well as being a source of great pride to the local (Birmingham) community.”

Dr. Muhammad Isa Waley of the British Library describes the two folios as precious survivors “this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.”

Muhammad Afza of the Birmingham Central Mosque is sure that “People from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages”. Certainly it’s a treasure to Birmingham that is second to none. 

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