June 22, 2024
The original quran
The remarkable consistency of its text with the modern Qur'an provides strong evidence supporting the Islamic belief in the faithful preservation of the Qur'an over the centuries, proving that we have the original Qur'an today.

The Birmingham Quran manuscript, dating from the period between 568 CE and 645 CE, is one of the oldest known copies of the Qur’an. The remarkable consistency of its text with the modern Qur’an provides strong evidence supporting the Islamic belief in the faithful preservation of the Qur’an over the centuries, proving that we have the original Qur’an today.

Here are several arguments that expand on this point:

Discovery:

  • The Birmingham Quran manuscript was discovered in the Cadbury Research Library of the University of Birmingham in 2015. It had been part of the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, which was assembled by Alphonse Mingana in the early 20th century.

Physical Characteristics:

  • The manuscript consists of two parchment leaves, written in Hijazi script, which is an early form of Arabic script characterized by its slanting and somewhat cursive letters.
  • The parchment leaves contain parts of Surahs 18 (Al-Kahf), 19 (Maryam), and 20 (Ta-Ha), which are among the later Meccan surahs.

Carbon Dating:

  • The University of Oxford’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit conducted carbon-dating tests on the parchment. The results indicated that the animal whose skin was used to make the parchment lived sometime between 568 CE and 645 CE.
  • The manuscript’s inscription time overlaps the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who is believed to have lived from 571 CE to 632 CE. So it is more likely that the manuscript was written during his lifetime.

Historical Consistency

Textual Integrity:

  • The Birmingham Quran manuscript contains text from Surahs 18 (Al-Kahf), 19 (Maryam), and 20 (Ta-Ha). Comparative analysis shows that these texts are virtually identical to the corresponding passages in the modern Qur’an.
  • This consistency indicates that the core text of the Qur’an has remained unchanged from the time of its early transcription to the present day.

Early Manuscript Evidence:

  • The early dating of the manuscript to within a few decades of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) supports the idea that the Qur’anic text was accurately recorded and preserved shortly after its revelation.
  • Other early manuscripts, such as those found in Sana’a, Yemen, and Topkapi Palace, Turkey, also exhibit similar textual fidelity, reinforcing the evidence from the Birmingham manuscript.

Qur’anic Preservation Mechanisms

Oral Tradition:

  • The Qur’an was revealed in a primarily oral culture, and memorization played a crucial role in its preservation. Many companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) memorized the entire Qur’an, ensuring its transmission across generations.
  • This oral tradition continues today, with millions of Muslims around the world memorizing the Qur’an, further safeguarding its text.

Written Compilation:

  • The Qur’an was compiled into a single book during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and later standardized under Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him). The Uthmanic codex was distributed to various Islamic centers to ensure uniformity.
  • The discovery of manuscripts like the Birmingham Quran, which aligns with the Uthmanic codex, underscores the effectiveness of these early efforts at preservation.

Linguistic and Codicological Analysis

Hijazi Script:

  • The Hijazi script used in the Birmingham Quran manuscript is an early form of Arabic script, indicative of the script used during the Prophet’s time. The script’s characteristics align with other early Qur’anic manuscripts, demonstrating continuity in the text’s transmission.
  • The absence of diacritical marks and vowels in the early manuscripts, including the Birmingham Quran, did not lead to textual corruption, as the oral tradition provided the necessary context for correct pronunciation and understanding.

Paleographic Studies:

  • Paleographic analysis of early Qur’anic manuscripts shows a high degree of uniformity in the text, further supporting the notion of careful and consistent preservation.
  • The codicological features, such as the parchment quality and the script style, also match other contemporaneous manuscripts, providing additional layers of validation.

Scholarly Consensus

Orientalist and Islamic Scholars:

  • Both Islamic and many non-Muslim scholars, including Orientalists, acknowledge the remarkable preservation of the Qur’an. Scholars like Theodor Nöldeke and Angelika Neuwirth have noted the stability of the Qur’anic text over time.
  • The consensus among scholars, regardless of religious background, is that the Qur’an has not undergone significant textual changes since its earliest known manuscripts.

Scientific Validation:

  • Radiocarbon dating and other scientific methods have validated the antiquity of early Qur’anic manuscripts, such as the Birmingham Quran, and their alignment with the modern Qur’an.
  • These scientific approaches provide an objective basis for confirming the consistency and preservation of the Qur’anic text.

