Could this Quran fragment really be older than Muhammad?

Radio carbon dating of fragments of the world’s oldest Quran, found in Birmingham, England, in July, suggest the document could be older than the prophet Muhammad. Some Islamic scholars challenge the claim.

Frank Augstein/AP
A university assistant shows fragments of an old Quran at England's University in Birmingham, July 22. Oxford researchers suggest the prophet Muhammad and his early followers may have used text that was already in existence.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have said that fragments from the oldest discovered the Quran, appear to predate the founding of Islam by the prophet Muhammad, which could reshape early Islamic history, The Times of London reports. 

"This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Koran's genesis, like that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven," Keith Small, a researcher at the University of Oxford, told the Times

In July, England's Birmingham University unveiled parts of the world's oldest fragments of the Quran, with radiocarbon dating projecting the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old.

But now, Oxford University researchers used carbon dating to find the pages were from about 1,448 to 1,371 years ago.

"It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged – and that in turn has implications for the history of Muhammad and the Companions," historian Tom Holland, told the Times.

If Oxford’s dating is correct, the “Birmingham Koran” was created between 568 AD and 645 AD, while Muhammad is believed to have lived between AD570 to AD632.

“At the very latest, it was made before the first formal text of the Koran is supposed to have been collated at the behest of the caliph Uthman, the third of the Prophet’s successors, in 653. At the earliest it could date back to Muhammad’s childhood, or possibly even before his birth,” the paper reports.

However Muslim scholars have disputed the claims that the ancient fragments predate Islam.

“If anything, the manuscript has consolidated traditional accounts of the Koran’s origins,” Mustafa Shah, from London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told the Times.

Shady Hekmat Nasser, from the University of Cambridge, told the paper, “We already know from our sources that the Koran was a closed text very early on in Islam, and these discoveries only attest to the accuracy of these sources.”

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