Islamic Manuscript Radiocarbon Dated to Time of Muhammad

An illuminated manuscript of the Koran. (Photo: Walters Art Museum / Flickr Commons)

An illuminated manuscript of the Koran. (Photo: Walters Art Museum / Flickr Commons)

Irregularities were recently discovered in a manuscript found in Iraq in the 1920s and currently residing in the University of Birmingham (UK) library. Subsequent radiocarbon dating has revealed that the manuscript may be 1,370 years old. The implications are startling. In the New York Times, Dan Bilefsky explains.

… the fragments appeared to be part of what could be the world’s oldest copy of the Quran, and researchers say it may have been transcribed by a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad.

He then quotes Omid Safi, the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, who “said that the discovery of the manuscript provided ‘further evidence for the position of the classical Islamic tradition that the Quran as it exists today is a seventh-century document.’”

Islam is benefiting from the advantage of being the least old of the major religions. It’s got a leg up on others, such as Christianity, in which the canon and history were transcribed from the oral tradition not during the lifetime of the religion’s founder or pivotal figure, such as Jesus Christ, but decades or more later.

On the other hand, a manuscript explicating the teaching of Muhammad while he was still alive provides fodder for Islamic fundamentalist extremists to interpret the Koran and other Islamic teachings that much more literally. They will feel further empowered to continue with their schizophrenic outlook on life with their spiritual (if you can call it that) foot planted in the seventh century and the other, technologically, in today.