Manuscript’s Script and Style:

  • The Hijazi script used in the manuscript is indicative of early Quranic calligraphy before the development of the more standardized Kufic script that became prevalent later.
  • The script lacks many of the diacritical marks and vowel indications found in modern Arabic script, reflecting the orthographic practices of the early 7th century.

Academic and Public Reception:

  • The discovery of the manuscript was met with great excitement both in academic circles and among the general public. It was widely reported in the media and has been the subject of various exhibitions and scholarly articles.
  • The manuscript has been studied for its paleographic and codicological features, adding to the understanding of the early development of the Qur’anic text and manuscript culture.

Broader Context:

  • The Birmingham Quran manuscript is part of a broader corpus of early Quranic manuscripts discovered across the Islamic world. Other notable examples include the Sana’a manuscripts, which also date back to the early centuries of Islam.
  • Together, these manuscripts form a critical corpus for the study of early Islamic history, the transmission of the Qur’anic text, and the development of Arabic script.

The Birmingham Quran manuscript, discovered at the University of Birmingham in 2015, has generated significant scholarly interest due to its early dating and well-preserved state. Further investigations have revealed potential connections to additional fragments held in other collections, most notably at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF) in Paris.

Connection to BnF Arabe 328c

Handwriting and Parchment Analysis:

  • Detailed paleographic analysis of the handwriting style and the characteristics of the parchment used in the Birmingham Quran manuscript suggests a link to another set of Quranic fragments.
  • Specifically, 16 pages catalogued as BnF Arabe 328c at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris appear to match the handwriting and parchment features of the Birmingham manuscript.

Provenance and Historical Context:

  • The BnF Arabe 328c section is believed to have a provenance connected to the Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As in Fusṭāṭ (present-day Old Cairo), Egypt.
  • Fusṭāṭ was established in 642 CE as the first Islamic capital of Egypt and was a significant center for Islamic learning and manuscript production.

Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As:

  • Built in 642 CE by the general ‘Amr ibn al-‘As (May Allah be pleased with him) following the Muslim conquest of Egypt, this mosque is historically significant as the first mosque built on the African continent.
  • Over the centuries, the mosque and the surrounding city of Fusṭāṭ became important centers for Islamic culture, scholarship, and trade.

Manuscript’s Journey and Fragmentation:

  • The journey of these Quranic fragments from their origins in Fusṭāṭ to their current locations in Birmingham and Paris remains largely speculative.
  • It is possible that the manuscript was dispersed over time due to various historical events, including conquests, trade, or the relocation of scholars and religious texts.

Current State and Research:

  • The Birmingham Quran manuscript consists of two parchment leaves, whereas the BnF Arabe 328c contains 16 additional pages. The combined evidence from these fragments provides a more comprehensive view of the early Qur’anic text.
  • Ongoing research and collaboration between institutions aim to further study and possibly reunite these fragments digitally or physically, contributing to a deeper understanding of the manuscript’s history and significance.

Unknown Remainder of the Manuscript:

  • The whereabouts of the remainder of this manuscript are currently unknown. It is possible that additional fragments exist in other collections, either catalogued or uncatalogued, waiting to be identified.
  • Scholars continue to search for other parts of the manuscript, hoping to piece together its complete history and original form.

Historical and Textual Importance:

  • The potential connection between the Birmingham manuscript and the BnF Arabe 328c fragments enhances the historical and textual significance of these early Qur’anic texts.
  • These manuscripts provide critical insights into the early transmission and preservation of the Qur’an, offering tangible evidence of its early compilation and dissemination.

Cultural and Academic Collaboration:

  • The discovery and study of these fragments highlight the importance of international collaboration among scholars, libraries, and museums.
  • Such partnerships are essential for advancing our understanding of early Islamic history, manuscript culture, and the development of the Arabic script.

Digital Humanities and Preservation:

  • Advances in digital humanities allow for the creation of virtual reunions of dispersed manuscript fragments, enabling scholars and the public to study and appreciate these texts in a more integrated manner.
  • Efforts to digitize and make these manuscripts accessible online are crucial for their preservation and for facilitating further research.

Conclusion

The discovery and analysis of the Birmingham Quran manuscript, along with other early manuscripts, provide compelling evidence for the faithful preservation of the Qur’an. The consistency between these ancient texts and the modern Qur’an highlights the effective mechanisms of oral and written transmission employed by the early Muslim community. This preservation is not only a matter of religious belief but is also supported by historical, linguistic, and scientific evidence, affirming the Qur’an’s integrity over the centuries.

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