Birmingham’s ancient Koran history revealed

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Source: BBC

When the University of Birmingham revealed that it had fragments from one of the world’s oldest Korans, it made headlines around the world.

In terms of discoveries, it seemed as unlikely as it was remarkable.

But it raised even bigger questions about the origins of this ancient manuscript.

And there are now suggestions from the Middle East that the discovery could be even more spectacularly significant than had been initially realised.

There are claims that these could be fragments from the very first complete version of the Koran, commissioned by Abu Bakr, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad – and that it is “the most important discovery ever for the Muslim world”.

This is a global jigsaw puzzle.

But some of the pieces have fallen into place.

It seems likely the fragments in Birmingham, at least 1,370 years old, were once held in Egypt’s oldest mosque, the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in Fustat.

Paris match

This is because academics are increasingly confident the Birmingham manuscript has an exact match in the National Library of France, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

The library points to the expertise of Francois Deroche, historian of the Koran and academic at the College de France, and he confirms the pages in Paris are part of the same Koran as Birmingham’s.

Alba Fedeli, the researcher who first identified the manuscript in Birmingham, is also sure it is the same as the fragments in Paris.

The significance is that the origin of the manuscript in Paris is known to have been the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in Fustat.

‘Spirited away’

The French part of this manuscript was brought to Europe by Asselin de Cherville, who served as a vice consul in Egypt when the country was under the control of Napoleon’s armies in the early 19th Century.

Prof Deroche says Asselin de Cherville’s widow seemed to have tried to sell this and other ancient Islamic manuscripts to the British Library in the 1820s, but they ended up in the national library in Paris, where they have remained ever since.

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Categories: France, Quran, The Muslim Times, UK

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