LONDON (REUTERS) - A British university said on Wednesday that fragments of a Quran manuscript found in its library were from one of the oldest surviving copies of the Islamic text in the world, possibly written by someone who might have known Prophet Mohammad.
Radiocarbon dating indicated that the parchment folios held by the University of Birmingham in central England were at least 1,370 years old, which would make them one of the earliest written forms of the Islamic holy book in existence.
"They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," said David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam at the university.
Researchers said the manuscript consisted of two parchment leaves and contained parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, and was written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi.
The university said for years it had been misbound with leaves of a similar Quran manuscript which dated from the late seventh century.
The radiocarbon dating, said to have a 95.4 per cent accuracy, found the parchment dated from between 568 and 645. Mohammad is believed to have lived between 570 and 632.
Thomas said the tests carried out on the parchment of the folios strongly suggested the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammad or shortly afterwards.
"TEARS OF JOY"
"The person who actually wrote it may well have known the Prophet Mohammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally," Thomas told BBC TV.
The manuscript was part of the university's collection of 3,000 Middle Eastern documents which was acquired in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in Iraq.
His trips to acquire the manuscripts were funded by philanthropist Edward Cadbury to raise the status of Birmingham as an intellectual centre for religious studies.
"The parts of the Quran that are contained in those fragments are very similar indeed to the Quran as we have it today," Thomas said. "So this tends to support the view that the Quran that we now have is more or less very close indeed to the Koran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam."
The university said it will put the manuscript on public display in October, and Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said he expected it to attract people from all over Britain. "When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes," he told the BBC.