Fragments of the world’s oldest known Koran, discovered last month by British Scholars, may have been written before the accepted date of the founding of Islam by the prophet Muhammad.
Radiocarbon dating of the fragments, tested by experts at the University of Oxford, were manufactured between 568 and 645 A.D. The accepted data of the founding of Islam has been designated as sometime after 610 A.D. Medina, the first Muslim community, was founded in what is now Saudi Arabia in 622 A.D.
The two pages were accidentally bound into another copy of the Koran, one that dates back to the seventh century. They came to the library of the University of Birmingham in England as part of a collection of Middle Eastern texts accumulated in Iraq back in the 1920’s.
The earliest known text of the Koran was put together by the order of Uthman, the third caliph after Muhammad’s death. That document had been assembled in 653 A.D. Prior to that time, parts of the work had been written on parchment, leaves, bone or stones, but mostly was circulated through oral tradition.
The carbon dating has only been done on the sheep- or goat-skin parchment of the newly discovered fragments so far. If it turns out that the inks also were from the same time frame, that would likely mean that at least some portions of the work pre-date Muhammad, moving the time of an Arabic literary culture back into the 500’s, say the researchers.
Muslim scholars dispute the notion that the fragments predate Muhammad. “If anything, the manuscript has consolidated traditional accounts of the Koran’s origins,” said Mustafa Shah of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
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