'Oldest' Koran fragments found at Birmingham University
An Islamic manuscript held by the University of Birmingham has been identified as one of the world's oldest fragments of the Koran.
Radiocarbon analysis has dated the now "globally significant" parchment bearing the text to a period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4% accuracy.
The results of the test, conducted at the University of Oxford, strongly suggest the manuscript was written less than 20 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed.
Professor David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, said: "The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Koran folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the university's collections.
"They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam."
Experts believe the pieces of parchment may have been taken from an animal which was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed or shortly afterwards.
Prof Thomas added: "This means that the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Mohammed's death.
"These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed."
According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammed received the revelations that form the scripture of Islam between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death.
The manuscript, part of the university's Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, consists of two parchment leaves and is believed to contain parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20.
Written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi, the text has previously been "misbound" with parts of a similar manuscript dated to the late seventh century.
Susan Worrall, director of special collections at the University of Birmingham's Cadbury Research Library, said: "The radiocarbon dating has delivered an exciting result, which contributes significantly to our understanding of the earliest written copies of the Koran.
"We are thrilled that such an important historical document is here in Birmingham, the most culturally diverse city in the UK."
Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, lead curator for Persian and Turkish manuscripts at the British Library, said: "We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs.
"According to the classic accounts, it was under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, that the Koranic text was compiled and edited in the order of Suras familiar today."
The manuscript will go on public display at the university's Barber Institute of Fine Arts in October.