The Koran manuscript contains parts of chapters 18 to 20
Birmingham - AFP
A Koran manuscript has been carbon dated to close to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, making it one of the oldest in the world, a British university said Wednesday.
The two leaves of parchment, filled with "surprisingly legible" text from Islam's holy book, have been dated to around the early seventh century, the University of Birmingham said.
"The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed or shortly afterwards," said David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam.
Describing it as a "startling result", he added that the text is "very similar indeed to the Koran as have it today".
"This tends to support the view that the Koran that we now have is... very close indeed to the Koran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam," he said.
The leaves, held in the university's Mingana Collection, contain parts of chapters 18 to 20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi.
"This is indeed an exciting discovery," said Muhammad Isa Waley, lead curator for Persian and Turkish manuscripts at the British Library in London.
"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 (chapters) familiar today."
For many years the leaves were misbound with similar manuscripts dating from the late seventh century.
They were spotted by an Italian academic, Alba Fedeli, while conducting research for her PhD.
Fedeli said the leaves are from the same codex as a manuscript kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, although that is currently dated a little later, to within 50 years of the death of the Prophet Mohammed.
Radiocarbon analysis of the Birmingham documents dates them to between 568 AD and 645 AD, with 95.4 percent accuracy.
Mohammed is widely believed to have lived between around 570 AD and 632 AD.
Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said he was "honoured" to read the text, adding: "All the Muslims of the world would love to see this manuscript."
The Koran manuscript will be placed on public display at the university between October 2 and October 25.