Saudi scholars discredit UK's claim of 'oldest Quran'

Several Saudi Quranic experts allege a British university’s examination of the text’s paper does not prove when it was written
Saudi scholars discredit UK's claim of 'oldest Quran'
(Getty Images)
By Staff writer
Mon 27 Jul 2015 01:47 PM

Several Saudi scholars have questioned the veracity of claims a British university has discovered the oldest copy of the Quran, according to the Makkah daily.

Researchers at Birmingham University claimed last week that fragments of a Quran manuscript found in the university library were from one of the world's oldest surviving copies of the Islamic text and may even have been written by someone who knew Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

Radiocarbon dating of the two parchment folios containing Quranic verses from chapter 18-20 in Hijazi script were at least 1,370 years old, likely written between 568AD and 645AD.

Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is believed to have lived between 570AD and 632AD.

However, at least three Saudi scholars claim the text must have been written after the Prophet’s death for several reasons.

Abdul Sattar Al Halouji reportedly said the university’s claim could be a publicity stunt.

“It is not possible to ascertain that the parchments were written close to the time of the Prophet (pbuh),” he was quoted as telling Makkah daily. “The university should have examined the ink not the hide on which it was written.”

He said the hide, or animal skin, on which the text was written could be as old as the researchers suggest, but that does not prove the text was written at that time.

Archaeologist Adnan Al Sharif told the newspaper the manuscript was not as old as suggested because during the Prophet’s life, the Quran did not include red ink lines to separate chapters, nor red ink to write the words ‘Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem’, which traditionally start a new Surah (chapter), and the order of the holy book was not of that era.

“The manuscript might possibly be from the time of Othman Bin Affan who became Caliph many years after the death of the Prophet (pbuh),” Al Sharif, dean of libraries at Umm Al Qura University, was quoted as saying.

“During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the Quran was not organised or put in its present day form. Also, there were no colours used.”

He added there were several observations that cast doubt on the Birmingham University claims.

“One of these is the red-colour separation between the Bismillah and the two Surahs of Mariam and Taha. It was not customary during the Prophet’s time to separate between the Surahs. This copy seems to be organised in [an] order which was not so during the time of the Prophet (pbuh),” he said.

Also, radiocarbon examination of a manuscript could only indicate the century in which it was made and not the year, he said.

“There are copies of the Quran in Turkey, Egypt and Yemen dating back to the first Hijra century. This means that they are concurrent to the Birmingham manuscript,” Al Sharif was quoted as saying.

Abbas Tashkandi, another manuscript expert, agreed that examining the hide did not reveal when the text was written.

“The hide may be old but the writing may be new,” he said.

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