University of Birmingham Quran Manuscript

University of Birmingham Quran Manuscript

University of Birmingham crest

University of Birmingham Quran manuscript

The parchment on which two leaves of an early Quranic manuscript coveted by the University of Birmingham are written, were radiocarbon dated in 2015 between 568 and 645. The manuscript is part of the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, held by the Birmingham University’s Cadbury Research Library.

The manuscript is written in ink on parchment, using a Arabic Hijazi script and is still clearly legible. The leaves preserve parts of Surahs 19 (Maryam) to 20 (Taha). It was on display at the Birmingham University, Bramall Music Building, from 2-25 October 2015 and subsequently at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until 5 August 2016.


Close up of part of folio 2 recto, showing chapter division and verse-end markings

The two leaves have been recognized as belonging with the 16 leaves catalogued as BnF Arabe 328(c) in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, now bound with the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus; and witness verses corresponding to a lacuna in that text.

The Birmingham leaves, now catalogued as Mingana 1572a, are folio size (343mm by 258mm at the widest point), and are written on both sides in a generously-scaled and legible script. One two-page leaf contains verses 17–31 of Surah 18 (Al-Kahf) while the other leaf the final eight verses 91–98 of Surah 19 (Maryam) and the first 40 verses of Surah 20 (Ta-Ha), all in their present day sequence and conforming to the standard text. The two surviving leaves were separated in the original codex by a number of missing folios containing the intervening verses of surahs 18 and 19. There are no diacritical marks to indicate short vowels, but consonants are occasionally differentiated with oblique dashes. The text is laid out in the format that was to become standard for complete Quran manuscripts, with chapter divisions indicated by a decorated line, and verse endings by intertextual clustered dots.

Although the Quran text witnessed in the two Birmingham leaves largely conforms to the standard text their orthography differs, especially in respect of the writing (or omission) of the letter alif. Equally, the application of intermittent dashes to differentiate consonants varies from the counterpart pointing in the standard text at four places. Otherwise, the aspect in which the Birmingham Quran differs most substantially from the standard text is in its verse divisions; of the four surahs partially witnessed in these leaves, three have a verse division omitted in at least one place. Subsequent ultraviolet testing of the leaves has confirmed no underwriting, and excludes the possibility of their being a palimpsest.